How to Treat Diarrhea and Dehydration in Infants and Children
What to Do to Stop Infant Diarrhea
"Probiotics, whether in powder form or in foods with live cultures such as yogurt or kefir can help diarrhea," says Dr. Heather Finlay-Morreale, a pediatrician with University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Group. "Babies should continue to nurse or take formula. Milk does not need to be stopped. Smaller, more frequent feeds may be helpful."
- Continue nursing or offering formula
- Smaller, more frequent feedings may help
- For older children, offer probiotics in food or powder form.
When Should I Contact the Doctor About My Baby's Diarrhea?
According to Dr. Finlay-Morreale, reasons to call your doctor about diarrhea include:
- Bloody diarrhea
- Stool that is white, black, tarry, or red
- Prolonged diarrhea
- A large volume of stools per day
- If there has been recent international travel or camping
- Persistent vomiting
- If your baby is under three months old.
Symptoms of Diarrhea in Infants
Diarrhea is characterized by the appearance of watery and loose stools more than three times in 24 hours. In most cases, diarrhea will go away on its own. However, it can lead to dehydration, which is a serious problem.
An infant's poop is already soft. Babies who are breasted typically have runnier poop than babies who are fed formula.
With that in mind, even an infant can get diarrhea. When this happens, the poop is even looser, more watery, and there may be more of it than a regular poopy diaper.
What Are the Symptoms of Dehydration in Infants and Children?
The biggest concern when it comes to diarrhea is dehydration. The body loses more water when the poops are more watery than usual, so it's important to look for signs of dehydration.
Keep an eye out for:
- weight loss
- dry or sticky mouth
- lack of tears
- fast heartbeat
- poor skin turgor (when the skin on the back of the hand stays elevated after it is pulled up and released)
- sunken eyes
- decreased number of wet diapers
Foods to Treat Diarrhea or Dehydration in a Baby
If your child is eating solid foods and can keep food down, continue to feed them normal foods (avoiding some of the items below). Doctors no longer recommend limiting food to the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast).
The following diet plan can help your baby recover.
- Strict oral rehydration solution like Pedialyte every 4-6 hours. This is the most important step. Do not let your baby dehydrate. Continue breastfeeding or giving formula. Watch carefully how the baby reacts to milk and decide whether to temporarily stop feeding milk. Sometimes nothing can stay in the stomach. If your baby refuses milk, try Pedialyte.
- Bland foods. If you have started giving solids to your baby, feed her applesauce, strained banana, saltines, strained carrots, strained squash, mashed potatoes(no additives), rice cereal and oatmeal. You can also feed her toast, crackers, breads, pretzels, rice, mashed potatoes (no additives), noodles (no additives), bananas, applesauce, carrots, squash, Rice Krispies, Cheerios, oatmeal, and yogurt with active cultures.
- Milk products. Some babies may become lactose intolerant during this time, so consult your pediatrician.
- No oils or butter.
- No spicy foods or sauces until diarrhea subsides.
Note: You should always consult with your child's doctor before starting any kind of medication or if you have any doubts.
Check out the video below for more information about how to detect dehydration.
When a Baby Needs Hospitalization to Treat Diarrhea
When he was one year old, our son got a severe case of diarrhea that lasted for three days. We ended up going to the emergency room because he became completely dehydrated. He completely recovered after the doctors gave him intravenous fluids, but we were in the hospital for two days.
It was heart-breaking to watch the nurses search for a vein to insert the IV. It is very hard to find a vein when the person is dehydrated. We learned a lot from that experience and I wrote this article as a guide for parents so they know how to treat diarrhea in their own infants and children.
Possible Causes of Infant Diarrhea
- Changes in the mother's diet, if the infant is breastfed.
- Infections such as norovirus (the flu).
- Rotavirus (preventable with a vaccine). This virus spreads easily through hand contact with germs.
- Bacterial infections from contaminated food and water. Common bacteria include Salmonella, Escherichia coli (E.coli), and Campylobacter.
- Inflammation such as inflammatory bowel disease.
- Celiac disease.
- Milk or other protein intolerance.
- Carbohydrate malabsorption (including lactose intolerance), or “toddler’s diarrhea” a chronic diarrhea where undigested food matter is seen in stool are all causes of diarrhea.
- Parasites such as Giardia lamblia, Cryptosporidium, and Entamoeba histolytica.
- Reaction to medicines: Antibiotics, blood pressure medications, antacids containing magnesium, and cancer drugs can cause infant diarrhea.
How to Prevent Diarrhea
- The winter months are prime time for norovirus. Be careful to wash your hands and your child's hands after being in public places and before eating. Hand sanitizer does not kill norovirus so soap and water work best.
- Some diarrhea illnesses are spread by food, so careful washing of produce and thorough cooking of meat and eggs is advised.
- Hygiene is key to prevent one member of the house from spreading diarrhea to the rest of the house. Hands should be washed with soap and warm water after handling dirty diapers or vomit.
- Use bleach wipes to clean bathrooms and changing tables.
How to Prevent Dehydration
Do Antibiotics Cause Diarrhea?
"Antibiotics cause diarrhea in a few ways," says Dr. Finlay-Morreale. "Amoxicillin-clavulanate causes diarrhea in many people due to the clavanate portion. Others are thought to disrupt the gut flora and cause diarrhea. Finally, a certain bacteria, c. difficile, can overgrow following antibiotic use and cause severe diarrhea."
What Type of Anti-Diarrhea Medicine Will My Doctor Prescribe?
According to Dr. Finlay-Morreale, anti-diarrheal medication is typically not used in children. Both the two most common ones, bismuth salicylate and loperamide, are not advised for children.
Typically, antibiotics are only used if a bacterial infection is confirmed by stool culture. If there is vomiting as well as diarrhea, ondansetron can treat the vomiting but can make diarrhea worse.
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