Diarrhea in Children: 5 Prevention and Treatment Best Practices

Everybody can have diarrhea, regardless of age and gender. This means that children can experience it, too.

In most cases, diarrhea passes on its own without the need for any treatment. However, children’s diarrhea – especially one that occurs from ages zero to three – can be dangerous as very young children are more prone to dehydration.

As parents, you must make sure that you know what to do and not do for diarrhea treatment and prevention. From proper hygiene to changes in diet and use of probiotics for kids, below are five prevention and treatment best practices you must keep in mind:

1. Practice Proper Hand Washing

Millions of microorganisms thrive on surfaces that people touch. This means that the hands are the most common modes of transportation for pathogens that cause a wide array of illnesses, including diarrhea.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that hand washing has been proven to reduce diarrhea cases by about one-third in daycare centers and schools. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) echoes this and reports that 23 to 40 percent of people get sick with diarrhea, thanks to regular and proper handwashing.

That said, make sure that you always wash your hands with soap and water before touching your baby. The same applies to items used for and on him.

Teaching very young children – especially toddlers aged two years old or younger – proper hand washing is important, too.

2. Know the Causes and Recognize the Symptoms

Diarrhea is a symptom of many illnesses, but there’s more to it than that. Besides germs like viruses, bacteria and fungi, and parasites that could cause diarrhea, children can also experience it because of:

  • Eating or drinking too many foods and drinks with high sugar content (e.g., juice)
  • Allergic reaction to food allergens
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Intestinal issues, such as celiac disease and inflammatory bowel diseases (e.g., ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease)

Knowing the cause of diarrhea not only helps you prevent its occurrence, but also ensures your child’s faster recovery.

Aside from the causes of diarrhea, you also need to study the signs of diarrhea. Besides stomach cramping and loose bowel movement, listed below are the other common symptoms of this ailment:

  • loss of appetite
  • fever
  • nausea
  • weight loss
  • vomiting
  • dehydration

Take note that not all these symptoms may appear at once. Plus, some of them – like dehydration – could be signs that diarrhea has gone on for too long and that your child may already need medical attention.

3. Watch Your Child’s Diet

Most of the time, diarrhea occurs because of an issue with the digestive system. It can be an imbalance of gut flora, something your child ate, an allergic reaction, etc.

Considering this, make sure that your child only eats food that is clean and safe for his consumption. You can also choose to supplement good bacteria in the gut with probiotics for babies to stop diarrhea on its tracks (with doctor’s recommendations, of course).

Your child’s pediatrician may also advise you to make the following small changes in your little one’s diet:

  • Replace three major meals with several small meals throughout the day.
  • Include more salty foods like pretzels and soup in his diet.
  • Feed him boiled eggs, bananas, applesauce, baked potatoes, and bread products made using white flour (refined).
  • Pasta, white rice, and cereals (e.g., farina, cream of wheat, oatmeal, and cornflakes) are okay, too.
  • Cook vegetables thoroughly.
  • Only offer him select desserts, like popsicles, Jell-O, cookies, cakes, or sherbet.

4. Rehydrate

Although diarrhea is mostly a minor ailment, it can become a major concern if a child becomes too dehydrated, which is why you must help him replace lost fluid. In some cases, antibiotics may also be prescribed to stop diarrhea caused by infection.

Ultimately, here are the most important things you need to do if your child is dehydrated:

  • Make him drink glucose-electrolyte solutions. These contain the right balance of sugar, salts, and water, and salts. Some are even available in popsicle form for ease of administration.
  • Don’t offer him soda or juice as these can make diarrhea worse.
  • Babies should never be given plain water.
  • Too much plain water is dangerous for children with diarrhea, regardless of age.
  • Continue infant breastfeeding. Breastfed babies usually have fewer bouts with diarrhea.

5. When in Doubt, Call the Doctor

Whatever the cause of diarrhea, certain situations warrant a call to your child’s pediatrician. These include:

  • Diarrhea in children younger than six months
  • Too many trips to the bathroom or long-lasting diarrhea, around three days tops
  • Frequent vomiting and failure to drink fluids for some reason
  • Severe stomach ache or cramping
  • Bloody stools

You should also consult your doctor as soon as you see the following signs of dehydration in a child with diarrhea:

  • Sticky or dry mouth
  • Very few or lack of tears when crying
  • Sunken eyes
  • Sunken fontanelle (the soft spot on their head) in babies
  • Fewer wet diapers or signs of less urine
  • Dizziness or drowsiness

Ease Diarrhea in Children

Easing and preventing diarrhea in children requires a deep understanding of the signs of the illness, its causes, and risk factors.

Consider the best practices listed here to ensure that you know what to do when your child has diarrhea.