how to treat diarrhea in babies
Learn what to feed your baby for diarrhea and how to prevent dehydration

Diarrhea can cause extreme dehydration in babies, especially if the diarrhea is accompanied by vomiting. So your main goal should be to prevent dehydration in your baby.

Dehydration causes your baby to lose essential minerals and electrolytes, which need to be replaced by giving them frequent, small amounts of liquids such as oral rehydration solutions. 

Oral rehydration solutions, also called electrolyte solutions, help replace the water and salts lost during diarrhea. They contain just enough sugar to allow for the absorption of sodium, potassium, and water without causing more diarrhea. They may also be easier to digest for your baby as opposed to other things in their diet.. 

Oral rehydration solutions often come in liquid or popsicle forms and different flavors. Common products are Naturalyte, Enfalyte, Pedialyte and CeraLyte, which can be bought over-the-counter in drugstores and some retail stores.

How to help your baby rehydrate

It’s important to rehydrate your baby before they have lost too many fluids. Start giving them fluids after they have stopped passing loose stools for 30-60 minutes. But don’t feed them forcefully.

Table: Estimated oral fluid and electrolyte requirements by body weight
Body weight (in pounds) Minimum daily fluid requirements (in ounces)* Electrolyte solution requirements for mild diarrhea (in ounces for 24 hours)
6-7 10 16
11 15 23
22 25 40
26 28 44
33 32 51
40 38 61

1 pound = 0.45 kg
1 ounce = 30 mL
*Note: This is the minimum amount of fluid that a normal child requires. Most children drink more than this.

Other tips to keep in mind when rehydrating your baby include the following:

  • Start with small amounts of fluid every 5-10 minutes. Use a teaspoon instead of a cup.
  • If your child vomits the fluid, wait at least 30 minutes before offering again.
  • Give your baby clear fluids instead of juice or carbonated drinks. Do not give them sports drinks and use oral rehydration solutions instead.
  • If your baby is breastfeeding:
    • Continue giving them breastmilk.
    • Offer an oral rehydration solution between feedings if the diarrhea is severe.
    • Once the baby’s stools aren’t so loose, stop giving them the oral rehydration solution.
  • If your baby is bottle-feeding:
    • Give them 30-60 mL of fluid every 30 minutes.
    • Offer an oral rehydration solution between feedings if the diarrhea is severe.
    • If formula milk worsens the diarrhea, stop and try rice or soy formula instead after consulting your doctor.
  • If your child is on solid food:
    • Don’t rush to feed them.
    • Don’t force your child to eat, especially if they have stomach pain and cramping.
    • If your child finds it difficult to swallow, give them frozen juice bars or ice chips.
    • If your child feels hungry, give them a small portion of bland food, such as rice or crackers, and avoid spicy or oily foods. The BRAT diet is ideal: bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. 
    • If symptoms worsen with food, go back to clear liquids.
    • Resume the child's normal diet gradually as they start to feel better. If diarrhea or cramping worsens again, go back to a simple diet or clear liquids.

QUESTION

Newborn babies don't sleep very much. See Answer

Should I treat my baby’s diarrhea with supplements or medications?

Zinc supplements are a new intervention for treating acute and long-standing diarrheal episodes in children. Many studies have proven that administering zinc along with new low osmolarity oral rehydration solutions or salts can reduce the duration and severity of diarrheal episodes in a child. Ask your doctor about what dose is appropriate for your child.

While probiotics for babies are also available, there isn’t enough evidence as to whether they work. Don’t give them to your baby without asking your doctor first.

There are two vaccines against rotavirus, which can prevent diarrhea caused by rotavirus in children. The CDC recommends RotaTeq to be given in 3 doses (at 2, 4, and 6 months of age) or Rotarix® to be given in 2 doses (at 2 and 4 months of age).

When should I see a doctor?

If your baby has the following symptoms, consult a doctor immediately:

  • Signs of dehydration:
    • Dry and sticky mouth
    • No tears when crying 
    • No wet diaper for 6 hours
    • Sunken fontanel (space between the bones of the skull)
  • Diarrhea for more than 24 hours
  • Fever of 101 degrees F or higher
  • Black or tarry stools
  • Presence of blood or pus in the stool

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Medically Reviewed on 6/16/2021
References
Fairview Health Services. Diet for Diarrhea Only (Infant/Toddler). https://www.fairview.org/sitecore/content/Fairview/Home/Patient-Education/Articles/English/d/i/e/t/_/Diet_for_Diarrhea_Only_InfantToddler_115974en

Medline Plus. Diarrhea in Infants. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000691.htm

U.S. Food and Drug Association. How to Treat Diarrhea in Infants and Young Children. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/how-treat-diarrhea-infants-and-young-children

American Academy of Pediatrics. Treating Dehydration With Electrolyte Solution. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/abdominal/Pages/Treating-Dehydration-with-Electrolyte-Solution.aspx