Diarrhea in Young Children: Pedialyte & Other Treatments

Medications and Dietary Treatments for Young Kids with Diarrhea

Mother breastfeeding baby in bed
How should you treat diarrhea in an infant or young child?. Jamie Grill/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Diarrhea in Infants and Children

Many people wonder what to do when their child - especially young children - develop diarrhea.  Are there any medications that can help? What kind of diet works?

Medications for Diarrhea

In general, most experts recommend that parents not give their children anti-diarrhea medications when they have diarrhea.

Even though medications such as Imodium and Kaopectate may be recommended for adults,  these medications should not be used in children, and could even be dangerous.

  So is there any "treatment" besides making sure your child does not get dehydrated and using dietary measures?

At this time the only method beyond fluids and preventing dehydration that's considered helpful for children - and then, only mildly helpful - is acidophilus.  If you want to try this you may consider adding yogurt with acidophilus to your child's diet, or ask your pediatrician about acidophilus supplements.  Do ask you doctor, though.  If your child's diarrhea is bothersome enough that you are considering acidophilus supplements, it's probably good to pass her symptoms by your pediatrician or her nurse.  Acidophylus is a probiotic, meaning that it is live bacterial organisms that ordinarily live in the digestive tract.  It's thought that these bacteria play a protective role in lining the digestive tract, and that diarrhea can upset this delicate balance.

Dietary Treatments for Diarrhea in Children

In addition to yogurt, it is usually a good idea to keep your child on their regular diet when they have diarrhea that is caused by a simple stomach virus.

It is usually recommended that you not start restricting a lot of foods from your child's diet.

And you can usually continue your child on full strength formula.

It's important to note that these recommendations are true even if your child appears to have an increase in diarrhea while on a regular diet.

  Those who have done the research are aware of this, and it's still considered important to continue a regular diet.  Stated in other words, it's okay if your child does have more diarrhea.

While some parents think that they should not feed their child, should offer a BRAT diet (bananas, rice, apple sauce, and toast), or otherwise limit their child's diet when they are sick, unless your child is vomiting a lot or simply doesn't want to eat, that usually isn't necessary.

Especially if your child just has diarrhea and/or occasional vomiting, you should:

  • Continue to breastfeed
  • Continue to formula feed your infant, using full strength formula, once they are rehydrated
  • Get back to an age appropriate unrestricted diet as soon as possible
  • Avoid restricting milk (lactose) in your older child or making changes to your infant's formula
  • Avoid foods with a lot of added sugars, like juice and carbonated soft drinks
  • While it's not necessary to restrict your child to the BRAT diet, you may wish to encourage complex carbohydrates (like potatoes, rice, and bread), lean meats, yogurt, fruits, and vegetables, and limit high fat foods in his diet

    If you are only able to feed your child Pedialyte or half strength formula for more than about 12 hours, then you should talk to your Pediatrician.

    Pedialyte

    Although Pedialyte and other electrolyte solutions are usually recommended when children have diarrhea, it is important to realize that they don't actually make the diarrhea go away. Instead of being a treatment for diarrhea, they are actually given so that your child doesn't become dehydrated.

    And while you might give very small amounts of Pedialyte, like a teaspoon every five minutes, when children are vomiting, with simple diarrhea, you can usually let your child drink as much Pedialyte as they like. So in addition to their regular diet, you can usually give a few ounces of Pedialyte after each large, watery stool. If your child has a lot of diarrhea or is showing any symptoms of dehydration, then you may have to give even more Pedialyte.

    If you don't have Pedialyte on hand, and you'd rather stay home and comfort your child, some parents prefer to make their own homemade rehydration solution with this recipe for oral rehydration fluid that used as an alternative in the "Rehydration Project."  It doesn't have the fancy bottle or color, but many experts believe it works as well for rehyration in those who do not have symptoms severe enough to need IV rehydration.

    Sources:

    Fleisher, G., and D. Matson. Patient information: Acute diarrhea in children (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. Updated 08/27/15. http://www.uptodate.com/contents/acute-diarrhea-in-children-beyond-the-basics

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