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Diarrhea Treatment for Infants and Young Children

How to treat diarrhea in children

What Is Diarrhea?

Diarrhea is the sudden increase in the looseness and number of bowel movements (BMs) or stools. It has many causes. The most common cause is a virus; therefore, medications that stop diarrhea are generally not used in children. Diarrhea can be mild (a few loose or mushy stools) to severe (constant watery stools). A green stool is from the very quick passage of contents through the stomach and intestines.

What Is the Treatment?

Your child’s doctor will talk with you about specific care for your child. Some general guidelines to follow include offering your child extra fluids with each loose or liquid stool. Diarrhea can make children very thirsty.

  • Give babies less than 8 months old Pedialyte. It is important to remember that babies do not have the same reserve as older children so they should be evaluated for diarrhea within 48 hours of the beginning of symptoms. Children less than 8 months of age should not be given extra fluids without talking to the doctor first.
  • Give babies over 8 months old half-strength Gatorade (half water, half Gatorade) to drink if they will not take the Pedialyte.
  • Give your child sports drinks, popsicles, water and soft drinks only if he is taking solid foods.
  • Do not give diet drinks or fruit juices.

Diet for Infants Not On Solid Foods

  • Breastfeed or give your baby formula as you normally would. If this makes the diarrhea worse, call your child’s doctor.

Diet for Infants On Solids, or Children

  • Do not feed just clear liquids for longer than 4 to 6 hours (for babies less than 1 year old) or 12 hours (for children over 1 year of age) – offer some foods like bananas, rice, cereal, applesauce, potatoes, dry toast, or crackers.
  • Add other foods as the diarrhea gets better. If increasing milk or formula seems to make the diarrhea worse, call your child’s doctor.

What Else Do I Need to Know?

There is usually no medical need to “stop” the diarrhea with medicine. These medicines can sometimes cause problems. Give your child medicines to stop diarrhea only if advised by his doctor.

Diarrhea often comes with vomiting. If your child is vomiting, treat it first until he has had no vomiting.

Diarrhea can be very contagious. Make sure you wash your hands after changing your baby’s diaper. Also make sure that you and your child both wash your hands after using the toilet.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your child’s doctor right away if your child has one or more of the following:

  • He does not smile or play for even a few minutes every 4 hours
  • The diarrhea is not better in 48 hours
  • You see blood or mucus in his stool
  • There are signs of dehydration:
    • No urine in six to eight hours in an infant younger than 1 year old
    • No urine in more than eight hours in a child older than 1 year old
    • No tears when crying
    • Sunken eyes
    • Dry lips and mouth
  • He becomes weak, sluggish or looks sick
  • He becomes short of breath or has any breathing problems
  • Stomach pain gets worse, especially if the diarrhea does not stop the pain
  • He is not eating his regular diet in 48 hours

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