Page header image


What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea can be caused by a virus or bacteria in your child's intestines. This makes your child's stools looser and come more often. Mild diarrhea is when your child has a few loose stools. When the stools are watery, the diarrhea is severe.

When your child has diarrhea, it is important to make sure your child does not lose too much water. If your child has these signs, he or she could be dehydrated:

  • Dry, sticky mouth.
  • No tears.
  • No urine in over 8 hours (over 12 hours if more than 1 year old).
  • Dark urine.

Taking care of the diarrhea can keep your child from developing dehydration.

What is the cause?

Diarrhea is usually caused by a viral infection. Sometimes it is caused by bacteria or parasites. Sometimes a food allergy or drinking too much fruit juice may cause diarrhea. Antibiotics can upset the natural balance of bacteria in the digestive tract.

What should I feed my child?

Extra fluids and diet changes work best. Note: One loose stool can mean nothing. Don't change your child's diet until your child has had several loose stools.

Taking Care of Watery (Severe) Diarrhea

If your baby is less than 1 year old and bottle-fed:

  • Give him formula more often than you would normally and as much as he wants. Fluids prevent dehydration.
  • Give your baby Pedialyte instead of formula for 4 to 6 hours.
  • After 4 to 6 hours, give your baby formula again. Offer Pedialyte in addition to the formula feeding only if the urine becomes dark colored or passed infrequently.
  • Switch to a soy formula if the diarrhea is severe and doesn't improve in 3 days.
  • If your baby is over 4 months old, continue rice cereal, and strained bananas.

If your baby is less than 1 year old and breast-fed:

  • Breast-feed more often.
  • If your baby is over 4 months old, continue rice cereal, and strained bananas.
  • Offer Pedialyte between breast-feedings only if your baby does not urinate as often as usual or has dark-colored urine.

If your child is over 1 year old:

  • Give dried cereals, grains, bread, crackers, rice, pasta, and mashed potatoes. Yogurt is also good for diarrhea.
  • Give water or half-strength Gatorade as the main fluids for 6 hours.
  • Caution: If your child does not want to eat solid food, give your child milk or formula rather than water.

Taking Care of Mild Diarrhea

  • You can keep giving formula to your baby. Have older children drink extra water, as well as milk.
  • Stay away from all fruit juices.
  • Feed your child cereal, breads, crackers, rice, mashed potatoes, and pasta.
  • Add a probiotic to the diet. Probiotics contain healthy bacteria (lactobacilli) that can replace unhealthy bacteria in the GI tract. Yogurt is the easiest source of probiotics. If your child is over 12 months old, give 2 to 6 ounces (60 to 180 ml) of yogurt twice daily.

Call your child's doctor right away if:

  • Your child has not urinated in 8 hours (12 hours for older children) or has a very dry mouth or no tears.
  • There is any blood in the diarrhea.
  • Your child has had more than 8 stools in the last 8 hours.
  • The diarrhea is watery AND your child also throws up repeatedly.
  • Your child starts acting very sick.

Call your child's doctor during office hours if:

  • There is mucus or pus in the stools.
  • Your child has a fever that lasts more than 3 days.
  • The mild diarrhea lasts more than 2 weeks.
  • You have other concerns or questions.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.3 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-06-11
Last reviewed: 2015-06-11
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD FAAP. All rights reserved.
Page footer image