Baby Diarrhea: Myth Versus Truth

Can diarrhea signal a food allergy? Here’s what you need to know about baby diarrhea symptoms.

From diarrhea symptoms and causes to ways to relieve diarrhea in your baby, get the facts you need to know. 

Diarrhea is defined as loose, watery, or frequent stools. It may commonly be caused by feeding issues, a food allergy, or a virus.  If your baby is experiencing diarrhea, you should speak with your pediatrician to help discover the cause. .

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, she 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 her 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.

To Learn More

For the latest research on diarrhea, read “What Causes Diarrhea in Babies? What Doctors Are Learning”.