Diarrhea in children can be due to various things. The most common is that the child has a viral infection in the form of a stomach illness. Diarrhea can also depend on what the child eats. It is important that the baby gets more fluid than usual when the child has diarrhea.

Diarrhea can look different

Diarrhea means the poop is loose, and the baby often poops several times a day. The texture can be like water, scallion, or thin porridge. Sometimes there are fixed parts in the bag. The pouch may contain mucus and sometimes also blood.

Children who eat breast milk have loose poop

Children under one year who eat the most breast milk often have loose or grainy poop, without diarrhea. The color is yellow and sometimes greenish. Children who eat breast milk may also poop seven to eight times a day or after each meal.

What can I do for myself?

Most children who have diarrhea can usually be cared for at home. But it is important to think about a few things.

Give the child a drink often

A child who has diarrhea needs to get more fluid than usual. Therefore, give the child a drink, preferably as soon as the child has had diarrhea. This is especially true if the child is also vomiting.

The child should drink frequently and a little at a time. You can give the baby liquid with a teaspoon if the child has difficulty drinking himself.

In the text  Magsjuka in young children, you can read more advice on what you can do to get the child to keep the fluid. The text is about stomach upset in children up to six years. In principle, children over six years of age can follow the same advice as adults with stomach ailments. The advice can help, even if the child has diarrhea without having stomach ailments.

The child may need fluid replacement

You may need to give the child fluid replacement if the child has severe diarrhea. Fluid replacement helps restore the body’s fluid balance and salt balance.

You can buy a liquid replacement at a pharmacy, or you can mix it yourself. Read the recipe and how to do in the text Liquid replacement for children.

Lubricate the baby’s butt if the skin is irritated

The loose poop can make the skin of the buttocks red and irritated. To avoid this, you can do the following:

  • Replace the diaper as soon as possible after the baby has pooped, if a baby is using a diaper.
  • Leave the baby without a diaper or underwear so that the buttocks are ventilated.
  • If the skin is red and irritated, lubricate the skin with a greasy ointment.

What can the child eat?

What the child can eat depends on why the child has diarrhea. Usually, it is possible to give regular food, if the child is over a year and has moderate diarrhea. You can think of the following when you give your child food:

  • Give the child small amounts of food at a time.
  • Try giving your child blueberry soup or carrot soup. They have a stopping effect on diarrhea. You can make carrot soup yourself by mixing carrot puree and water.
  • Feel free to mix in some extra fat in the food.
  • Avoid giving the baby whole-grain swelling. It can cause the child to have more diarrhea.
  • Avoid giving your child light drinks, as they can cause more diarrhea.

You can read more about good food for children in the articles  Baby food up to one year and Baby food 1-6 years.

If the child has diarrhea a longer time

Mix extra fat in the food if the child has so-called toddler diarrhea. For example, you can have an extra click of butter or oil in the food. It is also good to give the baby mild scab instead of whole-grain scum.

You can read more about toddler diarrhea further down in the text.

Allow the child to eat what the child enjoys in case of stomach upset

In the case of stomach ailments, it is common for the child to stop vomiting, but diarrhea continues for a while. What you can give your child to eat depends on the child’s age. Usually, it is possible to give the child what the child wants to eat.

Medicines for diarrhea are not recommended

There are non-prescription drugs for diarrhea for adults and children over 12 years. The drugs can be used if diarrhea needs to be stopped temporarily, for example during a flight. Otherwise, children over the age of 12 should not use medicines that stop diarrhea. Children under 12 years of age should not use such drugs at all. The drugs can make it more time for diarrhea to cure if it is due to a stomach illness.

Medical carbon has no effect on diarrhea.

What can the diarrhea be due to?

There are many reasons why a child gets diarrhea.

Stomach flu

The most common cause of diarrhea in children is stomach upset. Then the child also usually vomits. The vomiting usually goes away after a few days, but diarrhea can continue for a week.

Most often, stomach upset is due to calicivirus. The stomach ailment is then called winter sickness.

Another virus that can cause stomach upset is rotavirus. It is the most common cause of stomach upset in children between six months and two years. All children in Europe are offered a rotavirus vaccine.

Hypersensitivity to a food

Diarrhea that does not go away can be a sign that the child has a hypersensitivity to a portion of food. Sometimes the child also has other symptoms, such as stomach pain and eczema.

For example, the child may react to any of the following foods:

  • Gluten in flour, called celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
  • Lactose in milk, called lactose intolerance.
  • Protein in cow’s milk, so-called cow’s milk allergy. You can be allergic to other foods as well.

antibiotics

Treatment with antibiotics can cause the child to have diarrhea. This is because antibiotics also remove the good bacteria found in the gut.

Diarrhea usually lasts two weeks after the end of treatment.

Other infections

Children can sometimes get diarrhea from infections, for example, if the child has a cold,  urinary tract infection or pneumonia.

Toddler Diarrhea

Children between six months and three years can sometimes have diarrhea for two weeks or longer, without a cause. The bag may also contain unprocessed fruits and vegetables. The child is still feeling well and growing properly.

This type of diarrhea is called toddler diarrhea. Diarrhea usually goes away when the child is between two and three years.

Toddler diarrhea does not infect. It can be good to tell the staff at the child’s preschool that the child has toddler diarrhea, and that it is not contagious.

Breast milk replacement that is mixed incorrectly

It’s uncommon, but children can get diarrhea if they eat breast milk replacement or supplemental foods that are not mixed properly.  

Unusual causes of diarrhea

Children may have diarrhea for other, more unusual reasons. For example, it could be:

  • The bacterium Salmonella and other bacteria can cause stomach upset. There are also bacteria that can form poison in food. The child can then get stomach upset by the bacterium’s poison, so-called food poisoning. You can read about bacteria and food poisoning in the text Magsjuka-diarrhea and vomiting. 
  • Giardia is a parasite that can cause diarrhea.
  • The cystic fibrosis disease. The pouch is often greasy and difficult to flush. Neither does the child grow properly.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, such as  Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. It is uncommon for children under ten to have inflammatory bowel disease. Other symptoms are that the child has blood and mucus in the pouch, stomach pain, and may not grow properly.
  • That the child has eaten something poisonous.

When and where should I seek care?

The vast majority of children who have diarrhea due to a stomach ailment do not need to seek care because the problems usually go away by themselves. But if the child has a lot of diarrhea and vomiting, the risk of fluid deficiency increases. It can cause the child to become dehydrated. It is a serious condition. The younger the child, the more sensitive they are.

  • The child is younger than two months.
  • The child has ample or water-thin diarrhea for a few days, without the diarrhea subsiding.
  • You are not sure if the baby will not get enough fluid.
  • There is blood or mucus in the pouch.
  • The child has a chronic illness and you are not sure if the child needs care.
  • The baby seems healthy, but the poop continues to be resolved for more than two weeks after a stomach illness.

If it’s in a hurry

If the child has diarrhea, immediately contact a health care center or an on-call clinic and one or more of the following points to the child:

  • A child is under one year old and does not get enough fluid or pee much less than usual.
  • The child is under one year and screams in a different way than they usually do.
  • A child is tired, unable to play, and is uninterested in the surroundings.
  • The child has a high fever and does not feel well.
  • The baby has a lot of stomach aches.

If it is closed at the health center or on-call reception, seek care at an emergency room.

Investigations

Most often you and the child first get to meet a nurse. They weigh and measure the child. You may also, among other things, tell the nurse:

  • How long the child has had diarrhea.
  • How much fluid the child has received and when the child last kissed.
  • If the child has other symptoms or problems.

Then a doctor examines the child. The doctor measures the baby’s heart rate and listens to the baby’s heart and lungs. The doctor also usually examines the child’s mucous membranes in the mouth.

Sometimes the child may need to have blood and urine tests.

More research may be needed

The doctor may want the child to pass stool and more blood samples. It may be if the doctor suspects that the diarrhea is due to something other than a viral infection. Sometimes the baby’s stomach and intestines may need to be examined by x-ray.

What happens in the body?

Diarrhea occurs in the body in two different ways.

Intestinal cells are damaged

For example, in a stomach ailment, the cells in the intestine do not function properly. As a result, the intestine cannot absorb as much fluid as it usually does. The body gets rid of the fluid by causing the baby to vomit and get diarrhea.

In the case of stomach ailments, the movements of the intestine also become faster. This makes the contents of the intestine move faster. This reduces the ability of the intestine to absorb fluid from the intestinal contents even more. An advantage of the bowel movements being faster is that the body gets rid of the infectious agents faster. This is why medicines that stop diarrhea should not be used more than on occasional occasions.

A healthy gut takes up about two to three liters of fluid per day from what you eat and drink.

The intestinal contents attract fluid

In diarrheal diseases that do not pass, the intestinal mucosa is damaged. The food cannot then be broken down properly and the nutrition remains in the gut. Nutrition absorbs water from the body, causing the child to have diarrhea. Gluten intolerance is an example of such a diarrheal disease.

The same thing can happen in the gut if the child receives breast milk replacement or supplementation that is not mixed properly.

Treatment of diarrhea in children

Most diarrhea due to stomach disease caused by the virus goes away by itself. Care is rarely needed, as long as the child drinks enough.

It is very rare that children who have stomach illness need to be treated with antibiotics  It is whether the stomach illness is due to certain bacteria or parasites.

Antibiotics can make diarrhea take longer to heal. The bacteria can also become resistant to antibiotics if used unnecessarily.

If the diarrhea is due to hypersensitivity to a food

The treatment consists of the child being allowed to stop eating or drinking the food they are hypersensitive to, for example, flour and milk.

How long should children stay at home?

Children who go to preschool or family daycare come back when they eat as usual and it has been two days without having had diarrhea or vomiting if the diarrhea is due to a stomach ailment. 

Children who go to school should stay at home for at least a day after they become healthy.

How long the child should stay at home depends on the child’s age and maturity. The risk of infection decreases if the child can take care of his or her own hygiene, for example going to the toilet himself and washing his hands afterward. That is why the recommendations differ.

People in the same household who are healthy do not have to stay home for preventative purposes. But it is important to wash your hands carefully and to go home immediately if you get symptoms.

Affect and participate in care

You can seek care at any healthcare center or open specialist clinic you want throughout the country.

You should understand the information

In order to be involved in the care and treatment, it is important that you understand the information you receive from the healthcare staff. Ask questions if you don’t understand.

Children should also be involved in their care. The older the child, the more important it is. Here you can read more about children’s rights in health care.

You have the opportunity to get help from an interpreter. You also have the opportunity to get help from an interpreter if you or the child have a hearing loss.

Muhammad Nadeem

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