Taking care of a 15 month old with watery diarrhea is not fun. It’s heartbreaking, actually. Having recently dealt with a week of illness not improving, I began to really worry. After all, a couple days of diarrhea is one thing, but going on a week with bad diarrhea is scary. All of a sudden, something that wasn’t a big health scare in my mind became a BIG deal because it wasn’t getting better. Thank heavens, we are now back to regular, healthy, formed stools again! But due to this terrible flu, I’ll never look at diarrhea the same again.
Diarrhea is the second leading cause of death in children. Illnesses that cause diarrhea in kids result in 2-4 million deaths each year! (1) Granted, most of these numbers do come from developing countries where water is unsafe, there is little access to medication and living conditions are unsanitary. Imagining the helplessness of these parents evokes such empathy after recently going through only a week of what they endure on a daily basis. Nonetheless, diarrhea in the developed world is nothing to ignore. Children with diarrhea, especially severe or chronic, are at high risk for major health consequences.
The following will cover the best diarrhea remedies, the dangers of diarrhea, typical causes in children and how to effectively treat and prevent diarrhea from occurring.
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1. Offer Water Often & Avoid Juice
Offer water every 15 minutes or so; set a timer if you have to. Small frequent sips of water can make all the difference when avoiding dehydration.
Sugary fruit juices like apple juice, orange juice, grape juice, etc. are not recommended (ever). It will often make diarrhea worse and increase risk for dehydration. Whole fruit juices are a different story. They can actually make diarrhea better and hydrate well. Superfood Blueberry Juice is an amazing, easy option to add fluid and vital nutrients to their likely limited diet.
2. Zinc Oral Rehydration Salts
Solutions like Pedialyte are proven effective to reduce the number of stools and severity of diarrhea. (2) They offer one with prebiotics called Pedialyte Advance Care Oral Electrolyte Solution– opt for this one! How much to give depends on weight. This chart will guide you in the right direction.
3. Probiotics & Prebiotics
Probiotics and prebiotics have emerged as incredible ways to modulate the immune system. Probiotics, simply put, are the good bacteria in your gut that make your life go round. They allow you to process the food you eat and are the foundation of your health.
Not to be confused with probiotics, prebiotics are food for probiotics. Essentially, they are a non-digestible fiber found in vegetables, cereals and fruits. The most widely studied prebiotics are inulin, fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS). (3) They are resistant to the acid in the stomach and easily travel, undigested to the colon where they are fermented by beneficial bacteria like bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. Foods that are natural sources of prebiotics include chicory root, garlic, onions, bananas, asparagus, whole grain wheat and whole grain corn. (4)
Probiotics, with the help of prebiotics, are vital in treating diarrhea. The obvious reason to take a heavy load of probiotics is to increase the number of good bacteria in the gut so they may conquer and overpopulate the infectious kind. A couple ways probiotics are beneficial in treating diarrhea are that they stimulate the immune response and produce short chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFA promote water and electrolyte absorption in the large intestine which will reduce the frequency of diarrhea. Probiotics are proven to reduce the number of days diarrhea persists. (5)
The best way to get a large amount of these powerful bacteria and their food into the system is through a supplement. Our doctor recommended we use Culturelle. After researching myself, I had no obligations to this recommendation. Whichever brand you choose, make sure that it has prebiotics with the probiotics or buy another prebiotic to take with it.
How to Use Probiotics
- Sprinkle in water or other cool beverage. Never mix in warm beverages or foods.
- For our 15 month old, our doctor recommended to double the typical dose while sick.
- FYI, these can be used as preventative measures on a daily basis in addition to treatment while sick.
On a daily basis, I add a 1/4 teaspoon of the above powdered probiotic homemade juices or water to support her immune system. I also love alternate probiotic brands and strains to diversify the gut. We love these chewable probiotics that also have added vitamin D and C.
4. Starchy Foods & Broth
Banana, potato and some legumes are resistant starches. They do not get digested in the small intestine, so they enter the large intestine to help feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Whole wheat toast and banana are some of the best foods to offer.
Broth is full of incredible nutrients that will balance electrolytes. Homemade broth is always best. This study shows that chicken broth, in particular, helps to reduce inflammation.
5. Avoid Dairy
Often, even if not lactose intolerant, dairy can make diarrhea worse. It’s best to avoid dairy if possible when diarrhea is at it’s worst.
And you may wish to avoid spicy foods and foods high in acidity (like citrus). Intense foods may aggravate the problem and cause pain.
Causes of Diarrhea
1. Infection with Viruses, Bacteria & Protozoa (or their toxins)
Illness and infections are the leading cause of diarrhea. Viruses, bacteria and protozoa can all cause diarrhea. Transmission occurs most often through contaminated food or water, unwashed hands after using the restroom or changing a diaper or being in close contact with another who is ill. The well-known gastroenteritis (stomach flu) infection is likely what caused our diarrhea attack. By definition, the bug that initiates the infection inflames the stomach and intestines.
Infections from food poisoning are astounding. The CDC finds, that
“Each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.”
Most, if not all food related illnesses result in diarrhea. That is why it’s so important to keep a clean and safe kitchen. In developing nations, the main issue comes from contaminated water and unsanitary living conditions.
2. Toddler’s Diarrhea
Toddler’s diarrhea is the most common non-specific cause of chronic diarrhea in children (not resulting from an infection). It’s coined as such when they are growing normally, but have bouts of diarrhea (more than 3 watery stools a day), typically right after eating.
Main Causes of Toddler’s Diarrhea:
- Too much fluid in the diet. When there is too much liquid in the GI tract, it can be overwhelmed and rendered unable to absorb the water and electrolytes.
- Too much fruit juice. The GI tract aims to keep things in balance. When there is a large amount of fructose sugars and sorbitol (sweeteners in many fruit juices), water gets pulled into the colon to balance the osmolality. This occurs because these simple sugars are not well digested and absorbed.
- Low fat diet. Fat keeps food in the GI tract longer. If there is a lack of fat in the diet, nutrients don’t have a chance to be fully digested and absorbed. Plus, they may be missing out on a myriad of fat-soluble vitamins.
- Immature GI system. Some children just have quicker systems that need to be further developed. (6)
3. GI Disease
I’m not going to go into detail on these, just a quick list of some potential triggers.
- Chron’s Disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Celiac Disease
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
4. Allergies, Sensitivities or Intolerances
A true allergy occurs when the body creates an immune response to the protein contained in a food. Among many other reactions, diarrhea may be one.
An intolerance doesn’t involve the immune system. It usually just causes GI upset, including diarrhea.
Dangers of Diarrhea
Diarrhea decreases fluid absorption leading to dehydration. This occurs because contents are not in the colon long enough to reabsorb fluid. The danger in dehydration comes two-fold. First, when there is too little water for the body’s organs they do not function properly. Secondly, the electrolytes become imbalanced and, if not treated and severe enough, can lead to heart malfunction and death. The younger the child, the quicker this risk becomes a threat.
2. Weight Loss
Contents pass through the GI tract quickly and are not in there long enough to properly breakdown and absorb nutrients from food. This means that calories (and other nutrients) are not being metabolized properly. In addition, illness typically suppresses the appetite. Older children may also become fearful to eat, knowing that they will have to go soon after.
3. Malabsorption Leading to Nutritional Deficiencies
Nutritional deficiencies may begin to occur after diarrhea persists over 2 weeks. The most important nutrients that are malabsorbed are carbohydrates, zinc, potassium and protein. (7) Malnutrition and diarrhea are cyclical. Children who are already undernourished have a greater predisposition of getting diarrhea that will worsen their nutrition status.
It’s incredibly sad to talk about, but it’s true. Diarrhea is the second leading cause of death in children, worldwide. That’s scary. The Clinton Foundation has a program that aims to provide treatment to children who have chronic diarrhea in developing nations. This is what they do:
“Zinc and Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) – a highly effective treatment that can cost less than US 50 cents per child – can prevent over 90 percent of these diarrhea-related deaths, yet less than 1 percent of children who are in need of treatment are receiving it. The root cause of this issue is that providers and consumers are often unaware that zinc and ORS is the recommended treatment, which creates a lack of demand. Due to this, suppliers have limited incentive to invest in distribution and promotion of these products. To overcome this, CHAI is working in India, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda to scale up the usage of these products by building demand, and increasing availability in both public and private facilities.”
After our experience, I now have some understanding to see the tip of the iceberg of what these parents must go through. If you’re looking for a place to give, consider this.
How to Prevent Diarrhea
1. Wash Hands
Washing hands often is the number one way to prevent getting sick and spreading illness and disease. Try to wash at least 6 times a day for a goal. Most importantly, make sure to always wash your and your child’s hands before eating or preparing food and after using the restroom.
2. Use Purell and Clorox Wipes
When we go out to eat, I always wipe down the table with sanitizer wipes. She’s always got her hands all over the dirty table and menus that are rarely sanitized. I use these wipes for everything! Before shopping, we wipe the cart handle. After shopping, we wipe our hands.
In the flu season with Seventh Generation Disinfecting wipes, I wipe down the car’s searing wheel, stroller handle, and car door handles. I also go through the house and clean door handles, light switches, banisters and railings and other frequently touched surfaces.
3. Ensure Kitchen Safety
Change your hand towels at least once a day. Cook and store food at the proper temperature and properly use cleaners to sanitize the kitchen hot spots explained here: Your Kitchen May be Clean but is it Safe?
If you’re still breastfeeding, don’t stop! It’s the best thing you can do for their immunity. If not, add a scoop of colostrum to their (and your) smoothies!
When to Call Your Doctor
- Immediately if your baby is under 6 months.
- The diarrhea is black, frothy, oily or contains blood or mucus.
- It lingers past 24 hours.
- It’s accompanied by a fever of 102F.
- Your baby isn’t consuming adequate fluids for longer than 12 hours.
- You notice symptoms of dehydration: crying without tears, dry lips or dry mouth, significantly less wet diapers than typical, skin is not stretchy and doesn’t bounce back.
- Pain or irritability is apparent.
- You are worried. Trust your instincts. Call your doctor immediately to discuss. (8)
If you are reading this, you’re likely dealing with some diarrhea. I hope all is healed sooner than later, and remember, if you are concerned, call your doctor.
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THE INFORMATION PROVIDED DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. All content information is intended to be for general informational purposes only. Please see your doctor with regard to information attained from the above article if you are concerned with the health of your child. The content above is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. NEVER NEGLECT YOUR DOCTOR’S PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ADVICE BECAUSE OF SOMETHING YOU HAVE READ.
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When my son’s were little their doctor who was from Jamaica took diarrhea very seriously, probably because children did die of it in Jamaica which often has a lot of the problems you mentioned about third world countries.
My daughter with autism had runny stool nearly her whole life, until we solved it with homeopathy and food interventions.. What a relief it was! Not quite diarrhea – although she sometimes had that too – but still, the daily struggle of a loose stool is equally painful. Great list!