Treatment for Infant DiarrheaInfants with diarrhea present special concerns because of their smaller body size. This small body size puts them at greater risk for dehydration from diarrhea. Therefore, treatment for infant diarrhea is focused on preventing, or if necessary, treating symptoms (such as dehydration) that occur as a result of the diarrhea.
Preventing or treating dehydration in infants focuses on replacing lost fluid and electrolytes (sodium and potassium). Administering special fluids by mouth (oral rehydration therapy) is the most effective way of doing this. Oral rehydration treatments (such as Pedialyte® or Infalyte®) prevent most dehydration. These special fluids can be found in most pharmacies or grocery stores and can be purchased without a prescription.
Rehydration fluids have a brief shelf life. Once a bottle has been opened or a mix prepared, it must be used or thrown out within 24 hours because bacteria rapidly grow in the solution. An infant could easily drink three or four bottles of the fluid during an illness.
Parents should also remember that oral rehydration therapy will not stop the diarrheal illness. In fact, the infant may have even more episodes of diarrhea until the illness runs its course.
Remember, never restrict fluids when your child has diarrhea.
Other Suggestions for Treating Diarrhea in InfantsBesides making sure that your infant is adequately hydrated, other treatment suggestions for infant diarrhea include the following:
- Allow the gastrointestinal tract to settle for a few hours by not feeding your infant.
- If vomiting is also a problem, have the infant sip small amounts of clear liquids, or suck on ice chips.
- Do not give your infant any diarrhea medicine unless your healthcare provider specifically recommends that you do so.
- After several hours, if your infant is eating solids, gradually reintroduce food, starting with bland, easy-to-digest food, like applesauce, strained bananas, strained carrots, rice, mashed potatoes, or corn.
- If your infant is on formula, after being given electrolyte fluids for four to six hours, he or she will be hungry. So begin him or her on full-strength formula. Offer it more frequently than you normally do. If your infant is on cow's milk-based formula, if the diarrhea is severe, and has lasted more than three days, talk to your healthcare provider about switching to a soy formula for two weeks while the intestines have time to heal. Intestines that have been damaged by severe diarrhea cannot digest cow's milk.
- Breast-fed infants should continue nursing. You should increase the frequency of feeding, though. If your infant has signs of dehydration, follow the rehydration suggestions above. If your infant is too weak to feed, call your healthcare provider. Your infant may need to have fluids administered through an IV.
- Don't forget the bottom. Diarrhea can cause all sorts of problems to your infant's skin. Make sure to change diapers frequently. You can rinse the infant's bottom with water, air-dry, and use protective creams, such as Desitin® or petroleum jelly. Also, cut down on baby wipes.
- Since diapers can be a mess, use disposable "nighttime" diapers to cut down on cleanup time. Make sure that they have good elastic around the legs. This is not the time to experiment with a new type of diaper.