Managing Diarrhea In Infants At Home: A Field Guide for Parents
It’s the childhood ailment known as That Which Shall Not Be Named. No one wants to deal with it and absolutely no one wants to talk about it afterward – but because of this, when it strikes, parents are often unsure how to help their child. So we spoke with Mumbai pediatricians Drs. RK Anand and Paresh Desai to give you an at-home field guide to one of the worst parental duties: dealing with diarrhea in infants.
Fast facts about baby diarrhea
Most diarrhea in babies is caused by a viral infection, which must simply run its course in typically 3 to 4 days; there is no medication to stop it.
Give your child food and drink as usual to keep up their strength and prevent dehydration.
- If you’re breastfeeding (even if it’s in addition to solids), offer more breastmilk than usual, as it will boost your child’s immune system.
- If your child is older than 6 months and not breastfeeding, feel free to give them sips of rehydrating drinks like Electral or homemade mixtures. Avoid any non-human milk or milk products.
Keep an eye on the color of urine. The amount or frequency of diarrhea is less of a concern than the amount and frequency of urine. If your child is urinating like usual and the urine is light in colour, your child will be fine.
Consult a doctor immediately if diarrhea is accompanied by vomiting. Or, if your child stops urinating, or passes very little urine or dark urine in a 6- to 8-hour period.
Dr. Anand advises parents to first make sure your child is actually experiencing diarrhea. Particularly among very young, exclusively breastfed babies, it is common to have frequent, loose bowel movements — diarrhea differs in that it is loose and watery and more frequent than usual. If a baby is passing loose poop no more than usual, and he is urination is normal and a light color, he is fine.
The top concern in treating baby diarrhea is to avoid dehydration. Through the diarrhea, your child is losing water, salts and other vital nutrients. The solution, then, is to replenish these – not to withhold food or drink, which will only weaken a child.
So continue feeding the child as usual, Dr. Anand says, though your baby or toddler may eat in smaller amounts and more frequently. Some nutrients may be lost via the diarrhea, but some will still be absorbed by your child’s body, strengthening her and helping her to fight the underlying infection.
For babies older than 6 months who are breastfeeding in addition to eating foods, give them more breastmilk during this time, as it boosts their immune system. For babies 6 months and older who aren’t breastfeeding, it is OK to give them sips of rehydrating drinks like Electral or homemade rehydrating mixtures, says Dr. Desai. Dr. Anand also recommends bananas and rice kanji to replenish lost nutrients.
Dr. RK Anand’s Home Recipe for a Rehydrating Drink
Boil 1 litre of water and let it cool. Combine it with 1 level teaspoon of salt and 8 level teaspoons of sugar. Add a little fresh lime juice to taste.
For babies 6 months to 2 years, give 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the mixture after every watery stool. For children above 2 years, give 1/2 to 1 cup after every stool.
Note: The drink must be used within 12 hours.
The one drink to avoid giving your child, however, is milk (not including breastmilk), says Dr. Desai. Most cases of diarrhea in babies are caused by viral infections which make digesting the lactose in non-human milk very difficult. Milk (and milk products – like dahi, butter, ice cream, etc.) can actually worsen baby diarrhea.
While it might seem obvious to track your child’s health by the amount and frequency of poop, during bouts of baby diarrhea, the best indicator of whether or not he’s OK is his urine. If your child stops urinating, or passes very little urine or dark urine in a 6- to 8-hour period, then consult a doctor. However, if he is urinating normally and the urine is light in colour, he’s doing well.
Both doctors advise against any kind of medication, as there is no medication effective in stemming baby diarrhea. In extreme cases, zinc supplementation may be prescribed, but that is the only medication physicians would consider.
Finally, while both doctors stress the importance of keeping children suffering from diarrhea well hydrated, they also say to give patients a break – no one likes to be force-fed. Encourage your child to take small but frequent sips or feeds, if they aren’t up to drinking a whole cup or bowl, or completing a full breastfeed, in one sitting.
Both doctors advise letting the diarrhea run its course at home — typically 3 to 4 days — providing urination remains usual and light coloured. Only if urination diminishes or turns dark should parents consult a doctor. Or, if at any point diarrhea is accompanied by vomiting, parents should consult a doctor immediately.