Diarrhea is common, usually clears up quickly and normally is not serious. It is usually defined as passing watery stools more than 3 times in one day. Variation in a baby’s stools will occur due to diet and breastfed babies will tend to have softer stools and pass them slightly more often than bottle fed babies.
Diarrhea in breast fed babies can sometimes be caused by something in the mother’s diet. Spicy food, dairy products, alcohol and even laxatives can all make their way into breast milk and upset baby’s stomach.
Diarrhea is either short term (acute) or longer term (chronic) and both can have different causes. It can also occur during weaning when baby is getting used to different foods.
The side effects of antibiotics and other medicines can cause acute diarrhea as can food poisoning and viral infections. Babies’ gastro-intestinal systems are very sensitive and poor hygiene (both with parents and infants who are potty trained) can cause problems.
Diarrhea is classified as chronic if it lasts for more than two weeks. This can be due to bacterial infection but can also be the result of lactose or gluten intolerance.
Diarrhea should last no longer than 2 days in babies who are 3-12 months. If it does or if there are other symptoms present then parents should be advised to consult their doctor.
Parents with young babies with diarrhea should be told to monitor them carefully as dehydration is a real risk. Signs of dehydration include dry mouth and tongue, glazed eyes, drowsiness/unresponsiveness and passing little urine. If any of these signs are present, parents should contact their doctor immediately.
Whether breast feeding or bottle feeding, mothers should be encouraged to continue to feed normally. Weaned infants should eat as normally as possible and be offered frequent sips of water or diluted fruit juice. If baby refuses to eat, parents should offer drinks till normal appetite returns.
In some cases it may be necessary to recommend rehydration fluids.