Diarrhea In Toddlers: What Parents Need To Know

Diarrhea is something that every child will experience at some point and it can be a little scary for parents. However, in many cases, it’s nothing to worry about. Diarrhea is actually a natural process that the body uses to help eliminate germs, so having it once in a while is no reason to panic.

Normally, diarrhea will last two or three days but it can last as long as a week and it’s often accompanied by nausea, fever, cramps and vomiting. In severe cases, you’ll know right away that your toddler has diarrhea but sometimes it can be hard to tell. Some children naturally have soft stools so it depends on what they eat and what is normal for them.

Knowing what is normal for your child will help you determine if she has diarrhea or not. Sudden changes in the texture such as softer or runny stools and going more often than normal are signs your toddler may have diarrhea.


What Causes Diarrhea In Toddlers

Many different things can cause diarrhea in toddlers. The first thing you need to look at is what she has eaten and drank recently because a change in diet could cause mild diarrhea. It could even be caused by something as simple as drinking too much juice. Medications can also cause this problem, so if your child is taking a new type of medicine, you’ll need to monitor her to see if it clears up or gets worse.

Other causes that may be more serious include:

  • Viral Infection – Most common cause of diarrhea and it’s usually accompanied by aches, chills, fever, stomach pain, headaches and vomiting.
  • Antibiotics – Some antibiotics can cause diarrhea because they kill the good bacteria along with the bad.
  • A Bacterial Infection – May be severe and accompanied by fever, cramps, bloody stool and possibly vomiting.
  • Ear Infection – Often occurs after having a cold and you may notice your child pulling on her ear.
  • Food Poisoning – Symptoms will normally appear very quickly and only last for a day or so.
  • Parasites – Microscopic parasites living in the bowel can cause diarrhea and the child may also have gas, cramps, bloating, nausea and greasy stools.
  • Poisoning – Swallowing anything that was not meant for human consumption or medication that belongs to someone else can cause diarrhea and should be dealt with immediately.
  • Food Allergies or Celiac Disease – These can be difficult to pinpoint and your doctor may need to conduct test to determine the exact cause.
  • Crohn’s and Irritable Bowel Disease – Your child’s doctor will also need to run test to determine if your child has either of these diseases.

Treating Diarrhea In Toddlers

If your toddler’s diarrhea is caused by a change in diet such as eating new foods, then you can try eliminating the new food for a day or two to see if symptoms stop. If it’s caused by medication, then you’ll need to contact your doctor and ask for advice. You don’t want to stop giving your child her medicine without authorization from her doctor first.

In other cases, monitor your toddler and take steps to prevent dehydration. Most cases of diarrhea are mild and not really anything to worry about but moderate or severe diarrhea can cause dehydration, which can become a serious problem. For this reason, give your toddler plenty of clear fluids but avoid sodas, fruit juices, Gatorade and sugar water because they contain too much sugar that can make the problem worse.

Signs of dehydration include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Not urinating
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Dry mouth

If you notice any of these signs, increase the amount of fluids and keep a close eye on your toddler. As long as he or she is consuming fluids, you should see an improvement fairly quickly. However, if your child refuses to drink or can’t keep anything down, call your doctor right away.

You can also give your toddler yogurt containing live cultures or the ingredient lactobacillus. Studies have shown that it can help reduce the length of time the diarrhea last but never give your toddler any type of medication that was not prescribed specifically for her.

When Should You Consult A Doctor?

In most cases, the diarrhea will only last a couple of days and then go away on its own. However, there will be times when you’ll need to take your child to the doctor. If symptoms persist for more than a couple of days, especially if you do not see any improvement, call your child’s doctor. If the diarrhea is accompanied by a high fever of 103 or higher, severe vomiting (more than two or three times), bloody or black stool or dehydration call your doctor.

Other symptoms that warrant a doctor’s visit include:

  • Cannot eat or keep anything down
  • Persistent stomach pain (over 2 or 3 hours)
  • Breaks out in a rash
  • Been longer than 12 hours since urinating
  • Your child has a weak immune system

You don’t have to wait for these symptoms to call your child’s doctor. If at any time you feel your toddler’s health is at risk, call your pediatrician and ask for professional advice.

If your toddler is experiencing confusion or if she is too weak to stand or walk take her to the hospital right away or call 911.

Preventative Measures

There is no way that you can prevent your toddler from getting viral or bacterial diarrhea but you can reduce the risk by following a few simple rules.

Teach your child how to wash her hands correctly with soap and warm water and make sure she does so after using the bathroom and before eating. You should also wash your hands thoroughly after changing soiled diapers or cleaning your toddler after using the bathroom.

Be sure to change, clean and dry your toddler each time she goes to the bathroom to help reduce irritation. Use diaper cream to help heal and keep a close eye on her until the diarrhea passes.

It’s never fun when your child seems sick or has diarrhea but these tips will help provide relief for your toddler. Understand that it’s fairly common in toddlers. If your child is getting it frequently, talk with your pediatrician about possible causes. Otherwise, remember that this too shall pass.


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