Diarrhea in Older Babies and Toddlers

AndieM.Ed., RD, LDN, CLC, RYT-200

Read time: 5 minutes

What should you know about diarrhea in older babies and toddlers?

  • Learn about the common causes of baby and toddler diarrhea

  • Understand which fluids are best for hydration

  • Know which foods to emphasize and limit when your child has diarrhea

Who knew that one of the biggest things we would do as parents is think and talk about poop so much? We pay close attention to our little one’s poop pattern, whether they have 3 bowel movements per day, go once every 3 days, or somewhere in between (all of which are completely normal!).

While the pattern may shift over time, especially as your child transitions to solid food, deviations from their norm can be both uncomfortable for them and alarming for you, especially when that change involves diarrhea.1

Acute versus Chronic Diarrhea

Acute diarrhea: When your little one has diarrhea for just a few days (less than 3 weeks)2

Chronic diarrhea: When your little one has ongoing diarrhea for longer than 3 weeks2

Signs that your older baby or toddler has diarrhea may include:
  • A sudden increase in how often your child passes stool

  • More than one stool per feeding

  • Stools that appear to be less formed and more watery than usual

  • Urgency: needing to get to the bathroom right away

  • Abdominal pain and/or bloating2,3

What are common causes of baby and toddler diarrhea?

  • A virus

  • A change in your baby’s diet or your diet if you’re breastfeeding

  • Antibiotic use by your child or, if you’re breastfeeding, by you

  • Bacterial food-borne illness, in which case medications may be needed for treatment (call your child’s healthcare provider immediately if you suspect food-borne illness)

  • Lactose intolerance (which could lead to chronic diarrhea)2,4

It’s important to treat your child’s diarrhea promptly, as the most immediate risk for most children is dehydration.5 If your child has diarrhea, be sure to watch for symptoms of dehydrations.

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Early symptoms of dehydration in babies and toddlers:

  • Plays less than usual

  • Urinates less than usual

  • no tears while crying

  • dry, parched mouth6

Advanced symptoms of dehydration in babies and toddlers:

  • Very fussy or irritable

  • excessive sleepiness

  • urine that looks darker and smells stronger than usual, and only 1 to 2 per day

  • sunken eyes and fontanels (the soft spots on your baby’s head)

  • hands and feet that feel cold and look discolored6

Read more: Dehydration in Kids: How to Keep your Baby or Tot Hydrated

What should I do about my baby or toddler’s diarrhea? 

Always be sure to call your child's healthcare provider if your child is experiencing diarrhea.

Make sure your child gets plenty of fluids

A first line of home remedies for diarrhea in toddlers and babies is making sure your child is getting enough fluids.7

  • Under 12 months: Provide breastmilk and/or formula

  • Over 12 months: Provide breastmilk, cow’s milk / plant-based milk alternative, and water2,3

If your little one seems to get bloated or gassy after drinking cow’s milk, ask their healthcare provider if it should be avoided.3

Is your child refusing their normal drinks?

Should your child show little interest in their usual drinks, try these alternatives while also checking in with their healthcare provider:

  • Smoothies – try blending banana, coconut water, and ice or just melon and water (but skip the berries until your child is feeling better)

  • Whole fruit-based popsicles – like smoothies, popsicles are another means for delivering fluids to a child resistant to drinking

Prolonged diarrhea

If your child is suffering from prolonged or more severe diarrhea, their healthcare provider might recommend a rehydration / electrolyte drink. Be sure to only use commercially prepared pediatric rehydration drinks, and only with the specific recommendation of their healthcare provider.3

Fluids to Avoid

Unlike pediatric electrolyte drinks; Jell-o, soda, soft drinks, juice, and sports drinks often do not have the correct mixture of sugar, salt, and fluids, and may make your little one more sick.3,4

If juice is the only fluid your child will drink, try diluting it with water: 1 ounce of juice to 4 ounces of water.

Emphasize nutritious foods

In addition to hydration, attention to diet can be important.8 

While in the past the BRAT (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast) diet was recommended, this is no longer considered beneficial.3 Most little ones can resume eating a healthy balanced diet within a day or so after getting sick. Include fruits, vegetables, proteins, and complex carbohydrates.3

Sometimes emphasizing foods that bind stool, as well as those that provide more fluids, may help. Smaller more frequently meals may also provide some relief.8

Focus on the following foods:
  • Binding foods (foods high in soluble fiber): Green bananas (not overly ripe), applesauce, toast, cereals (oatmeal, cream of wheat), skinless potatoes, and white rice.

  • Easily-digested fruits with high water content: Cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon

  • Easily-digested proteins: Eggs, white meat chicken, and white flaky fish

  • A sprinkle of salty foods: Pretzels, saltines, and broth-based soups

  • Cooked (and peeled) mild vegetables: Carrots, green beans, squash, zucchini, and potato2,8,13

Reduce the following foods:
  • Food high in fat and sugar like fried foods, ice cream, pastries, sausage/bacon, and fast foods

  • Any foods you notice make your child’s diarrhea worse

  • Foods that naturally may cause loose stools, such as: prunes (dried plums) and full-strength juice.8

If you have questions about your child’s diet, reach out to our team of registered dietitian nutritionists and lactation consultants for free! They are here to help on our free live chat from Monday – Friday, 8am-6pm (ET). Chat with them now!

Do probiotics help with baby and toddler diarrhea?

The helpfulness of probiotics in children with diarrhea is debated, with some research showing no help and others indicating it may promote some improvements.9,10

For more information, check in with your child’s healthcare provider.

Read more: Probiotics 101

Does my baby need an anti-diarrheal medication?

Anti-diarrheal medications are sold over the counter (as well as by prescription) but in most cases should not be used. Chat with your child’s healthcare provider before considering an anti-diarrheal.3,5,8

Protect against diaper rash

Some wipes contain alcohol, fragrance, and other chemicals, so you may choose to keep your little one’s tush comfortable and clean by using water-dampened cloths instead of baby wipes.11 To do this, gently wipe baby’s bottom with the dampened cloth and patting dry or air-dry. You may also opt for wipes that are free of potentially irritating chemicals.

Allow your child’s bottom to dry completely before applying a protective ointment or cream. The cream will help provide a barrier between what’s in your baby’s diaper and your little one’s tush – but it will only help if applied to a dry bottom.11

Frequent diaper changes (or even some diaper-free time!) may also help.12

Call your child’s healthcare provider

If your child is experiencing any of the following, contact your healthcare provider:

  • Dehydration

  • Vomiting and an inability to keep any fluids down

  • Diarrhea containing blood, mucus, or pus, or that is black and tarry

  • A fever higher than 102*F or a fever and diarrhea lasting for more than 2 days

  • More than 8 stools in 8 hours

  • A significant change in behavior concurrent with diarrhea

  • Other signs of illness

  • You suspect your baby or toddler’s diarrhea is related to food-borne illness

Let’s Chat!

We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.

Our Happy Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitian nutritionists certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday through Friday, from 8am–6pm (ET). Chat Now!

Read more about the experts who help write our content.

For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

What to Drink Instead of Sweetened Beverages

What Type of Milk Should My Toddler Drink?

Transitioning to Cups for Babies and Toddlers

How to Store Baby Food

How Do I Help My Breastfed Baby with Diarrhea and Constipation?