Every baby or child has different bowel habits. Many newborns who are breast-fed have 5 to 10 bowel movements a day. They may have as few as 1 or 2. After 2 weeks, breast-fed babies' bowel movements might be less frequent. Bottle-fed babies tend to have 1 or 2 fewer bowel movements a day than breast-fed babies. Babies sometimes go 2 days or longer between bowel movements. This usually is not a problem as long as:
Normal stool during infancy may be runny or pasty, especially if the baby is breast-fed. The presence of mucus in the stool is not uncommon. Unless there is a change in your baby's normal habits, loose and frequent stools are not considered to be diarrhea.
Diarrhea occurs when there is an increase in the frequency of bowel movements or bowel movements are more watery and loose than normal. Diarrhea has many causes.
A child may develop diarrhea from a change in his or her diet. A baby's or child's digestive tract may not tolerate large amounts of juice, fruit, or even milk. Diarrhea may be caused by an increase in the amount of juice or fruit a child drinks or eats. Diarrhea that is caused by a change in the child's diet is not usually serious.
Diarrhea is often caused by a viral or bacterial infection, such as rotavirus, stomach flu (gastroenteritis), or food poisoning. Diarrhea is the body's way of quickly clearing any viruses, bacteria, or toxins such as botulism from the digestive tract. Most cases of diarrhea are caused by a viral infection and will usually clear up in a few days.
Diarrhea may also be caused by a parasitic infection, such as Giardia lamblia. This parasite, as well as other viral and bacterial infections, may be spread by drinking untreated water, unpasteurized dairy products, or by poor hand-washing.
On rare occasions, diarrhea can be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as:
Children, especially those younger than 6 months of age and those with other health risks, need special attention when they have diarrhea because they can quickly become dehydrated. Careful observation of your child's appearance and how much fluid he or she is drinking can help prevent problems.
Check your child's symptoms to decide if and when your child should see a doctor.
As soon as you notice that your child has diarrhea, it is important to take action to prevent dehydration. Oral rehydration solutions (ORSs) are used to prevent or correct dehydration in young children. ORSs contain the right mix of salt, sugar, potassium, and other minerals to help replace body fluids lost from diarrhea. It may be wise to keep some ORS on hand so that if your child develops diarrhea, you can start replacing lost fluids immediately. ORS will help prevent dehydration, but it will not stop the diarrhea.
The amount of ORS your child needs depends on the severity of his or her dehydration. The more severe the dehydration, the more ORS you will need to give your child.
Don't wait until signs of dehydration develop to replace lost fluids. Signs of dehydration include your baby being thirstier than usual and having darker urine than usual.
If your child is also vomiting, learn about home treatment for vomiting.
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
Do not allow your child to drink untreated or unfiltered water from a lake or stream or unpasteurized milk. Untreated water and unpasteurized milk are sources for viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections, such as Giardia lamblia. Avoid having your child brush his or her teeth with untreated water. Even a small amount of untreated water can contain enough parasites, virus, and bacteria to cause diarrhea.
Diarrhea can spread because of poor hygiene.
Food poisoning is a common cause of diarrhea in children and adults. Most cases of food poisoning at home may be prevented by taking a few precautions when preparing and storing food. Perishable foods, such as eggs, meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, milk, and milk products, should be treated with extra care. Also, precautions should be taken if you are pregnant, you have an impaired immune system or a chronic illness, or you are preparing foods for other high-risk groups, such as young children or older people.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends the following steps to prevent food poisoning:
Many counties in the United States have extension services listed in the phone book. These services can answer your questions about safe home canning and food preparation.
When you travel in wilderness areas or to other countries of the world, it is common to get traveler's diarrhea from food or water because the methods of food preparation are different.
Rotavirus vaccine(What is a PDF document?) helps protect babies and young children from getting a rotavirus infection, which can cause diarrhea and dehydration. Talk to your child's doctor about this vaccine for your child.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your child's condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
|Primary Medical Reviewer||William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine|
|Last Revised||April 5, 2012|
Last Revised: April 5, 2012
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