Babies can pick up the bacteria and viruses that cause diarrhoea through contact with contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces and then placing their hands into their mouths.
The following can cause diarrhoea in babies:
- An infection caused by a virus, bacteria, or parasite.
- Food allergy
- Drinking too much fruit juice
- A change in the baby’s diet or the breast-feeding mother’s diet
- Use of antibiotics by the baby or breast-feeding mother
Diarrhoea can also be caused by milk allergy and intolerance, formula feeds which are not made properly, food poisoning and colds.
The most common cause of diarrhoea is a virus called rotavirus (NICE 2009: 25). Rotavirus causes an infection which damages the inner lining of the baby’s intestines. It can lead to a serious bowel infection and dehydration. A vaccine against rotavirus (Rotarix) should be administered as routine immunisation when the child is eight weeks and again when he/she is 12 weeks old. The mother or caregiver should frequently wash their hands, especially before and after eating, after changing diapers, and after using the bathroom to prevent diarrhoea.
Signs of baby diarrhoea:
- Fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
- Abdominal pain
- Blood or pus in stool, or if the stool is black, white, or red
- Unusual drowsiness or lethargy and irritability
- Urinating less often than usual
- Dry mouth
- No tears when crying
- Sunken soft spot on the top of the baby’s head
- Skin that is not as elastic as usual. Or the skin does not spring back when gently pinched and released.
Diarrhoea can be treated by making sure that the baby drinks plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration(NHS 2011b). Sips of oral rehydration solution (ORS) a few times an hour should be given.
Do not give fruit juices, glucose drinks and soft or fizzy drinks. The unabsorbed sugar draws water into the intestine and can make diarrhoea worse (NICE 2009: 138). Anti-diarrhoeal medicine must not be given to children under 12 years, as it could cause serious side-effects (NHS 2011b).
If the baby has recently started solids, bananas, rice and apple puree, can be given. An older baby or toddler can have small amounts of chicken and starchy foods, such as mashed rice.
Diarrhoea can be worrying if it lasts for more than a few hours. If the child has loose, watery stools for more than a couple of days, it is best to visit the doctor.