What does baby diarrhea look like?
Diarrhea is defined as three or more loose, watery, or frequent stools. One or more loose stools can be normal with a change in diet, but more than that may be diarrhea. In newborn breastfed babies, poop is often runny and seedy, which can look like diarrhea. But generally, diarrhea is described as frequent, large, watery stools with a foul smell. Mild diarrhea may be around 3-5 watery stools a day while a severe case has 10 or more watery stools a day.
If your baby is experiencing diarrhea, you should talk to your pediatrician to discover the reason and learn about baby diarrhea treatment options.
Baby Diarrhea Causes – Why do Babies have Diarrhea?
Doctors and researchers agree that baby diarrhea can be caused by a variety of factors. The most common causes of diarrhea in babies includes changes in baby's or your diet, feeding issues (such as a sensitivity to a food in the mother’s diet if the baby is breastfed), cow’s milk allergy, and intestinal viruses. Other potential baby diarrhea causes include antibiotic use by the baby or breastfeeding mother, bacterial infections or other rarer causes.
Baby Diarrhea Caused by a Food Sensitivity
If you’re breastfeeding, your baby may react to something you’ve eaten. The best way to find out if this is the cause of your baby's diarrhea: eliminate certain foods from your diet on a trial basis, with the help of your pediatrician. You’ll likely be advised to keep a food diary and note a pattern of behaviors when you consume certain foods.
Baby Diarrhea Due to an Allergy
If your baby has diarrhea after all or almost all feedings, this may be a clue that an allergy is to blame. If your baby has this experience, check with your doctor to see if they might suspect a cow’s milk allergy. Research shows that about 3% of babies have a cow’s milk allergy. In these cases, babies are allergic to proteins found in cow’s milk and other dairy products. Casein and whey are often culprits. Other indications of an allergy to cow’s milk protein may include vomiting, skin rashes, and colic.
It's important to talk to your baby's doctor if you're concerned that an allergy is causing your baby's diarrhea.
Diarrhea combined with dehydration
If you suspect your baby may be dehydrated, contact your doctor immediately. An electrolyte water solution may be suggested if dehydration is severe. Research indicates that diarrhea is especially serious when it results in dehydration. Signs of dehydration include:
- No tears when crying
- Lack of wet diaper for 6 to 8 hours in an infant or only urinating a small amount of dark yellow urine
Baby Diarrhea: Questions to ask your Pediatrician
While it's not uncommon for babies to have occasional bouts of diarrhea, you should feel comfortable calling your baby's doctor at any time for information, advice, and assurance. Here are some questions to consider asking if your baby is experiencing diarrhea:
- What are the typical causes of diarrhea in babies?
- What are the indications of a virus?
- Could diarrhea be an indication of a feeding issue or food allergy?
- Should I change my baby's formula or diet? What should I add? What should I take out?
- I'm breastfeeding; could something in my diet be causing my baby's diarrhea?
- What can I do at home to ease my baby’s diarrhea?
- How do I help avoid diarrhea in my baby in the future?
- Could infant diarrhea be an indication of a more serious problem?
Baby Diarrhea Treatment Options & Prevention Tips
It’s not uncommon for babies to have diarrhea from time to time. While it’s usually not serious, it’s important to know about baby diarrhea treatment and how to avoid it in the future.
Keep your Baby Hydrated & Nourished
If diarrhea is due to a virus, it’s important to make sure your baby is replenishing vital fluids, salts, and minerals. Virus symptoms in your baby include:
- Belly pain
To treat baby diarrhea that comes from a virus, keep these considerations in mind:
- Offer additional breast milk or formula to your baby—it’s important to increase these liquids.
- Plain water does not contain enough sodium and other minerals needed to replace what was lost during dehydration.
- Apple juice and other sweet drinks can just make the diarrhea worse due to their sugar content.
- Ask your doctor about possibly giving your baby an oral rehydration solution.
**Do NOT give your baby anti-diarrhea medications unless their doctor specifically calls for it.
Baby Diarrhea Prevention Tips
If diarrhea is due to a feeding issue, it’s important to take note of everything your baby is ingesting so your doctor can find out what may be the reason for baby’s symptoms. Below we discuss other possible causes of diarrhea, if it’s viral diarrhea, ways to avoid it include:
- Hand-washing. Everyone who comes in contact with your baby should first thoroughly wash their hands for at least 20 seconds. Wash your baby’s hands often, too.
- Disinfecting. Be sure to disinfect changing tables, toys, and other surface areas your baby touches. One of the best ways of disinfecting these areas is to clean with a mixture made with half a cup of bleach combined with a gallon of water.
Watch for Food Sensitivity or Dairy Allergies
If you’re breastfeeding and your baby has diarrhea along with other symptoms such as vomiting or colic, check with your doctor to see if eliminating certain foods from your diet can help. Often, doctors will suggest avoiding dairy in a mother’s diet and monitoring to see whether improvements are seen in the baby.
If you notice that your baby has diarrhea after almost every feeding, check with your pediatrician to see if they might suspect a cow’s milk allergy (CMA). About 3% of babies have a cow’s milk allergy. In these cases, babies react to proteins found in milk and other dairy products. Other symptoms can include:
- Skin rashes
If you think a cow’s milk allergy may be the culprit behind your baby’s diarrhea, learn more about CMA.
Ask about Switching Formula
Whether your baby’s digestive tract seems a little sensitive or you suspect an actual allergy such as cow’s milk allergy, check with your doctor about formula options. For instance, our hypoallergenic baby formulas have extensively hydrolyzed proteins that are easy for babies to digest. A switch like this may be a simple baby diarrhea treatment option when diarrhea is associated with cow’s milk allergy.
Look into Probiotics
Infant probiotics can help support your baby's digestive health. If your baby has a weak digestive system, probiotics may be able to help support it.
When Should I Worry About Baby Diarrhea?
Infants will likely experience baby diarrhea once in a while and it's usually not serious. However, it's important to recognize any potential warning signs and know when it's best to contact your doctor.
Call your doctor right away if your baby has diarrhea along with:
- Is vomiting along with the diarrhea
- Has severe diarrhea or diarrhea that lasts several days
- Does not have wet diapers (symptoms of dehydration including dry mouth)
- Has a rectal temperature of 100.4 °F or higher
- Has diarrhea that contains blood or mucus
- Seems to be in pain
- Your baby is three months old or younger
Understanding the signs associated with diarrhea is important, and you should consider making a list of questions before you see your baby's pediatrician.
Before you see your pediatrician about baby diarrhea:
- Call the office and ask if you should do anything in preparation for your visit.
- Write down all your baby's issues and your concerns, including answers to these questions:
- When did you first notice your baby's diarrhea?
- How often is your baby experiencing diarrhea in a day?
- Is it explosive diarrhea?
- What are their other behaviors: crying, fussiness, or spitting up?
- Has your baby had any indications of an allergic reaction - skin rashes, hives, breathing trouble?
- Is your baby refusing to eat?
- Does anything seem to improve their issues or make them worse?
- Make a list of any medications, foods or formula your baby is consuming
- Note any changes in your baby’s sleep pattern, eating habits or illness
Baby Diarrhea Myths vs Truth – Important Factors to Consider
What other facts should you know about baby diarrhea symptoms—and what myths should you ignore?
The stool of breastfed babies looks different than the stool of formula-fed babies.
Truth. In fact, the stool of breastfed babies is often mistaken for diarrhea because it’s runny in nature and often appears yellow and seedy. Formula-fed babies have thicker stools. So what baby diarrhea symptoms help distinguish it? If your baby has diarrhea, you’ll notice frequent, large, watery stools that may smell particularly foul.
If your little one has frequent diarrhea after each feeding, they may have a cow’s milk allergy.
Truth. About 3% of babies have an allergy to cow's milk. In these cases, babies react to proteins found in milk and other dairy products. In addition to diarrhea, allergic babies might also experience vomiting, skin rashes, and colic. Talk to your doctor to see if this is the case for your baby. Your doctor might suggest Nutramigen® with Enflora™ LGG®, which has hypoallergenic proteins that are easy for babies to digest.
If you’re exclusively breastfeeding and your baby has consistent diarrhea, it might be caused by something in your diet.
Truth. Your pediatrician might suggest eliminating certain foods from your diet on a trial basis. Often, dairy is the first food to be eliminated. You’ll likely be advised to keep a food diary and note a pattern of symptoms (baby had diarrhea, colic, or vomiting) when you consume certain foods. Any patterns can help your pediatrician pinpoint diarrhea triggers for your baby.
If your baby has diarrhea due to a virus, you should decrease the amount of liquids your baby drinks.
Myth. One of the most serious side effects of diarrhea is dehydration. When babies are dehydrated, they lose vital fluids, salts, and minerals, so it’s important that these fluids and nutrients are replenished. One of the most important things you can do is offer additional breast milk or formula to your baby—it’s important to increase the liquids, not decrease them.
If your baby has diarrhea, you can offer them water or apple juice.
Myth. Plain water does not contain enough sodium and other minerals needed to replace what was lost during dehydration. Also, apple juice and other sweet drinks can just make the diarrhea worse due to their sugar content.
If your baby’s diarrhea is severe, you can try an over-the-counter medicine for treatment of diarrhea.
Myth. Babies suffering from prolonged diarrhea are most likely dehydrated. The key is to replenish their fluids to help them start feeling better. Fluids—not medicine—are the answer to treating dehydration. Plus, over-the-counter medicines for diarrhea can have substantial side effects. Talk to your baby’s doctor about possibly giving your baby an oral rehydration solution.
With time, many babies' digestive issues improve. But right now, your doctor is the best person to help you determine if your baby has repeated diarrhea and what may be causing it. Learn more about feeding issues and find formula products that cater to tummy troubles like gas, colic, fussiness, spit up and more.