Diarrhoea in Babies

Diarrhoea is when a baby frequently passes very runny, mucus-filled stools. This is usually due to a bacterial or viral infection or sensitivity to certain foods. Diarrhoea in newborns can be very serious if the child gets dehydrated. If dehydration sets in, you might need to hospitalise the child. Having said that, you can avoid diarrhoea and dehydration by observing certain precautions.

Video: Diarrhoea (Loose Motions) in Babies

Causes

There are many reasons that can cause diarrhoea in babies, and most of them involve microorganism infections. The major factors that cause loose motion in babies are:

1. Bacterial Infection

Certain infectious bacteria like Salmonella, Staphylococcus, Shigella, Campylobacter and E. coli can cause diarrhoea. If the infection is bacterial, the symptoms include severe diarrhoea accompanied by stomach cramps, fever and blood in the stool.

2. Viral Infection

Viruses can cause diarrhoea in babies with symptoms such as vomiting, fever, chills, abdominal pain and achiness. Some of the viruses include rotavirus, calicivirus, adenovirus, astrovirus and influenza.

3. Parasites

Parasitic organisms can also cause diarrhoea. For example, Giardiasis is caused by a microscopic parasite. The symptoms generally are gas, diarrhoea, bloating and greasy stools. Parasitic infections are easily spread in situations involving group care of children.

4. Food Allergies

A food allergy is where the baby’s immune system adversely responds to a generally harmless food protein giving rise to symptoms such as gas, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and blood in the stool. One of the most common food allergens is milk protein that is found in dairy products and baby formula containing a dairy product.

5. Food Intolerance

Different from allergies, food intolerances are reactions that do not involve the immune system. The most well-known is lactose intolerance. Although unusual in babies, lactose intolerance is caused by the diminished production of the enzyme lactase. Lactase is necessary to digest the sugar lactose that is present in cow’s milk and dairy products. The symptoms are diarrhoea, bloating, abdominal cramping and gas.

6. Antibiotics

When babies have diarrhoea after a course of antibiotics, it is because the medicine kills the good bacteria in the gut along with the harmful ones.

7. Excessive Artificial Juice

Giving the baby a lot of sweetened drinks containing fructose and artificial sweeteners such as Sorbitol can upset the stomach and cause diarrhoea.

Signs And Symptoms Of Baby Diarrhoea

New born babies poop frequently and the stool is typically soft if they are breast-fed. If the baby is formula-fed, the stool tends to be firmer.

The symptoms of diarrhoea include:

  • The baby is passing stool more frequently than usual
  • The stools tend to be runny, smelly and mucus-streaked
  • The baby has a fever and appears to be losing weight
  • Baby is cranky and loses appetite
  • Signs of dehydration such as sunken eyes, dry mouth, dark yellow urine and no tears when they cry
  • Fever and vomiting

Treatment

It takes a few days for the baby’s stomach to re-stabilise and end the bout of diarrhoea. Proper hydration and nutrition can speed up the process. Here are a few home remedies for diarrhoea in babies:

1. Give Plenty of Fluids

Dehydration is the most dangerous aspect of diarrhoea and can even send a baby to the hospital, if not treated in time. Replenishing the body’s lost fluids is the first step in treating diarrhoea. If the baby is drinking milk or formula without vomiting, continue feeding it often. Older babies can be given small sips of water, electrolyte solution, or an oral rehydration solution (ORS). Tender coconut water is also a rich source of electrolytes. Make your baby sip tender coconut water periodically.

2. Avoid Sugary Drinks

Refrain from giving the baby any sweetened drinks or undiluted fruit juices. The sugar in them draws more water into the intestine and worsens diarrhoea.

3. Give Toddlers Well-Balanced Meals

Babies who have already transitioned to finger or table food can be given solids even during diarrhoea. A good, healthy diet can shorten the baby’s bout of diarrhoea by restoring essentials nutrients and fighting off the infection. Foods such as bread, cereals, rice, yogurt, fruits and vegetables can be given in small quantities frequently throughout the day.

4. Feed Yogurt

Yogurt is rich in lactobacillus which is an essential bacterium for the intestine. Feeding yogurt restores this bacterial flora which is lost during diarrhoea and thus stabilises the intestine. Feed the baby unflavoured, unsweetened whole milk yogurt only.

5. Avoid Self-Medication

Do not give the baby any herbal or untested medicines without consulting the paediatrician. Also, do not give anti-diarrheal medication to babies less than 12 months old without consulting your doctor.

How To Rehydrate Your Child With ORS Solution?

The oral rehydration solution is the simplest way to restore the baby’s lost water and electrolytes and is available at all pharmacists and doctors. It can also be prepared at home by dissolving 8 teaspoons of sugar and one teaspoon of salt with boiled-cooled water.

  • To rehydrate the baby, they need to be fed small amounts of ORS frequently over a period of four hours
  • If the baby is breastfed, they need to be given ORS in between feeds and no other drinks unless suggested by the doctor
  • Do not feed the child any other food while they are being given ORS

Prevention

Hygiene is central to preventing all sorts of infections in babies. The risk of diarrhoea in babies can be reduced to a great extent by following hygienic procedures in baby care.

  • The microbes that cause infections are easily passed from hand to mouth. Therefore, wash hands with antibacterial soap thoroughly before handling babies
  • Kitchen equipment needs to be kept clean, and food must be prepared hygienically
  • Do not take your child to a playground or nursery during an episode of diarrhoea and up until 48 hours after it ends
  • Wipe your baby’s hands clean with non-alcoholic wipes frequently, especially when they are crawling around
  • Meat should be well-cooked and fruits and vegetables must be washed thoroughly before feeding
  • Bathroom surfaces must be kept clean to avoid bacterial growth

Are Breastfed Babies Less Susceptible To Get Loose Motions?

Yes, breastfed babies are less susceptible to infections that arise out of drinking water and feeding bottles. Also, bouts of breastfed baby diarrhoea last shorter as breastmilk has certain elements that inhibit the growth and action of microorganisms and boost the baby’s immunity.

Is It Safe To Give Your Baby An Adult Anti-Diarrheal Medication?

It is not safe to give anti-diarrheal medicines to babies under 12 months of age, especially the medicines meant for adults. They can have serious side effects.

Is it Okay to Give Baby Solid Food?

Yes. If you baby is old enough to eat solid food, it is okay to continue unless the baby is vomiting frequently. If not, solids such as banana, apple puree, rice and dry toast can be given to babies older than 6 months. For toddlers, small amounts of starchy foods such as soups, mashed potatoes, pasta, boiled rice and moong dal can be given. It is okay even if the baby’s appetite is low during a diarrhoea bout as long as the baby is getting adequate fluids to avoid dehydration.

When Does Your Baby Require Medical Help?

You should call your doctor if your baby is less than 3 months old and has diarrhoea. If the baby is over 3 months old and the condition does not seem to improve after 24 hours, a doctor should be called. Medical help is needed if the diarrhoea is coupled with the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting frequently
  • Watery stools 3-4 times within a few hours
  • Symptoms of dehydration such as a dry mouth, crying without tears, sunken eyes, not having a wet nappy for 6 hours straight, sunken fontanelle (soft spot in head)
  • Discoloured hands and feet
  • Fever that lasts longer than 24 hours
  • Refuses to drink milk, water or any other fluids
  • Has blood in stools
  • Has a swollen abdomen

Diarrhoea is common in babies. If your baby gets diarrhoea, you need to make sure that the baby does not get dehydrated. Some simple home remedies can help prevent and treat diarrhoea.

Also Read:

Diarrhoea in Kids
Home Remedies for Diarrhoea in Infants