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baby or child has different bowel habits. Many newborns who are breast-fed have 5 to 10 bowel movements a day. They may have as few as 1 or 2. After 2 weeks, breast-fed babies' bowel movements might be less frequent. Bottle-fed babies tend to have 1 or 2 fewer bowel movements a day than breast-fed babies.
Babies sometimes go 2 days or longer between bowel movements. This usually is not a problem as long as:
Normal stool during infancy may be runny or pasty, especially if the baby is
breast-fed. The presence of mucus in the stool is not uncommon. Unless there is
a change in your baby's normal habits, loose and frequent stools are not
considered to be diarrhea.
Diarrhea occurs when there is an
increase in the frequency of bowel movements or bowel movements are more watery
and loose than normal. Diarrhea has many causes.
A child may develop diarrhea from a
change in his or her diet. A baby's or child's digestive tract may not tolerate
large amounts of juice, fruit, or even milk. Diarrhea may be caused by an
increase in the amount of juice or fruit a child drinks or eats. Diarrhea that
is caused by a change in the child's diet is not usually serious.
Diarrhea is often caused by a viral or
bacterial infection, such as
rotavirus, stomach flu (gastroenteritis), or
food poisoning. Diarrhea is the body's way of quickly
clearing any viruses, bacteria, or toxins such as
botulism from the digestive tract. Most cases of
diarrhea are caused by a viral infection and will usually clear up in a few
Diarrhea may also be caused by a parasitic infection, such as
Giardia lamblia. This parasite, as well as other viral
and bacterial infections, may be spread by drinking
untreated water, unpasteurized dairy products, or by
On rare occasions, diarrhea can be a
symptom of a more serious condition, such as:
Children, especially those younger than 6 months of age
and those with other
health risks, need special attention when they have
diarrhea because they can quickly become
dehydrated. Careful observation of your child's
appearance and how much fluid he or she is drinking can help prevent
Check your child's symptoms to decide if and when
your child should see a doctor.
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As soon as you notice that your child
has diarrhea, it is important to take action to prevent
Oral rehydration solutions (ORSs) are used to prevent or correct dehydration
in young children. ORSs contain the right mix of salt, sugar, potassium, and
other minerals to help replace body fluids lost from diarrhea. It may be wise
to keep some ORS on hand so that if your child develops diarrhea, you can start
replacing lost fluids immediately. ORS will help prevent dehydration, but it
will not stop the diarrhea.
The amount of ORS your child needs
depends on the severity of his or her dehydration. The more severe the
dehydration, the more ORS you will need to give your child.
signs of dehydration develop to replace lost
fluids. Signs of dehydration include your baby being thirstier than usual and having darker urine than usual.
If your child is also vomiting, learn about home treatment for vomiting.
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
Do not allow your child to drink
untreated or unfiltered water from a lake or stream or unpasteurized milk.
Untreated water and unpasteurized milk are sources for viral, bacterial, and
parasitic infections, such as
Giardia lamblia. Avoid having your child brush his or
her teeth with untreated water. Even a small amount of untreated water can
contain enough parasites, virus, and bacteria to cause diarrhea.
Diarrhea can spread because of poor hygiene.
Food poisoning is a common cause of diarrhea in children and
adults. Most cases of food poisoning at home may be prevented by taking a few
precautions when preparing and storing food. Perishable foods, such as eggs,
meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, milk, and milk products, should be treated
with extra care. Also, precautions should be taken if you are pregnant, you
impaired immune system or a chronic illness, or you
are preparing foods for other high-risk groups, such as young children or older
The following steps are recommended to prevent food poisoning:
Many counties in the United States have extension services
listed in the phone book. These services can answer your questions about safe
home canning and food preparation.
When you travel in wilderness areas or to other countries of the world,
it is common to get traveler's diarrhea from food or water because the methods of food
preparation are different.
Rotavirus vaccine(What is a PDF document?) helps protect babies and young children from getting a
rotavirus infection, which can cause diarrhea and
dehydration. Talk to your child's doctor about this
vaccine for your child.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your child's condition by being prepared to answer
the following questions:
January 15, 2013
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
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