Diarrhea in Babies: What Doctors Are Learning

Discover the latest knowledge about what causes baby diarrhea—and how to get relief for your child.

Doctors and researchers agree that diarrhea can be caused by a variety of factors. The most common causes of diarrhea in babies includes feeding issues (such as a sensitivity to a food in the mother’s diet if the baby is breastfed), cow’s milk protein allergy, and intestinal viruses.  Find out potential causes baby diarrhea when you explore the article below. If your baby is experiencing diarrhea, you should speak with your pediatrician to help discover why.

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: 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

One of the top clues to diarrhea due to an allergy is recurrence after almost every feeding. If your baby has this experience, check with your doctor to see if she might have a cow’s milk protein allergy. Research shows that about 3% of babies have a cow’s milk allergy. In these cases, babies are allergic to proteins found in milk and other dairy products. Casein and whey are often culprits. Other indications of an allergy may include vomiting, skin rashes, and colic.

It's important to talk to your baby's doctor if you're concerned about an allergy.

Baby Diarrhea Due to a Virus

Additionally, one of the common causes of diarrhea in babies is viral gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and large and small intestines. The latest thinking in management:

For mild diarrhea: For infants with mild gastroenteritis who are not dehydrated, experts suggest that you continue to feed the baby breast milk or formula. Keeping babies on their regular diet can help reduce the duration of diarrhea, while still providing babies with the nutrition they need.

Diarrhea combined with dehydration: If you suspect your baby may be dehydrated, contact your doctor immediately. 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
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy

Research has shown that an oral rehydration solution can replenish the nutrients your baby has lost.

Baby Diarrhea: Questions for 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:

  1. How can I tell if my baby has diarrhea?
  2. What are the typical causes of diarrhea in babies?
  3. What are the indications of an intestinal virus?
  4. Could diarrhea be an indication of a feeding issue or food allergy?
  5. Should I change my baby's formula or diet? What should I add? What should I take out?
  6. I'm breastfeeding; could something in my diet be causing my babay's diarrhea?
  7. What can I do at home to relieve diarrhea?
  8. How do I help avoid diarrhea in my baby in the future?
  9. Could infant diarrhea be an indication of a more serious problem?
  10. I'd like to do more research on diarrhea. What resources would you recommend?

Before you see your doctor:

  1. Call the office and ask if you should do anything in preparation for your visit.
  2. Write down all your baby's issues and your concerns, including answers to these questions:
    • When did you first notice your baby's diarrhea? When she first woke up? After eating?
    • How often is your baby experiencing diarrhea in a day?
    • Is it explosive diarrhea?
    • What are her other behaviors: crying, fussiness, or spitting up? Does she seem bothered by the diarrhea?
    • Has your baby had any indications of an allergic reaction - skin rashes, hives, or breathing trouble?
    • Is your baby refusing to eat?
    • Does anything seem to improve her issues or make them worse?
  3. Also, write down your list of questions (a good start is the list above) and bring them with you.
  4. Make a list of everything your baby is taking:
    • Vitamins or other nutritional supplements
    • Medications
    • Type of formula
    • Breast milk
    • Any solids
  5. Note any changes in your baby lately:
    • Sleep pattern
    • Eating habits
    • Illness

With time, many babies' digestive issues improve. But right now, your doctor can help you determine if your baby has diarrhea and what may be causing it.