Diarrhea in Children

Diarrhea refers to frequent (greater than six per day) loose stools. Gastroenteritis (intestinal infection that causes diarrhea and sometimes belly pain, vomiting and/or fever) is the most common cause of diarrhea and can last between 7 and 14 days. If your child is vomiting, you can find more information here.  Although diarrhea can sometimes cause dehydration, vomiting is more likely to do so and should be addressed first.

Diarrhea Management Tips

  • If having diarrhea alone, your child may start with the BRATS (acronym for bananas, rice or rice cereal, applesauce, toast, saltines) diet. If your child has been vomiting wait until he/she is able to tolerate clear liquids (no juice, no milk) for 8-12 hours before introducing the BRATS diet.
  • Breastfed infants should continue to breastfeed through diarrhea — there is no better way to provide nourishment.
  • Although not necessary, infants drinking formula may stool less by changing to a lactose-free formula (Lactofree, Prosobee, Isomil) for a few days.
  • When the diet is advanced, whether by introducing foods in the child or toddler or by advancing to a milk based formula in a formula-fed infant, increased stools are to be expected. If the child seems hungry and happy, continue to feed him.
  • It usually takes at least seven days for the small intestine to regrow the cells that make enzymes needed to digest food. Introducing foods helps this process to occur but creates more stools initially. Milk and juice may be poorly digested, contribute to cramps and gas, and should be avoided until simple foods are tolerated for a day.
  • Anti-diarrheal medications are NOT recommended.
  • While probiotics have been shown to improve diarrhea caused by antibiotics, they have not been shown to be effective in viral diarrhea, which is the most common form in children. If you decide to try probiotics, we recommend BioGaia probiotic drops for infants, or Culturelle or Florastor (there are kids versions) for older children.

Call our office if your child has a high fever, bloody diarrhea, is not taking clear liquids well, or you are concerned about dehydration.

Signs of dehydration include dry mouth or tongue, less than 4 wet diapers/24 hours up to age 1, or less than 3 wet diapers/24 hours in children older than age 1. If you see tears when your child cries, that is a sign that he is still adequately hydrated; however, no tears with crying does not necessarily mean they are dehydrated.