Baby Diarrhea - Recognition, Causes and Treatment

Baby diarrhea is something that parents worry about as they know that if a baby becomes ill they can deteriorate much more quickly than an adult. It can be difficult to recognize diarrhea in babies. Learn what to look for and when to take action.

How Do I Know If My Baby Has Diarrhea?

It is not easy to tell if your baby has diarrhea. Most babies open their bowels frequently, usually after every feed and their stools tend to be soft. In fact the average normal baby stool can look very like what in an adult we would consider to be diarrhea!

If your baby is breast feeding their normal poop will tend to be very loose, even liquid. When babies start eating solid food, as they try new foods you may see a reaction in their diaper until they get used to the new addition. Babies bowel habits change over time as they expand their diet and as their bowels mature.

So how do you know if you are dealing with a case of baby diarrhea? You are the expert when it comes to your baby. You know what is normal for your own child, so look for changes. As a parent or regular carer you are in the best position to know if your baby is suffering from baby diarrhea.

If your baby’s bowel movements:

  • suddenly change 
  • become more frequent with more than one bowel movement per feed 
  • become more liquid or watery 
  • in addition to the bowel changes they seem unwell

then they probably have baby diarrhea.

Baby Diarrhea - What Action Should I Take?

If your baby has the odd loose bowel movement then do not worry but if you see a sudden change this could be diarrhea, if they seem unwell then seek medical attention.

Most cases of baby diarrhea will be short-lived and your baby will recover quickly but the danger for babies is if they become dehydrated. The focus for baby diarrhea treatment is to try and prevent dehydration so make sure that you give your baby frequent fluids. Little and often is better than larger feeds further apart.

Baby Diarrhea - Breast Feeding

Continue to breast feed babies or offer their normal formula but you should give them an oral re-hydration fluid between feeds such as Pedialyte/Dioralyte which in most countries you can buy at the grocery store without a prescription.

Even a small amount given on a spoon or dripped into the corner of their mouth using a syringe is useful as it will help to keep the electrolytes (sodium and potassium) in their system in balance. Do not give young infants sports drinks.

The advice for baby diarrhea treatment in the past was to restrict solid food. Recently the advice has changed and the baby diarrhea food recommendation is now that if your baby is eating solid food then they should continue with their normal diet once any threat of dehydration has been treated. 

If you feel they are reacting to a particular food then you can restrict that food but they will recover more quickly if they are eating a good diet which will keep their body salts in the correct balance.

Baby Diarrhea - When to Call the Doctor

Diarrhea in babies can be serious. Contact your pediatrician or doctor if your infant is:

  • Under 6 months old
  • You see blood, mucus or pus 
  • They have more than 8 bowel movements in 8 hours
  • They are also vomiting
  • They have a fever
  • They are drowsy and difficult to rouse
  • They have recently been abroad
  • They have severe abdominal pain
  • They refuse to drink
  • They have signs of dehydration
  • They have an underlying health condition
  • Their diarrhea is not starting to improve after 2-3 days

Baby Diarrhea Causes

Diarrhea in babies can be caused by many things such as a change in diet or an infection. Acute or sudden causes include:

  • An infection caused by a virus or bacteria 
  • Parasites
  • Food allergies and intolerances
  • Too much juice
  • A reaction to medicines
  • Antibiotics or other drugs in breast milk, if being taken by the mother
  • Foods eaten by a breast feeding mother
  • Poison

It is rare for babies to have some of the causes of chronic diarrhea that affect adults like inflammatory bowel disease but if they do have persistent diarrhea then it does need to be investigated as it can sometimes be a sign of an underlying problem.

Baby Diarrhea Case Study

Baby Stephen was admitted to the pediatric facility where I was working with chronic diarrhea and a failure to thrive. Most babies have a short episode of diarrhea and then they recover but with Baby Stephen it was different.

His diarrhea was long-term with many loose stools per day. He was now nine months old and he was still the weight of an average three month old. He was showing signs of malnutrition. His stools were loose, pale and foul-smelling.

Tests finally showed that he was suffering from Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome which is a rare inherited condition which causes pancreatic insufficiency and other problems. His parents were relieved when he eventually started putting on weight when he was given pancreatic enzymes and a high calorie feed.

This syndrome is rare and it is unlikely that your child has the same thing but it does show that if your baby has chronic diarrhea it can be a sign of rare and not-so-rare conditions. Chronic baby diarrhea needs investigating.


It is important to take measures to try and prevent baby diarrhea as far as possible. Always wash your hands thoroughly after changing diapers (nappies). Make sure that surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom are cleaned regularly with an anti-bacterial cleaner. Babies love to put their hands or other objects into their mouths and contamination picked up from dirty surfaces can be easily transferred in this way and cause infection.

Feeding equipment should be sterilized before each use. When making feeds or drinks for a baby make sure that the water is boiled first and then cooled. Contaminated water is often a cause of diarrhea so think carefully about where your baby is swimming or playing.

Be very careful to store food at the correct temperature (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit or 5 degrees  Celsius) and make sure that raw and cooked food do not come into contact with each other. Contaminated food is a big cause of diarrhea. The number of germs in food stored at room temperature can double every twenty minutes. As adults we sometimes eat food that has been kept for a while but do not chance this with your baby!

Keep medicines, household cleaners and other chemicals safely locked away from your baby’s reach.

Should I Give My Baby Anti-Diarrhea Medicine?

This is not recommended if your baby has diarrhea.

Your doctor may sometimes prescribe an antibiotic or anti-parasite treatment but in most cases, the treatment of diarrhea in babies is aimed at supporting them until they recover.

This means giving plenty of fluids which in severe cases may have to be given by the intravenous route in a hospital.

Rashes and Diarrhea

Baby diarrhea can have the unfortunate side-effect of leading to diaper or nappy rash. It has now been established by pediatricians that diaper rash is not caused by neglectful parenting. Of course, if your baby is having more bowel movements than normal they will be more at risk.

The best way to cope with this is to try and change the diaper as soon as you become aware that it is soiled. Check the diaper frequently. It has been found that using plain warm water to clean your baby is less likely to lead to a rash than frequent use of baby wipes.

Using a barrier cream can help protect the skin and if possible leave the skin to air after patting dry with a soft cloth, although when a baby is suffering from diarrhea this may not be easy.

It can be difficult to know if your baby has diarrhea but if you are at all concerned then you should take your baby to see a pediatrician or doctor. If they are showing signs of dehydration which is not improving rapidly then they should be seen immediately as an emergency. Babies with dehydration can deteriorate very quickly and this can be a very dangerous situation.

We have all been in that position of not knowing if we should get medical attention for our baby but remember that when it comes to your baby you are the expert. If you are not happy with their condition then get them seen quickly. hopes that your baby's illness is short lived and that they are soon well again but until your baby has recovered keep them away from other babies and children. You don't want to pass their baby diarrhea on!

Please browse for more information about diarrhea, its symptoms, causes, prevention and treatment.

Have a look at our related page on:

Toddler Diarrhea - How to Cope

Toddler diarrhea can last for years and the cause is not known. Find out what you can do to improve the situation.

Go To Toddler Diarrhea - How to Cope

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