Regular bowel movements are essential to everyone’s health, from children to adults. The amount, frequency, and other bowel habits will vary from child to child, but baby diarrhea can be hard to identify for new parents. Read on to learn more about baby diarrhea and how you can stop it.
How Many Times a Day Do Babies Poop?
The frequency of bowel movements varies widely among infants. Some infants will go up to 7-8 times per day while others may go every other day.9
As the baby’s digestive tract develops, at the six-week mark, a baby’s poop habits should change, resulting in fewer bowel movements per day.
Breastfed babies will have more watery feces and the milk curds in the stool are finer and smaller compared to formula-fed babies will have thicker stools.
Yellow Watery Diarrhea in Babies
Color is another topic of concern for parents. Baby poop can be yellow, brown, or green. Colors of concern are black (almost tar like) which is indicative of digested blood in the stool, bright red stool which means a bleed closer to the rectum (lower GI bleed), and white stools which means there may be a problem with the baby’s bile production.
Again, it’s important to understand that every child’s digestion can vary. Where some babies may have a bowel movement after every meal or feeding, others may have one every other day. A normal bowel movement should be green, yellow, or brown in color.
How to Identify Diarrhea in Babies?
What does baby diarrhea look like? As bowel movements can vary so widely between babies, determining if your baby simply has loose stools or diarrhea can be difficult. The general rule of thumb is that if you notice any sudden changes in the frequency of bowel movements or the consistency of stools, your baby may have diarrhea.2 Explosive bowel movements or blow-out diarrhea that cover the lower back of your baby should be cause for concern.9
What are the Most Common Causes of Baby Diarrhea?
Diarrhea is usually the result of the human digestive system contents moving so fast that the intestines are unable to absorb the fluids. It can be caused by infection or an irritant.
Diarrhea can also be due to osmotic causes like eating excessive amounts of sugar substitutes, being lactose intolerant, or consuming an osmotic laxative. Stools will then contain excess fluid, making them loose and watery.3
Viral, Bacterial, and Parasitic Infections of the Digestive Tract
Diarrhea in babies and children is most often caused by infections of the digestive tract. Children may get infected by a virus, bacteria, or parasite through contaminated food, water, or beverages or via contact with a person. After an infection, some kids may temporarily have trouble digesting carbohydrates, sugars, or proteins commonly found in milk and milk products, which can contribute to a prolonged case of diarrhea.4
Viral gastroenteritis, most often known as the stomach flu, can cause diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. These viruses can easily spread at home, school, or childcare centers. Rotavirus is the most common virus that causes diarrhea in babies, particularly in the winter and early spring. Enteroviruses, like coxsackievirus, is another diarrhea-causing virus, usually appearing more frequently in the summer.5
A variety of bacteria and parasites can potentially cause diarrhea, including:
- E coli
Along with digestive tract infections, diarrhea can come as a result of food allergies, which usually appear within the first year of life. Milk, milk products, and soy tend to be the most common food allergies, though children tend to grow out of these allergies by the age of 3. Common forms of food allergies for babies include:
- Lactose intolerance – Lactose is the sugar found in milk and milk products. Some children have low levels of lactase, the enzyme that helps the body break down and digest lactose, resulting in diarrhea. Lactose intolerance usually starts around age 2 and develops gradually over time. Newborns generally will not have a lactase deficiency.4
- Fructose intolerance – Fructose is a sugar found in honey, fruit, and fruit juices and is commonly added to foods in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. Some children may not be able to absorb or process fructose properly, resulting in diarrhea. 4
- Sucrose intolerance – Sucrose is basic table sugar or white sugar. Children with a sucrose intolerance lack the enzyme that helps to digest sucrose, preventing proper absorption or break down of the sugar. Most children who are sucrose intolerant can more easily tolerate the sugar as they get older. 4
About one out of every five children given antibiotics will develop diarrhea. This is more common among children under the age of 2 and may occur after administration of any antibiotic. Diarrhea caused by antibiotics usually lasts for one day to a full week. Antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria. Unfortunately, this also sometimes means that they kill the good bacteria in your stomach that help to digest food. This can lead to an imbalance and overgrowth of “bad” bacteria, resulting in symptoms of diarrhea. However, unless the diarrhea is severe, it’s often a better idea to finish the full course of the antibiotic.6
For this reason it is often recommended that a probiotic be given anytime a baby or adult takes an antibiotic. A dose of at least 10 billion CFUs of probiotics will reduce the duration of diarrhea in children.
How to Stop Diarrhea in Babies
Home Remedies for Diarrhea in Babies
What Should Your Infant Eat and Drink?
In nearly all cases, you can continue feeding your child as normal. Diarrhea will usually go away on its own without any changes to diet or specific medical treatments. However, meals should be made smaller and more frequent, meaning instead of three big meals, switch to smaller meals spread throughout the day.
What to feed baby with diarrhea :
- Baked or broiled beef, chicken, turkey, pork, or fish (lean meats are ideal)
- Cooked eggs
- White rice
- Baked potatoes
- Fruits and cooked vegetables
- Milk (for infants older than 1 year) and milk products like kefir, yogurt, and cheese (for infants older than 6 months) unless your child is lactose intolerant7
Staying hydrated is the most important thing. Diarrhea can easily lead to an excess loss of fluids and dehydration. Babies drinking what they normally drink should be fine, but too much water on its own can be harmful. Popsicles and Jell-O offer good sources of fluids. Pedialyte and Infalyte also offer easy sources for hydration, along with nutrients and electrolytes that may be lost with diarrhea.7
You may also want to incorporate probiotic-rich foods, like yogurt and kefir, into your child’s diet if he or she is older than 6 months. These can help to potentially treat diarrhea, especially antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Probiotic-rich foods can help to refill your child’s gut with good bacteria and rebalance their gut flora.6 Probiotic supplements offer a more concentrated source of probiotics compared to probiotic-rich foods.
What Foods Should Your Child Avoid?
Although a child with diarrhea can generally maintain the same diet, there are certain foods that they should avoid, including:
- Fried and greasy foods
- Processed and fast foods
- Foods that are too rich in flavor or spice
Your child should also avoid apple juice or full-strength fruit juices, which tend to be high in sugars and may loosen stools. You may also need to cut out milk and dairy products if they cause gas or bloating or otherwise exacerbate diarrhea. Kids may also want to avoid certain fruits and vegetables that may cause gas and bloating, including:
What to Give Babies with Diarrhea?
As tempting as it might be to administer an over-the-counter diarrhea medication meant for adults and older children, you should generally avoid any antidiarrheal medications to infants. They aren’t necessary for infants and young children and may lead to worse problems.10 Instead of any over-the-counter medication:
- Focus on making sure your child gets enough fluids to prevent potential dehydration. For babies, that means plenty of breast milk or formula. For older children, water, juice, and Pedialyte.
- Consider incorporating probiotics into their diet at a dose of about 10 billion CFUs (colony forming units). This may help to shorten diarrhea, especially if the diarrhea is caused by antibiotics.
- Use plenty of diaper powder and cream to soothe your baby’s bottom and prevent irritation from the frequent bowel movements. 2
Diarrhea caused by a virus or bacteria is highly contagious. Make sure you wash your hands properly with soap and water every time you change your baby’s diaper, and clean and disinfect the diaper-changing area. This not only prevents the potential for reinfection but also ensures that you don’t catch the bug yourself.8
When to See a Doctor for Baby Diarrhea
Contact your doctor immediately if your child:
- Has diarrhea but is younger than six months old
- Has a fever of 102 degrees or higher
- Has a severe, long-lasting episode of diarrhea
- Continuously vomits
- Won’t drink fluids or can’t keep fluids down
- Shows severe abdominal pain
- Has blood or mucus in diarrhea
You should also call your doctor if your child shows signs of dehydration, which may include:
- A dry, sticky mouth
- No tears when crying
- Sunken eyes
- Urinating less frequently
- Drowsiness or dizziness
- Less physical activity than normal (not looking around or not sitting up)5
Baby diarrhea can be worrisome, but with the right precautions and plenty of fluids, your baby should be back to being healthy and vibrant.