Be ready, as the following information about your child’s poop may make your stomach turn, but it is the truth about toddler diarrhea.
- How common is toddler’s diarrhea?
- Colored stool: what are they? Should I be worried?
- What are the possible causes for a toddler to have diarrhea?
- What are the symptoms of toddler’s diarrhea?
- How can I treat my toddler’s diarrhea?
- Is it okay to give my toddler an adult anti-diarrhea medication?
- Can my toddler continue with breastmilk when having diarrhea?
- What else can I do to take care of my child?
- When should I take my toddler to see the doctor?
1. How common is toddler’s diarrhea?
Toddler diarrhea is very common. Whether its food related, a virus, or a multitude of other reasons, it happens more frequently in toddlers than in adults. It is relatively safe if a child has diarrhea, but concerns arise if the child is not able to keep anything down or the symptoms persist for a week.
2. Colored stool: what are they? Should I be worried?
The color of the stools is greatly influenced by what your child eats, as well as the amount of bile (the yellow-green fluid that digests fats) in the stool. Normal stools of toddlers who are eating table foods and nursing can have stools that range from brown to orange to yellow or green.
The following are the breakdowns of each colored stool and what it means:
- Bright red stool could be beets, red Jell-O, cherries, or cranberries. It is usually not alarming unless it is frank red blood. This usually is the outside rectum more than inside. If blood is the source, call the doctor.
- Red streaks: If the child is constipated and pushing hard to release the stool the child may have skin breakdown around the anus and it may cause red streaky bleeding. It is a good idea if you see red streaks to call the doctor. Beyond that, have the child drink more water or watered down juice. Foods to incorporate are raisins, cut up grapes, blueberries, prunes, beans, and broccoli.
- Black poop is only normal during the first few days of a newborn’s life. After that, tarry black lumps could signal bleeding. Though, if your child has been into Oreos, black licorice, grape juice and medicines like iron and Pepto-Bismol, this may also be the source. How to decipher black and dark green is to put a smear on a paper towel and smear it. If the stool is dark green, see green stool, if truly black and not from Oreos and licorice, call the doctor.
- Yellow-brown poop that follows stomach cramps may be an early sign of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This syndrome, may also be accompanied by bouts of constipation. Though less common in toddlers, it does happen. A high fiber diet will help with irritable bowel syndrome. If your child is diagnosed with IBS, medication is also an option.
- Chalk white, light gray, or pale yellow poop may be seen in children who have been given antacids for stomach upset. Children who are on a milk only diet may also have light grey stool. If these are not the reason your toddler has chalk white, light grey, or pale stool it may be a sign of a blocked bile duct, and a reason to contact the pediatrician. Also, call the pediatrician if it is fatty looking, very smelly, and pale. This may show mild gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Pale and really, really nasty smelling and/or fatty, that may suggest celiac disease or a mild gluten intolerance. Talk to your doctor about seeing a pediatric gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in the gut.
- Green is normal for the newborn that is breastfeeding exclusively. Greens in a toddler’s stool can be normal if the child has eaten a large amount of greens like spinach. If the toddler is taking iron, the poop may be green as well. Bile from rotavirus or viruses very similar to rotavirus may cause this as well. This will also make the stool very stinky. Most parents say that the stool smell literally makes them gag. If you do not believe the stool is green because of food, call the doctor.
3. What are the possible causes for a toddler to have diarrhea?
Common causes of toddler diarrhea can range from eating greasy foods, fried foods, viruses, ear infection, medications, drinking too much juice, food allergies, or food poisoning.
Generally speaking, a viral infection is usually the main culprit for your child’s diarrhea. Rarely is it caused by a parasite, but it has happened. Symptoms of a virus (also called viral gastroenteritis infection) can include vomiting, stomach ache, headache and fever. This can last for 5-14 days.
An ear infection can sometimes be the cause of diarrhea. If this is the cause, you will notice the child pulling on one or both ears, and may complain of ear pain.
Antibiotics can also cause diarrhea. Whenever your child has to take a medication, be sure to find out what possible side effects are. This way, if it is from a medication, you are warned and can be prepared.
Giving your toddler too much juice may also be the culprit. This occurs often in toddlers, and even has a name: Toddler’s diarrhea. It happens when a child is drinking too much juice, such as fruit juice or other juices containing high levels of fructose.
Diarrhea may also be the sign of a food allergy. Not all food allergies come with swelling face, throat and tongue. Sometimes it is as “simple” as diarrhea. If the reaction is severe (such as swelling of the face, lips, tongue), call 911. If you notice that your child having diarrhea after a certain food is eaten (or even after certain drinks), discontinue and see if the symptoms continues or stops. If it stops, it is likely a food allergy, if not, there may be another reason, such as a virus or bacterial infection.
A more acute case would be food poisoning. If you think your child has ingested something poisonous, call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
4. What are the symptoms of toddler’s diarrhea?
Symptoms are usually easy to distinguish with toddler diarrhea. The best way to diagnose diarrhea is to look at the frequency of your baby’s poops, not just the texture. One to two bowel movements a day for a toddler is considered normal. If the stool is runny or uncontrollable for the toddler, it is most likely diarrhea. If the diarrhea has vomiting associated with it, watch for signs of dehydration in the child.
If diarrhea is bloody, as in red or black, call your pediatrician. Another reason to call the doctor is If your child becomes dehydrated, a real danger when your toddler is losing a lot of fluids and electrolytes through diarrhea or vomiting. Signs of dehydration include cracked lips, tearless crying, and a decrease in urination. Make sure your child is drinking plenty of fluids while he/she has diarrhea. If your child is not acting like themselves, you may want to give the doctor a call as well.
5. How can I treat my toddler’s diarrhea?
Treating diarrhea is relatively simple if you remember an acronym BRAT for the child’s diet.
BRAT stands for:
- Bananas (mashed or whole)
- Rice (rice cereal, regular rice avoid seasonings especially spicy)
- Applesauce (or apples cut up, try unsweetened applesauce)
- Toast (avoid butter on the toast, try peanut butter instead)
A combination of these works wonders, if consistent. Though, if your child only wants to eat toast, let them, something is better than nothing and if your toddler is upset it may make them feel worse.
Avoid sugary foods and fried foods because they can upset the stomach even more.
Yogurts and children’s probiotic would be a great choice if your toddler doesn’t want much solid food.
Some children won’t want to eat while fighting diarrhea. It is perfectly fine. Continue to keep him/her hydrated with plenty of water. Keep a cup nearby the child at night and all day. Avoid juices. If your child does not want to drink, try popsicles as well.
Unless the child has an acute case of diarrhea, they probably won’t need any actual medications. Over the counter remedies such as pedialyte is sometimes recommended by doctors, but should only be given if the doctor approves. The doctor will tell you how much your child should have based on age/weight.
If your toddler is really sick, cuddle with them to make them feel like everything is good. For toddlers, it is a scary moment if they vomit or have diarrhea because they do not know what is happening to them.
6. Is it okay to give my toddler an adult anti-diarrhea medication?
It is never okay to give your toddler an adult medication. If your child needs a medication, your child’s doctor (or the hospital if you are in the ER) will provide age appropriate medications as needed.
According to uptodate.com,
Medications such as antibiotics and anti-diarrhea agents are generally not necessary and could be harmful for infants or children with diarrhea. Rarely, antibiotics may be used in cases of bacterial infection when a specific cause of the diarrhea has been found or is strongly suspected, particularly after recent travel. Inappropriate use of antibiotics will not improve diarrhea. Furthermore, antibiotics can cause side effects and lead to development of antibiotic resistance.
Antidiarrheal agents (including Imodium, Pepto-Bismol, and Kaopectate) are not recommended for infants or children, since the benefits do not outweigh the risks. One risk of using an anti-diarrhea agent is that it could mask worsening symptoms and delay treatment.
There are “healthy” bacteria (called probiotic) that may help reduce the duration of diarrhea (by about 12 to 30 hours). Some of these are available over-the-counter without a prescription.
7. Can my toddler continue with breastmilk when having diarrhea?
Toddlers are able to continue breastfeeding if they have diarrhea. Breastmilk are made of primarily water, which is what your child needs when they have diarrhea. Breastmilk also has mommy made probiotics for their child. This is the best time to breastfeed if anything. Though, if your child gets sick after feeding, check your diet. It is unlikely at this age that the child would have an allergy to the milk because they eat other foods as well, but if you are suspicious it does not hurt to investigate your diet.
Even if mom has food poisoning, breastfeeding can continue. As long as the symptoms are confined to the gastrointestinal tract (vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps), breastfeeding should continue without interruption, as there is no risk to the baby. This is the case with most occurrences of food poisoning.
8. What else can I do to take care of my child?
Be sure to have plenty of diaper rash cream and baby powder for the sensitive areas. Having diarrhea can cause rashes on their bottoms, and it can cause major discomfort. Change the diaper often, and apply cream as necessary. If they don’t have a rash, you can apply baby powder to keep them a little cool, and pull moisture away from the bottom.
Lots of cuddles would also be appropriate. At this time, your toddler doesn’t understand what is going on, but they know they don’t feel good. Cuddles from mom or dad will help ease their concerns, and will provide comfort.
If you need to care for other children, preventing spread is critical. Parents with children who have diarrhea should be cautious to avoid spreading infection to themselves, their family, and friends. Care with hand washing, diapering, and keeping sick children out of school or day care until the diarrhea is gone are a few ways to limit the number of people exposed to the infection.
If the child has swim lessons, it is mandatory per the health department that anyone with diarrhea needs to be free of all symptoms twenty four hours before entering a pool.
9. When should I take my toddler to see the doctor?
While normal stools are typically light to dark brown, if you’re seeing blood, mucus or grease in your child’s stool, notice fatty bowel movements or foul smelling ones, these could indicate serious problems such as cystic fibrosis or a parasite. Overall, if you notice your child’s bowel movements is consistently not normal, call the doctor.
The following is a list of signs and symptoms that are worrisome and require immediate medical attention:
- Bloody diarrhea
- A toddler refuses to eat or drink anything for more than a few hours and has continuous diarrhea
- Repeated vomiting
- Moderate to severe dehydration (dry mouth, fatigue, dizziness, infrequent urination-less than every six hours, blood in stool, high fever of 103 or more)
- Abdominal pain that comes and goes or is severe
- Behavior changes, including lethargy or decreased responsiveness
As always, if you are concerned and feel that you should go to the doctor or the ER, it is your choice as a parent to go. Trust your instincts, you know your child the best. You can never be too safe.