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Patient education: Diarrhea in children (The Basics)
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Patient education: Diarrhea in children (The Basics)
Written by the doctors and editors at UpToDate
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
Literature review current through: Sep 2017. | This topic last updated: Jun 08, 2017.

How often should my child have a bowel movement? — It depends on how old he or she is:

In the first week of life, most babies have 4 or more bowel movements each day. They are soft or liquid. It is normal for some babies to have 10 bowel movements in a day.

In the first 3 months, some babies have 2 or more bowel movements each day. Others have just 1 each week.

By age 2, most children have at least 1 bowel movement each day. They are soft but solid.

Every child is different. Some have bowel movements after each meal. Others have bowel movements every other day.

How do I know if my child has diarrhea? — It depends on what's normal for your child:

For babies, diarrhea means that bowel movements are more runny or watery than normal, or happening more often than normal. Your baby might have twice as many bowel movements as he or she usually has. (In babies, normal bowel movements can be yellow, green, or brown. They can also have things that look like seeds in them.)

Older children with diarrhea will have 3 or more runny bowel movements in a day.

What are the most common causes of diarrhea in children? — The most common causes are:

Viruses

Stomach bugs

Side effects from antibiotics

What should my child eat and drink when he or she has diarrhea? — Your child can continue to eat a normal diet. OK foods include:

Lean meats

Rice, potatoes, and bread

Yogurt

Fruits and vegetables

Milk (unless the child has problems digesting milk)

What foods and drinks should my child avoid? — These foods might make diarrhea worse:

Foods that are high in fat

Drinks with lots of sugar

Sports drinks

What can I do to treat my child's diarrhea? — You can:

Make sure he or she drinks enough water and other liquids.

Avoid diarrhea medicines. They are not usually needed for children, and they might not be safe.

When should I take my child to the doctor? — You should take your child to the doctor if he or she:

Has bloody diarrhea

Is younger than 12 months and won't eat or drink anything for more than a few hours

Has bad belly pain

Is not acting like him or herself

Is low in energy and does not respond to you

Is dehydrated. Signs include:

Dry mouth

Thirst

No urine or wet diapers for 4 to 6 hours in babies and young children, or 6 to 8 hours in older children

No tears when crying

More on this topic

Patient education: Diarrhea in adolescents and adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Constipation in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Stomach ache and stomach upset (The Basics)
Patient education: Dehydration in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Viral gastroenteritis (The Basics)
Patient education: Rotavirus infection (The Basics)
Patient education: Crohn disease in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Campylobacter infection (The Basics)
Patient education: Ulcerative colitis in children (The Basics)

Patient education: Acute diarrhea in adults (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Food poisoning (foodborne illness) (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Acute diarrhea in children (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Chronic diarrhea in adults (Beyond the Basics)

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Topic 15386 Version 12.0

All topics are updated as new information becomes available. Our peer review process typically takes one to six weeks depending on the issue.