Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Diarrhea is the passage
of watery stools.
Most diarrhea in children
is caused by one of several diarrhea-causing viruses and gets better by itself
within a week. Although there can be many causes of diarrhea, the treatment
suggested here is appropriate for acute illness (sudden onset, short lasting),
which occurs most commonly. A child with viral diarrhea has a fever and often
starts the illness with some vomiting. Shortly after these symptoms appear, the
child develops diarrhea. Often children with viral diarrhea ‘feel
bad’, but do not act ill.
should call your pediatrician if your child is less than 6 months of age or has
any of the following:
- blood in stool
- frequent vomiting
- abdominal pain
- urinates less frequently (wets fewer than 6
diapers per day)
- no tears when crying
- loss of appetite for liquids
- high fever
- frequent diarrhea
- dry, sticky mouth
- weight loss
It is not necessary
to call your pediatrician if your child continues to look well even
though there may be:
- frequent or large stools
- lots of intestinal gas
- green or yellow
How long will
the diarrhea last?
Most of the time
mild diarrhea lasts from 3 to 6 days. Occasionally a child will have loose
stools for several days longer. As long as the child acts well and is taking
adequate fluids and food, loose stools are not a great
Mild illness and
Most children should continue
to eat a normal diet including formula or milk while they have mild diarrhea.
Breastfeeding should continue. If your baby seems bloated or gassy after
drinking cow’s milk or formula, call your pediatrician to discuss a
temporary change in diet. Special fluids for mild illness These are not usually
necessary for children with mild
Children with moderate
diarrhea can be cared for easily at home with close supervision, special fluids,
and your pediatrician’s advice. Your pediatrician will recommend the
amount and length of time that special fluids should be used. Later, a normal
diet can be resumed. Some children are not able to tolerate cow’s milk
when they have diarrhea and it may be temporarily removed from the diet by your
pediatrician. Breastfeeding should
Special fluids for moderate
illness Special fluids have been designed to replace water and salts lost during
diarrhea. These are extremely helpful for the home management of mild to
moderately severe illness. Do not try to prepare these special fluids yourself.
It is too easy to get confused by some of these complex recipes. You could
accidentally make a bad fluid for your baby. Use a fluid that is made by one of
the reputable manufacturers. The two most widely available products that you
will find in nearly every pharmacy are:
- Pedialyte Ross Laboratories
- Infalyte Mead Johnson Nutritionals
- Other brands of special fluids are available and
- Many drug stores have their own generic brands of
pharmacist for assistance. If a child is not vomiting, these fluids can be used
in very generous amounts until the child starts making normal amounts of urine
If your child develops the
warning signs of illness listed on the first page, he or she may require IV
fluids in the emergency department for several hours to correct dehydration.
Usually hospitalization is not necessary. Immediately seek your
pediatrician’s advice for the appropriate care if symptoms of severe
Q. Should a child
with diarrhea be fasted?
Absolutely not! Once she is rehydrated, let the child eat as much or as
little of the usual diet as she wants. If she is vomiting, offer small amounts
of liquids frequently.
Q. What about
soft drinks, juices, or boiled skim
A. A child with mild
diarrhea can have regular fluids. But, if there is enough diarrhea to make your
child thirsty, he must have special fluids (see Special fluids for moderate
illness). Soft drinks, soda pop, soups, juices, sports drinks, and boiled skim
milk have the wrong amounts of sugar and salt and may make your child
Q. What about anti-diarrhea
A. These medicines
are not useful in most cases of diarrhea and can sometimes be harmful. Never use
them unless they are recommended by your
Q. Which therapy is
A. Because diarrhea is so
common, there are many different home remedies that have been tried through the
years. Some of these old ideas may not be effective and some may actually make
things worse. The recommendations in this brochure are based on the best
information available at this time. If you have any questions about them, please
check with your
- Watch for signs of dehydration which occur when a
child loses too much fluid and becomes dried out.
- Symptoms of dehydration include a decrease in
urination, no tears when baby cries, high fever, dry mouth, weight loss, extreme
thirst, listlessness, and sunken eyes.
- Keep your pediatrician informed if there is any
significant change in how your child is behaving.
- Report if your child has blood in his
- Report if your child develops a high fever (more
than 102°F or 39°C).
- Continue to feed your child if she is not
vomiting. You may have to give your child smaller amounts of food than normal or
give your child foods that do not further upset his or her stomach.
- Use diarrhea replacement fluids that are
specifically made for diarrhea if your child is
- Try to make special salt and fluid combinations
at home unless your pediatrician instructs you and you have the proper
- Prevent the child from eating if she is
- Use boiled milk or other salty broths and
- Use “anti-diarrhea” medicines unless
prescribed by your pediatrician.
- The information contained in this publication
should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your
pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may
recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.