Baby Symptoms & Conditions

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Toddler’s Diarrhea

Healthy kids who drink too much juice or don’t get enough nutrients can get what’s called “toddler’s diarrhea.” Here’s the scoop on how this is different from other stomach issues -- and what to do about it.

What is toddler’s diarrhea?

Diarrhea is frequent, watery loose stools. Most of the time, diarrhea is the result of a stomach infection and typically only lasts a few days. But the phrase “toddler’s diarrhea” refers to a condition that lasts more than seven days. Kids with toddler’s diarrhea often have as many as 2 to 10 watery stools per day; the stools may contain bits of undigested food.

What are the symptoms of toddler’s diarrhea?

Kids who have stomach viruses usually feel lousy and throw up before they have loose stools, says Katherine O’Connor, MD, a pediatric hospitalist at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City, but children with toddler’s diarrhea usually don’t vomit. They typically have 2 to 10 loose, watery stools per day. The diarrhea can last for weeks; then, there might be a period of formed stools. Kids with toddler’s diarrhea normally appear healthy otherwise.

Are there any tests for toddler’s diarrhea?

You’ll know when your child has diarrhea. If the diarrhea lasts longer than a few days, see your doctor. He’ll examine your child and conduct a complete medical history to figure out what’s going on. He might ask for a stool sample, which he’ll check for blood or the presence of infectious organisms. He’ll also probably ask if there’s a history of food allergies in the family; food allergies and intolerances can sometimes cause diarrhea.

How common is toddler’s diarrhea?

Toddler’s diarrhea -- the persistent diarrhea that lasts a few weeks -- is much less common than diarrhea caused by a stomach virus, which virtually all kids experience at least a few times before they reach school age.

How did my child get toddler’s diarrhea?

Toddler’s diarrhea is usually the result of an out-of-whack diet. It’s normally caused by a diet low in fats and proteins and high in sugar and fluids. Drinking too much juice is associated with toddler’s diarrhea.

What’s the best way to treat toddler’s diarrhea?

If your child has toddler’s diarrhea, it’s time to tweak his diet. Cut back on the fruit juice and increase his protein and fat intake. Don’t let your child wander around the house with a sippy cup; too many fluids can actually overwhelm your child’s digestive system and contribute to toddler’s diarrhea. Increase his fiber intake too. Instead of juice, cut up fresh fruit and give it to him as a snack.

If it’s not “toddlers diarrhea,” and it’s diarrhea caused by a stomach virus, though, focus on fluids. Kids who are puking and losing a lot of liquid in their stools can easily become dehydrated. “I recommend offering your child small volumes about every 15 minutes -- maybe half an ounce every 15 minutes,” O’Connor says. Plain water is not as good for rehydration as sports drinks (such as Gatorade) or electrolyte drinks (such as Pedialyte) because your child needs sugar and salt to replace the sugar and salt he’s loosing through his stools. Watered-down fruit juice offered with salty snacks (crackers, chicken noodle soup) is also effective.

What can I do to prevent toddler’s diarrhea?

Toddler’s diarrhea can be prevented by serving your child a balanced diet that contains healthy amounts of fats, protein, fiber, fruits and veggies.

What do other moms do when their kids have toddler’s diarrhea?

“It lasted almost a full month. Occasionally, she'd have a “good” day and trick me into thinking “Yay, it's getting better!” only to have more loose poos the next day. I was so frustrated. I took her to the pediatrician, who mentioned it could be toddler’s diarrhea. She basically ate starchy foods and bananas and carrots for a whole month. The pediatrician also told me to stop the milk and that she could only have water and Pedialyte, since sometimes milk can add to the problem.”

“They’ve sent her home a couple times from day care, since their policy is three loose diapers and they go home and can't come back until they have 24 hours with no loose bowel movements. My husband and I have both missed some workdays because of it. We’re just trying to watch what she eats and make sure she has enough starch in her diet to tighten it up. I thought it could be a food allergy, but we’d been feeding her plenty of fruit beforehand and hadn't introduced anything new.”

“My son went through a long spurt of having diarrhea. It would clear up for a day, so I'd send him to school, and then a few hours later, I'd get the call to come and get him -- very frustrating (and expensive). Our pediatrician never used the term 'toddler’s diarrhea' though. She just said that if it he hits the 14-day mark to take him back in (we were at day 10 at that point) and we would explore other options. It just went away. We did the BRAT diet.”

Are there any other resources for toddler’s diarrhea?

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

Riley Hospital for Children

American Academy of Pediatrics’ HealthyChildren.org

The Bump expert: Katherine O’Connor, MD, a pediatric hospitalist at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City

-- Jennifer L.W. Fink

See More: Baby Basics , Baby Doctor Visits , Newborn Basics , Toddler Basics

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Reminder: Medical info on The Bump is FYI only and doesn't replace a visit to a medical professional.