Diarrhea in Babies

Baby’s got the runs? Here’s the deal on what to do.
ByPaul Horowitz, MD
Pediatrician
Updated
Mar 2020
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Photo: Sonja Peneueta

What is considered diarrhea for a baby?

One person’s loose bowels are another’s diarrhea, so figuring out if your baby is simply passing things along or if he’s perhaps in need of more serious medical attention can be tricky. The general rule of the diaper: If you’ve noticed a sudden change in the frequency (more than normal) or consistency (very loose or watery) of your baby or toddler’s stool, he probably has diarrhea.

What could be causing my baby’s diarrhea?

The primary culprit for most cases of diarrhea is a simple stomach virus, although a bacterial infection (salmonella, staphylococcus, shigella) can also be to blame. Or your child may simply have a  food allergy (such as lactose intolerance). Less common is a case of food poisoning or even a parasitic infection. But even something as simple as having a few too many apple juices can cause runny poop.
 
When should I take my baby to see the doctor with diarrhea?

Most of the time, diarrhea is more of a messy inconvenience than a medical emergency, but if your child is showing signs of dehydration (dry diapers for six or more hours, few or no tears, dry mouth, sunken eyes, listlessness or lethargy), call your doctor. Also be on alert if you see blood in his stool, if he develops a high fever or if he’s  vomiting frequently.
 
What should I do to treat my baby’s diarrhea?

Although it’s tempting to pass the Pepto-Bismol, avoid giving your baby any over-the-counter antidiarrheal medications, since they may do more harm than good. Instead, give him plenty of liquids. For babies, this means breast milk or formula. If you have a toddler, skip the milk for a few days, since most children with diarrhea lose the ability to break down lactose for a few days. But you can try giving him probiotics (either yogurt with live cultures or in a liquid form) to help repopulate his gut with “good” bacteria. Choose electrolyte beverages like Pedialyte or Gatorade (either diluted or G2) instead of juice. And don’t forget to use plenty of diaper cream to help soothe his bottom, which may get irritated from his frequent movements.

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