Diarrhoea is an increase in the frequency, runniness, or volume of faeces that is common in children and babies.
Passing stools more often than normal and passing loose or watery stools can be signs that your child has diarrhoea. Though symptoms usually last only a few days, a child with diarrhoea should be watched closely, as symptoms can suddenly get worse and require medical attention.
Causes of diarrhoea in children, toddlers & babies
• Gastroenteritis or infection of the gut (viruses, such as rotavirus or norovirus are one of the most frequent causes of diarrhoea in children)
• Food allergies and intolerances
• Food poisoning
• Conditions which involve inflammation of the gut
Another possible cause, which is less common, is coeliac disease.
How is diarrhoea treated?
The most important treatment of diarrhoea in young children is to provide fluids, which will help to prevent dehydration. Ask your pharmacist for advice, they may recommend oral rehydration salts or drinks containing electrolytes.
Continue feeding your baby via breast or bottle. You should try to breastfeed in small feeds more often than usual, particularly if your child is being sick. For babies on formula or solid foods, give them small sips of water between feeds.
You can offer older children food, but they may not feel like eating. Your child may find it easier to start with plain or simple food. If they have no appetite, continue focusing on keeping them hydrated – their appetite will return when they start to recover.
When your child has diarrhoea, avoid giving them certain fluids (undiluted fruit juice, fizzy drinks or sports/energy drinks) that can contain hard-to-digest sugars and cause bloating.
When to take your child with diarrhoea to the Doctor
Though diarrhoea may go away on its own in a matter of days, some cases require medical attention. Take your child to the Doctor if they:
• Have a temperature of 38°C or above and are younger than three months old or have a temperature of 39°C or above and are three to six months old
• Are younger than 12 months old and are showing signs of dehydration (such as fewer wet nappies)
• Have diarrhoea for longer than seven days or sooner if you're worried
• Are continuously vomiting or have green, yellow or brown vomit
• Have blood in their stools
• If their symptoms are severe
• If they don't seem to be improving
You should also take them to the Doctor if you're worried about them.
How to help prevent diarrhoea
• Wash your child's hands thoroughly after they go to the toilet and before eating. Parents should wash their hands after changing babies’ nappies, supervising children at the toilet, going to the toilet themselves, and before handling food
• Infants’ bottles should be sterilised and cleaned
• Meat products should be well cooked and raw meat should not be given to young children
• Meat should be kept separate from other food to prevent contamination
• To prevent the spread of diarrhoea, keep your child off school for 48 hours after symptoms have stopped
• Treat your child’s diarrhoea symptoms by allowing them to rest and giving them plenty of fluids
• If diarrhoea persists and they have any of the symptoms listed above, or if you're worried, take them to the Doctor
• Take preventative measures, such as hand washing and safe food preparation