Diarrhea In Children

Every mother tends to worry over the health of her baby and since the little baby or child can not talk for himself or herself, the mother presumes when the child is sick from certain changes she may observe in her child. One of such changes is in the nature and frequency of the baby’s or child’s poop. Older children can tell when they are feeling sick and how they are feeling. It is important however to understand what diarrhoea really is, to avoid unnecessary worry on the side of the mother.

What is Diarrhea?

Diarrhea is the passing of frequent, loose, watery stools 3 or more times in a day. The normal frequency and consistency of bowel movements varies with a child’s age and diet. Frequency – Young infants would normally have up to 3 to 10 stools per day. However, this depends on the diet of the child; breastfed children have more frequent stools. Older infants, toddlers and children normally have one to two bowel movements per day.

Hence, diarrhea can be defined in terms of frequency as the increase to twice the usual number per day in infants or 3 or more loose, watery stools in older children. Consistency – Consistency and color of a child’s stool normally changes with age so it is very important to know which is normal for a particular child.

Breastfed children normally have softer stools. Their stools may be yellow, green or brown and may appear to contain seeds. If your child’s stool becomes watery, contains mucus or looks black or appears to have the presence of blood, medical care should be sought.

Diarrhea can also be classified in terms of duration. Diarrhea for more than 3 weeks is known as chronic whereas less than 3 weeks is acute. Diarrhea is very common in children. Fluid loss can occur quickly and this leads to dehydration. Dehydration alters the child’s natural balance of water and electrolytes (sodium, potassium and chloride). If it is not corrected early, it can be fatal.

What can Cause Your Child’s Diarrhea?

Most common cause of diarrhea is viral infections. Other causes include; bacterial infections, parasitic infections and side effects of antibiotics. Viral, bacterial and parasitic infections are all very contagious. Children are considered contagious for as long as they have diarrhea. Some children may even spread diarrhea before they start showing symptoms.

  • Viral Infections – e.g. Rotavirus. Viral infections usually develop 12 hours to 5 days after exposure and resolves within 3 to 7 days. No specific treatment is needed and children with viral infections are best treated with supportive therapy e.g. increased fluid intake, age – appropriate diet, limited foods high in fat and simple sugars and rest.
  • Bacterial Infections – e.g. Shigella. Common in areas where there is unsafe drinking water and poor sewage handling. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish from viral infections.
  • Parasitic Infections – e.g. Amoebae. Also common in areas with unsafe drinking water and poor handling of sewage. Diarrhea from parasitic infections may last for weeks to months.
  • Antibiotic – associated diarrhea – e.g. Penicillin. This type of diarrhea is typically mild and does not cause dehydration or weight loss. Antibiotics should be stopped and diarrhea resolves.
  • Other diseases like malaria, ear infections, urinary tract infection and pneumonia can also cause diarrhea, which will be a symptom in these diseases.


A few of the symptoms a child with diarrhea will experience are:

  • Frequent watery stools
  • Blood or mucus in the stools
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Reduced urine output
  • Abdominal pain


This happens in the hospital where the doctor will confirm what the problem might really be. Children with diarrhea should be taken to see a doctor. A number of lab investigations would be done, a few include:

  • Full blood count
  • Blood film for malaria parasite
  • Stool routine examination
  • Stool for culture and sensitivity
  • Urine route examination
  • Blood, Urea and Creatinine

How can Diarrhea in Children be Treated?

Treatment of diarrhea aims at eradicating the cause, preventing dehydration, replacing fluid loss, maintaining good nutrition and maintaining personal hygiene.

Based on evaluation by a doctor, an appropriate treatment regimen will be given to the child. A few of them include:

  • Oral Rehydration Salts
  • Encouraging fluid intake; more breast feeding, coconut water, soup, water, etc
  • Antibiotics
  • Zinc Supplementation

What you can do to Prevent Diarrhoea in Your Child

  • Good personal hygiene; washing of child’s hands, washing of parent or caregivers hands after changing a diaper.
  • Proper disposal of used diapers.
  • Drinking clean and safe water.
  • Eating hot and well cooked foods.
  • Immunization against the Rotavirus.

You can keep and optimise your child’s health by paying attention to the changes that occur in your baby and taking appropriate steps to provide the best care for your child. Now, you can be able to tell whether or not your baby really has diarrhea and what you should do about it.

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