A baby's bowel movements normally come in different textures, colors, and odors based on what the baby is eating (breast milk, formula, or solid foods). A baby's stool is normally loose compared to an adult's. A looser stool every once in a while is not uncommon. However, if bowel movements suddenly become much looser or more watery, frequent, and profuse, it may be diarrhea.
- Infection caused by a virus, bacteria, or parasite. Babies can pick up the bacteria and viruses that cause diarrhea through contact with contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces and then placing hands into mouths.
- Food allergy or sensitivity to medicines
- Drinking too much fruit juice
Why you should look out for dehydration
Diarrhea can alter the normal balance of water and salts, also known as electrolytes. When too much water and electrolytes are lost in diarrhea, babies can become dehydrated. Dehydration can happen very quickly in babies—within a day or two after the diarrhea starts—and it can be very dangerous, especially in newborns.
Look for these signs of dehydration in your infant:
- Urinating less often than usual (fewer wet diapers)
- Dry mouth
- No tears when crying
- Unusual drowsiness or lethargy
- Sunken soft spot on the top of the baby's head
- Skin that isn't as elastic as usual (doesn't spring back when gently pinched and released)
When should you go to see your baby’s doctor?
Call your baby's doctor if you see any of the signs of dehydration listed above. Call if your baby is below 6 months of age or has these other symptoms:
- Fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
- Abdominal pain
- Blood or pus in the stool, or the stool is black, white, or red
Treatment for diarrhea
Doctors usually don't recommend over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medicines for children. However, the doctor may prescribe an antibiotic for a bacterial infection or an anti-parasitic drug for a parasite infection.
Babies with severe diarrhea who become dehydrated will need to receive intravenous fluids (IV) in a hospital.
Your child's physician might recommend that you give your baby an oral rehydration solution (ORS). These solutions, which you can buy at your local supermarket or drug store, contain fluid and electrolytes and can prevent or treat dehydration.
Mothers who are breastfeeding might need to adjust their own diet, removing any foods that could trigger diarrhea in their baby.
If your child has been started on solid foods—usually from the 4th doctor or health care provider might recommend switching to bland, starchy foods like strained bananas, applesauce, and rice cereal until the diarrhea stops.
Babies with diarrhea who are on solid foods should avoid eating anything that can worsen the diarrhea, including:
- Greasy foods
- Foods that are high in fiber
- Milk products such as milk and cheese
- Sweets such as cake, cookies, and soda
Diarrhea that's caused by a viral or bacterial infection is very contagious. Wash your hands with warm water and soap every time you change your baby's diaper to prevent the infection from spreading. Keep the diaper-changing area clean and disinfected. Keep your child home from day care until your baby is completely well.
Frequent hand washing is important to prevent diarrhea, especially before and after eating, after changing diapers, and after using the bathroom. Keep bathroom and kitchen surfaces clean and maintain safe food handling.