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Diarrhea in Babies

Poop is rarely a topic of discussion -- unless a baby is involved. New parents fret about all things baby -- bowel movements, diet, and sleep patterns. And they should. Since babies can't explain why they are crying, parent's must become investigators, even if it means focusing on poop.

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.

Baby Diarrhea Causes

Baby diarrhea can be caused by a number of things, ranging from a change in diet to an intestinal infection. Any of the following can cause diarrhea in babies:

  • 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
  • Poisoning

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.

Effects of Baby Diarrhea

Diarrhea can alter the normal balance of water and salts (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)
  • Irritability
  • 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)

Call your baby's health care provider if you see any of the signs of dehydration listed above. 

Also, call your baby's health care provider if your baby has diarrhea and is under 6 months of age or has these symptoms:

  • Fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood or pus in the stool, or the stool is black, white, or red
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting


Baby Diarrhea Treatments

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 health care provider 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.

WebMD Medical Reference

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