Your Baby Has Diarrhea -- What Should You Do?

by Bridgette R. Odom

baby-diarrheaGross content warning: This article is not for those with queasy stomachs -- or to be read when you are attempting to eat breakfast or dinner.

Your baby has been happily playing when all of a sudden you notice an unpleasant stench floating over from that area of the room. You check it out and find a greenish-brown, runny mess seeping out of the diaper. Ugh!

And then it happens again...and again. What is a parent to do?

Unfortunately, it's inevitable that you'll face this particular "situation." Being prepared on how to handle diarrhea will be a life saver! We don't think you want to stock your own gas mask and 100 foot power washer!

Facts About Diarrhea

Gastrointestinal infection, colds, food intolerance, antibiotic treatment and even too much juice can beckon an unwelcome companion -- diarrhea.

What Is Diarrhea?

Watery, green, mucusy, foul-smelling, explosive and sometimes blood-tinged stools signal diarrhea. It can be accompanied by a bright red rash around the anus. If your baby has a virus, you can expect to see other signs of viral infection such as fever or vomiting.

Each baby's pattern of bowel movements is different. You're looking for a change in the consistency and regularity.

A breastfed baby's regular stool is mustard yellow and creamy in texture. It can contain "seed-like" particles and have a mild "sour milk" smell. Initially breastfed babies have several bowel movement a day. By two or three months old, the frequency can drop to one or two a week.

A formula-fed baby's regular stool is yellowish, tan-colored or brownish. It has a consistency similar to peanut butter and has a strong odor. A typical formula-fed baby has up to five bowel movements a day. Some babies have problems with constipation.

If your child poops one and a half to two times more than usual and the stools are looser, runnier or watery than usual, your baby has diarrhea. What are your next steps to follow?

When to Call the Doctor

You should call your doctor if:

  • Your baby is less than three months old
  • The diarrhea contains blood, mucus or puss
  • Fever and diarrhea last for more than three days
  • Your baby appears dehydrated
  • Your baby has more than eight stools in an hour
  • The diarrhea lasts more than two days
  • Vomiting continues more than 24 hours
  • Your baby is bloated, listless or unusually sleepy
  • Your baby hasn't peed in eight hours

Treating Baby's Diarrhea

Your two biggest concerns are keeping your baby hydrated and preventing a diaper rash.

• Keep track of how often and how much your baby poops. Jot down other symptoms, such as fever and vomiting. Note how much food, liquid and how ill your baby appears. Watch for signs of dehydration.

• Try to locate the trigger. If you just started your one-year-old on milk, it might be the culprit. Antibiotics can cause loose stools, too.

• If your child has mild diarrhea and doesn't appear to be dehydrated, you can continue offering either formula or breast milk with their normal diet.

• If your baby has mild diarrhea accompanied by vomiting you may need to offer an electrolyte solution in place of formula until the vomiting ends. Breast milk is considered a clear liquid, so your baby can continue nursing unless your doctor recommends otherwise.

Offer a baby six months or younger 1 to 3 ounces of electrolyte solution every hour. If your baby is six months to 24 months old, offer 3 to 4 ounces every hour.

• Do not give a baby any diarrhea medication unless your doctor has specifically advised it. These medications slow down the intestine's actions, allowing germs more time to grow. They can worsen diarrhea.

• Protect your baby's bottom from developing a painful rash.

- Air dry the diaper region
- Change diapers frequently
- Use a protective ointment or cream
- Rinse baby's bottom with water
- Cut down on baby wipes during diarrhea

• Talk with your doctor about foods that might irritate your baby's intestines. You could be asked to switch to a non-lactose-based formula and start off with the "BRAT" diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) and yogurt if your baby has started solids.

• If the diarrhea continues to be a problem or starts up again, your doctor might want to order stool cultures to see if a parasite such as giardia could be responsible for your baby's symptoms.

How have you kept your baby comfortable when diarrhea happened?


Medical references:
-November 7, 2011. Babies and diarrhea. National Library of Medicine. Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine.
- May 27, 2010. Diarrhea in Babies.