Cystic fibrosis can cause problems with the pancreas, liver, and other digestive organs. These problems can affect your child’s ability to absorb nutrients and fats. Good nutrition can help with some of these problems. It can also improve your child’s immune system, decreasing the risk of infection. This all helps your child stay active. You’ll likely meet with a nutritionist 1 or more times a year to assess your child’s needs and make any changes. Your child’s doctor will do regular follow-up tests to make sure your child is progressing with weight, height, and lung function.
Work with a nutritionist to determine your child’s nutritional needs. Have your child eat as normal a diet as possible, but one that is varied and rich in protein and calories. Here are examples of foods to provide:
Fresh fruits and vegetables
Foods high in calcium, such as dairy products or juice fortified with calcium
Foods high in iron, such as fortified cereal, meat, and deep-green vegetables
Salty meals and snacks
Foods high in zinc, such as meats, liver, eggs, and seafood
Foods high in fat (Avoid products listing trans fat on labels. Trans fat can increase airway inflammation.)
To maintain weight and slow the decline in lung function, your child will need to consume more calories than a child without cystic fibrosis. The amount of calories needed is even higher than this when your child is ill or has an infection. Try for 3 meals plus 2 to 3 snacks a day. Here are examples of high-calorie foods to add to your child’s diet:
Whole milk (full-fat)
If your child doesn’t gain weight or is behind on height, special liquid supplements may help add calories. If weight is still a problem, nighttime tube feeding may be needed.
Your child’s pancreas may not produce certain enzymes. This can cause intestinal problems, such as greasy, foul-smelling stools, urgency, frequency, cramping, and diarrhea. If not treated, it can lead to serious problems such as a bowel obstruction, which can require surgery. For this reason, most children with cystic fibrosis need replacement pancreatic enzymes. These enzymes help the body digest carbohydrates, protein, and fat, which promotes better absorption of nutrients. The doctor prescribes these enzymes, which come in capsule form. Here are some general guidelines for giving your child enzymes:
For younger children, open capsules and sprinkle the contents on an acidic food, such as applesauce or pears. These enzymes don’t taste bad. Ask your child not to chew the sprinkles. To be sure your child takes them all, put the sprinkles on a small amount of food and watch your child eat them.
Older children can choose to swallow the capsules whole.
Have your child take the capsules with every meal and snack. Consult with your doctor to determine the proper dosage of pancreatic enzymes your child should take.
Make sure your child brings the enzymes to school and takes them with lunch and snacks.
Your child must take enzymes with liquid nutritional supplements, too.
It is harder for a child with cystic fibrosis to get needed nutrition from foods alone. Your child will need to take vitamins once or twice a day, as directed by the doctor. These include fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. Vitamins are available in drops or as chewable tablets. Ask your child’s health care provider how much to give your child and to suggest brands that are easy to absorb.
Putting too much emphasis on food can be overwhelming for your child. To avoid turning eating into a power struggle, try these tips:
Make food as appealing as possible.
Encourage your child to eat what he or she can comfortably.
Don’t force your child to eat. Big portions can be hard to eat at one sitting. Try for smaller meals more often.
Keep to a schedule, but don’t make your child stay at the table for more than about 15 minutes at a time.
Give younger children a few simple food choices.
Avoid these potential choking hazards for children under 4 years of age:
Nuts and seeds
Chunks of meat or cheese
Chunks of peanut butter
Chunks of raw fruit and chewing gum
Constipation, abdominal pain, or other signs of an intestinal obstruction
Difficulty gaining weight
2 to 3 loose stools a day, or a change in the size or consistency of stools