How to Handle Diarrhea in Babies

During the early months babies’ stools are loose and soft so it can be hard to determine if your baby has diarrhea. After a recent bout of ear infections (multiple infections actually) my son was put on antibiotics that gave him terrible diarrhea. It was awful, but there are ways the both of you can get through it.

How to Distinguish Diarrhea in Babies

diarrhea in babiesIt’s true that babies already tend to have loose stools that appear soft and runny, especially in newborns who sometimes have a bowel movement after each feeding. So how do you tell the difference in a normal stool from diarrhea? Moms are always obsessing over baby’s diapers and what’s normal. While your baby’s stools generally change from various factors like diet and beginning solids, you will likely notice some type of pattern in their bowel movements. For instance, my son is on solids and breastfed so I know he typically has 1-2 bowel movements a day.

If you notice a change in your baby’s normal pattern it could be an indication of diarrhea. You probably know how many dirty diapers your baby usually puts out in a typical day. If your baby is having more frequent stools and they appear watery or runnier than usual, it’s most likely diarrhea. This is especially true if it is accompanied by fever, loss of appetite, or congestion/cough which could be a sign of a virus.

Common Causes of Diarrhea

Certain factors can lead to diarrhea in babies. Knowing what can cause it could also help you determine if your baby has diarrhea or a normal bowel movement such as if your baby:

  • Has a change in their diet or mom’s diet if breastfed
  • Is on antibiotics
  • Has a viral infection such as the flu or rotavirus – often associated with vomiting, fever, chills, loss of appetite, and achiness
  • Has a bacterial infection such as E. Coli or staph –  often associated with fever, abdominal cramps, blood in stool and possibly vomiting
  • Food intolerance (different from a food allergy, as an intolerance does not affect the immune system) most commonly from foods and dairy containing lactose.

The main concern with diarrhea is dehydration which can be dangerous, especially in babies. Infants can dehydrate very quickly so it’s important to treat them right away to help avoid this.

How to Treat Diarrhea

pedialyteYou can continue giving your baby formula or breast milk as long as they are not vomiting. If your baby is vomiting as well, you can offer an electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte to help replace the nutrients that are lost. You should consult with your child’s doctor first before giving it to them to be sure it is OK and ask about how much and how often to give to them as these solutions are recommended for infants 12 months and older.

If your baby is already on solids, it is fine to continue feeding them as long as they are able to keep it down. The recommended diet to follow with diarrhea in infants is the BRAT diet consisting of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. The AAP recommends continuing a healthy, nutrient-rich diet of complex carbs as well as fruits, vegetables, and lean meats.

You should avoid sugary drinks such as undiluted juices, sports drinks and sodas including sprite and ginger ale. Snacks like Jello, pudding, and popsicles should also be avoided as the extra sugar can make diarrhea worse. If your child has a sore throat you can make ice pops out of diluted juice.

Yogurt is beneficial during bouts of diarrhea and recommended if your baby is on antibiotics. The live cultures and probiotics in the yogurt can help replace the good bacteria that antibiotics often strip the body of. It can also help to shorten the duration of the diarrhea.

Call Your Doctor If:

  • Your baby is younger than 3 months and having diarrhea
  • it worsens or lasts longer than 24 hours
  • there is blood in the stool or it is black
  • baby runs a high fever (101+ for babies older than 3 months)
  • excessive diarrhea also accompanied with vomiting multiple times
  • your baby is becoming dehydrated

If you are concerned about your baby’s condition don’t hesitate to call the doctor or speak to a nurse. As a parent you should follow your instinct on what you feel is right.

Signs of Dehydration in Infants

Because babies and toddlers younger than 3 years can become easily dehydrated it is vital to try to and keep their fluids up. If you notice any of the following signs in your baby it could be an indication of mild dehydration:

  • Little to no tears when baby cries
  • A decrease in the number of wet diapers daily
  • Less active than normal and irritable
  • Mouth is slightly dry

If your child is displaying signs of moderate to severe dehydration you should seek medical attention right away. These include:

  • No wet diapers within 8 hours
  • Child seems sluggish or lethargic
  • Eyes appear to be sunken in
  • Dry skin that does not spring back when pinched

Offer your baby a bottle often or if you are breastfeeding, be sure to nurse frequently. Breastfeeding can help to speed up the recovery and possibly even prevent diarrhea.

Dealing with Diaper Rash

burts bees ointmentDiarrhea in babies can often lead to moderate or severe diaper rash. The acid in loose stools is very irritating to the skin and can further worsen the condition by causing a raw bottom that is very uncomfortable for baby. You can apply a cream to help soothe diaper rash. A good preventive measure is to use an ointment that forms a barrier on the skin so that loose stool and urine don’t adhere to it as it heals. I recommend the Burt’s Bees Diaper Ointment which is also safe to use with cloth diapers. My son’s bottom had broke out so bad from having diarrhea that it actually started to blister. His doctor recommended a medicated ointment that was around $30, but we had some of this that I tried (because that was really the only time he had diaper rash) and it helped tremendously. I would also recommend using soft cloth wipes with just plain water or a mild solution rather than disposable wipes which can cause more irritation and burning.

To prevent further irritation from diaper rash you can:

  • allow bottom to air dry 
  • be sure to change your baby’s diaper often
  • cut down on baby wipes and rinse with water

You can take measures to prevent your baby from developing infectious diarrhea by following proper hand washing techniques. You would be surprised how many people I have seen not wash their hands after changing a baby’s diaper! Also be sure to clean baby’s hands often as they can easily touch toys or surfaces that may be contaminated and you know the first place their hands go is into the mouth.

Be sure to follow the proper storage guidelines with breast milk and formula. Prepared formula should be used within 1 hour or stored in the refrigerator right away for up to 24 hours. Freshly expressed breast milk can stay at room temperature for 4-6 hours (for healthy, full-term infants) or store in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. Frozen breast milk that has been thawed should be used within 24 hours. And once your baby begins drinking whether it is formula or breast milk, whatever is not used after an hour from feeding should be discarded because bacteria from baby’s mouth can be transferred to the milk.

Taking the necessary measures for prevention is always ideal, however sometimes it can’t be prevented. These are just tips based on my personal experience and from information I’ve gathered from reputable sites. As with any post on this site, it should never take the place of medical treatment. If you have any concerns regarding your baby’s health you should consult with your child’s pediatrician for professional advice.

References: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001965.htmhttp://www.cdc.gov/http://www.babycenter.com/0_diarrhea_82.bc?page=1

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