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Dealing With Diarrhea

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Minor stomach complaints are typical among young children. It's important to learn how to manage them at home so you can avoid emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and prolonged discomfort.

One of the most common symptoms of tummy troubles is diarrhea — watery stools that are different in appearance and frequency than those your baby has had before. (This is an important detail, since many young infants, especially breastfed babies, normally have thin or watery stools.) Most infectious diarrheas are caused by viruses that tend to be more common in the summer but can come along anytime. There is no cure except time for these infections, which usually last several days.

The key is to give your baby plenty of fluids, even if he doesn't have much of an appetite or seem very thirsty. Continue to feed him if his diarrhea is mild. Give him bland foods that contain pectin, a fiber, in small portions throughout the day. Try applesauce, rice, bananas, and mashed potatoes. If you're formula feeding, add an extra ounce or two of water to the mix, diluting the formula slightly. Avoid teas, which don't have the necessary salts, as well as fruit juices — they can actually increase fluid loss because of their high salt content.

If your baby's stools are particularly frequent and watery (hourly, for example, and soaking through the diaper), you may need to give him 1 to 2 ounces of a commercial electrolyte solution every hour or two for a day before going back to his regular feeding pattern. If his diarrhea isn't getting better, check in with his health care provider. Whatever you do, don't give your baby any diarrhea medicine without very explicit directions from an experienced health care provider. These treatments can cause serious bowel stoppage and sedation.

FYI: Diarrhea almost always creates skin irritation in the diaper area. Change your baby frequently and apply petroleum jelly to the area — or use a diaper with petroleum embedded in the lining — to protect his skin from the burning properties of fast-running stools. When he's asleep, take his diaper off so his tender skin can get some air.

When to Call
It's hard to know when to contact the health care provider, but if your child is exhibiting any of the following symptoms, call his provider immediately:
  • A dry mouth, lack of tears, dark urine, or acting very sick — all are signs of dehydration
  • Stool containing pus or blood or that is black or persistently green
  • Vomiting that accompanies diarrhea, lasting for more than eight hours
  • High fever or serious abdominal pain that accompanies diarrhea

Get more information on handling diarrhea, vomiting, and signs of illness.  

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