Dietitian Strategies to Support Toddlers with Diarrhea
Understanding your toddler’s diarrhea and nutrition tips to keep them feeling well
Let’s face it, when your child has diarrhea, it can bring up a lot of questions. Was it something they ate? Did they catch a bug at daycare? Should I take them to the hospital? While some loose stool can be a normal occurrence in toddlers, it can be helpful to know some strategies to help care for them during this time. It is also important to know the signs that may suggest that additional medical attention is needed. In this blog post, we will review the types of diarrhea that can occur in children, some possible causes, as well as some nutrition strategies to keep their body nourished and hydrated during this time.
What is Diarrhea?
Diarrhea is defined as frequent, soft and/or watery stool. According to John Hopkins Medicine, there are different types of diarrhea that can occur in toddlers:
1. Acute Diarrhea
Usually lasts over the course of a few days and is typically caused by bacterial or viral infection.
2. Chronic Diarrhea
Lasts over the course of a few weeks. This type of diarrhea could be indicative of an underlying health problem such as IBS, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease, or Celiac disease.
What are some possible causes for my toddler’s diarrhea?
Acute diarrhea can be due to viral infection (such as rotavirus or norovirus) or bacterial infection (such as E.coli or salmonella).
2. Food Intolerance or allergies
Your toddler may have difficulty digesting certain foods or ingredients found in food.
3. Dietary changes
Introducing new foods and/or drinks can irritate a toddler’s digestive system, possibly leading to diarrhea. Drinks that are high in sugar can often cause loose stool.
These can disrupt the natural balance of gut bacteria, leading to diarrhea as a side effect.
5. Food Poisoning
Contaminated or spoiled food can lead to acute diarrhea.
6. Underlying Medical Conditions
As mentioned above, some diarrhea could indicate a more serious health problem such as inflammatory bowel disease.
What Can I Feed my Toddler with Diarrhea?
The biggest risk with diarrhea is dehydration, so it is important to help your kiddo stay hydrated! While water is sufficient in most cases, you may want to consider other forms of fluid such as broth, diluted juice, or popsicles, especially if your toddler is unable to tolerate other foods while they are unwell. In some cases, electrolyte drinks such as Pedialyte or Enfalyte may also be warranted
Tip: Offer fluids to your child regularly throughout the day
2. Diet as Tolerated
The best foods you can feed your child when they are unwell are the ones they feel like eating. You may notice a change in your child’s usual diet both in food variety and volume, which is often expected and ok in the short term. Examples of foods that may be tolerated best during this time include dry foods such as crackers, toast, or cereal or liquid foods such as soup.
3. Foods with Soluble Fibre
Unlike insoluble fibre, which increases the speed that food travels through our gut, soluble fibre is responsible for adding bulk to the stool which can help with managing diarrhea. Examples of foods that contain soluble fibre include:
- Bran buds
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
For more information on this soluble fibre handout.
If I Suspect that my Child’s Diarrhea may be due to a Food Allergy or Intolerance, Should I Put them on an Elimination Diet?
An elimination diet may help determine possible triggers for a child’s diarrhea. However, it is strongly recommended that you involve a Registered Dietitian who specializes in gut health to help prevent nutritional deficiencies and to potentially rule out other causes for your child’s loose stool.
What Signs and/or Symptoms Indicate that my Child may Require Medical Attention?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you seek medical attention if your child has diarrhea and:
- Refuses to eat and drink
- Shows signs of dehydration
- Bloody stools
- Severe abdominal pain
- An abdomen that appears swollen
- Fever that lasts longer than 24 to 48 hours
- Vomiting that lasts longer than 12 to 24 hours
- Vomit that is tinged with blood, green, or like coffee grounds
- Rash or Jaundice
Toddler diarrhea is a common concern among parents, but with the appropriate knowledge and action, it can be managed effectively. Understanding the types of diarrhea, and its possible causes, and implementing appropriate nutritional interventions can help provide relief and ensure your child’s wellbeing. Remember to connect with your child’s primary medical provider if you are uncertain of the severity of your child’s symptoms.
Are you looking for more information on nutritional strategies to support your child’s digestive health? Our team of Dietitians are here to help!
If you are confused about which foods can trigger constipation or what nutrition recommendations can ease symptoms and improve your little one’s gut health, reach out to one of our highly trained Registered Dietitians today by clicking the button below
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Jamie Lee Kwong
Disordered Eating, Pediatrics, Family Meal Planning & Chronic Disease
Jamie will greet you with a warm and approachable smile that has a way of putting you at ease. You can count on her to be adaptive and collaborative in coming up with right-fit solutions that meet your health, mental health and family needs. She also specializes in Mental Health, Anti-inflammatory Eating, and Arthritis.