Is your child passing watery or very loose stools? Is he/she visiting the toilet quite often? If yes, then your child may be suffering from diarrhoea, or commonly known as loose motions. 

Diarrhoea is not a condition that is limited only to adults; it is commonly seen in babies and children also. Diarrhoea can be as exhausting for a parent as it is for the children. Let’s look at the causes, symptoms, and home remedies (dietary dos and don’ts) to follow when your child suffers from diarrhoea. 

Diarrhoea or loose motions is frequent, loose, or watery bowel movements (BMs) that occur more than 3 times in about 24 hours and differ from your child’s normal stool pattern. Sometimes diarrhoea can be associated with blood or mucous or both. It not only means repeated trips to the toilet but is a reason for dehydration and nutrition loss in children. 

Most often, diarrhoea is sudden and can either be acute (less than 2 weeks) or chronic/persistent (more than 2 weeks and takes longer to cure). It results from a lack of enough fluids (dehydration) in the body and the first line of management is to replenish your child’s body with tons of fluids.

Causes of Diarrhoea in Children

Acute diarrhoea can be caused by:

  • Lack of enough fluids in the body

  • Food poisoning usually caused by eating foods infected with toxins (for example, bacteria)

  • Gastroenteritis is the inflammation of your child’s gut/digestive tract caused by common viruses called rotavirus or adenovirus

  • Drinking water contaminated by bacteria or other germs

Chronic diarrhoea can be caused by:

  • Overconsumption of certain foods like caffeine, alcohol, etc. 

  • Eating specific foods for which you have a food intolerance

  • Consuming dairy products when your child is lactose intolerant (inability to fully digest sugar (lactose) in milk and milk products))

  • Infections caused by certain parasites, viruses, and bacteria

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (continuous inflammation of your child’s digestive tract)

Symptoms of Diarrhoea in Children

Symptoms can range from stomach upset for a few days to passing watery stools for more than 2 to 3 weeks (chronic diarrhoea). 

Other symptoms include:

  • Dehydration (excess loss of body fluids due to a stomach infection or illness)

  • Stomach aches or pain

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Mild or high fever

  • Body pain (aching limbs)

  • Headache

  • Blood and mucous in stools

  • Cold hands and feet

  • Fast and shallow breathing

Severe diarrhoea requires you to consult your paediatrician if your child’s symptoms do not get better. Acute diarrhoea can be easily managed at home with certain remedies and tips.

General Dos and Don’ts for Loose Motions in Children

  • Keep them hydrated. Make them drink a lot of water and other liquids like coconut water, lime/lemon water, etc. ORS (Oral rehydration solutions) should be given at regular intervals. ORS is a solution of oral electrolytes (mix of sodium, potassium, sugar, and other important electrolytes which are needed by the body) which is given to children who are experiencing dehydration due to loss of body fluids in conditions like diarrhoea and vomiting.

  • Yogurt or curd is good for your child; you can give it in the form of raita (an Indian dish made with yogurt, spice powders, herbs, and veggies) or buttermilk, with a sprinkle of cumin powder and salt. It works as a probiotic.Your child’s gut contains a lot of ‘healthy bacteria’ that are responsible for regulating your child’s digestion. Probiotics will repopulate the healthy or beneficial bacteria and correct the imbalance in your child’s gut.

  • Rest is important to repair the wear and tear and to regain lost energy, especially due to dehydration. Let your child take enough rest, even if that means a couple of days off from school or play.

  • Mild tummy massage with mustard oil to provide some relief. Mustard oil helps in digestion and will work well on your child’s bowel movements. A massage will improve blood circulation throughout the body and also help relieve stomach and body pain.

  • Avoid milk and milk products such as ice cream, butter and cheese. The lactose in dairy products can trigger your child’s digestive system and lead to prolonged diarrhoea. It is best to avoid these products for a few days, until your child’s health is back to normal. 

  • Keep them away from fried and junk food. Fried and junk food contain a lot of unnecessary additives and saturated fats (a type of unhealthy, dietary fat). These harmful dietary fats are difficult to digest and can make your child’s symptoms worse when consumed while he/she has weak gut/digestive health.

  • Do not give your child any hard foods. Hard foods can be difficult to digest and aggravate diarrhoea symptoms. Lentils, bananas, applesauce, boiled potatoes, plain white rice, etc., are very soft and recommended in diarrhoea.

  • Avoid spicy food. Acute diarrhoea is often triggered by hot and spicy foods. Eating spicy foods in diarrhoea can cause more pain and discomfort to your child. 

Quick Dietary Management Tips For Different Age Groups

1) For Children Less Than 6 Months of Age

  • Mother’s milk is best for the baby, so continue breastfeeding. 

  • Change formula milk from regular (whey and casein milk proteins) to soya milk powder as it is easily digestible after consultation with your paediatrician.

  • In addition to breast milk, ORS and clean water should be given to babies less than 6 months old.

Outside food and glucose water is a strict NO. 

2) For Children 6 Months to 1 year of Age 

  • Breastfeeding to be continued. 

  • In weaning (giving solid foods to your baby along with milk feed) - foods like dal, cerelac, soya milk powder, fruits (banana or apple preferably), ragi, rava (sooji) are completely safe. 

  • ORS should be given at regular intervals to the child and coconut water and juices also can be included in their diet till diarrhoea subsides.

  • Dairy milk, glucose water, and fruits like mango and papaya are not recommended.

3) For Children Aged 1 year

  • Keep the diet simple and bland. Dal rice, khichdi, pongal, sambhar rice, sandwiches, cerelac, roti sabzi, curd rice, fruits like banana, apple, chikoo, dosa, etc., can be given. 

  • ORS should be prepared in about 1 liter of water and children should be encouraged to have sips at regular intervals. Coconut water and juices can also help to curb diarrhoea.

Avoid dairy milk, spicy foods like pickles, spicy gravy, or non-vegetarian food, sweets like gulab jamun, kheer, halwa; and oily foods like poori, vada, or deep-fried items.

Home remedies and dietary management for diarrhoea in children works well if your child is passing 3-4 loose stools per day and is active and taking oral feeds. If your child is passing more than 4 stools per day or when the stools are of a different colour or associated with blood or mucous and if the child becomes lethargic, does not talk, has sunken eyes, and is refusing to take feed, consult your pediatrician immediately. 

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.