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Diarrhea is the most common childhood illness in the United States. Diarrhea in infants is an immediate cause for concern because of the risk of dehydration.
Spotting when your breastfed baby has diarrhea can be super challenging because they already tend to have loose, watery stools.
So I’m going to give you a few tips on how to tell if your breastfed baby has diarrhea.
How To Tell If Your Breastfed Baby Has Diarrhea
First, let’s define what diarrhea is?
Diarrhea is the passage of 3 or more loose, watery stools per day.
Well, this can be challenging with breastfed babies because ALL their stools are usually loose and watery.
Your breastfed baby may have diarrhea if you notice:
- Increased frequency
- Increased volume
- Mucus in their stool
- Blood in their stool
It is more common for formula-fed babies to have diarrhea than it is for breastfed babies because infant formula is harder for babies to digest than breast milk. Breastmilk also contains certain substances that destroy many of the microorganisms that can cause diarrhea.
What Causes Diarrhea in Babies?
The cause of diarrhea in infants can be really hard to detect, plus there are numerous possible causes.
Some of the most common causes of diarrhea in babies are:
- Gastrointestinal infection – virus (rotavirus is common), bacteria, and parasites
- Another type of bacterial infection, viral infection, or food poisoning
- Teething – not the teething itself, but because they put EVERYTHING in their mouth often covered in bacteria
- Sensitivity to new food in their diet if solids have been introduced (6 months+)
- Breastfed babies who have a milk protein sensitivity and mom is consuming dairy products
- Too much fruit or fruit juice – especially apple or pear (NOTE: Fruit juice is not recommended for babies)
- Antibiotic medication – Antibiotics kill the good bacteria in the gut
- Food allergy – common allergens include peanut butter, soy, dairy, gluten, cow’s milk protein allergy
- Food sensitivities – like lactose intolerance
What To Do If Your Baby Has Diarrhea?
I recommend taking your baby to see their pediatrician if they are having diarrhea. Your child’s doctor can often diagnose the cause of diarrhea which will provide you with the most effective treatment.
Fluid replacement is the most important thing to focus on when your baby has diarrhea. Feed, feed, feed your baby as often as you can. I wouldn’t recommend going over 3 hours without nursing or bottle-feeding.
No gut rest is needed with diarrhea in infants so continue to feed your baby their normal diet. This includes solid foods if you have already introduced them (6 months+). Although I do recommend holding off on introducing any new foods until their stool returns to normal.
Change dirty diapers immediately. Diarrhea can really irritate their delicate skin and cause a nasty diaper rash. To be safe, I also recommend applying a diaper ointment after every change while they have diarrhea.
We use Kindred Bravely’s Touch-Free Diaper Cream Spray. I love it because you can spray it on. Your hands don’t get dirty, win! Plus when your baby has a sensitive rash down there trying to rub in an ointment is extremely uncomfortable.
What About The Use of Probiotics For Baby Diarrhea?
Yes! Probiotics are a great way to rebalance the digestive system and populate your baby’s gut with all the helpful, good bacteria.
Note: Probiotics are only recommended for babies 6 months or older.
You can choose to naturally supplement your baby’s diet with fermented food products – like yogurt or cottage cheese.
Or you can offer a liquid probiotic supplement for infants if your baby is 6 months to older. Mary Ruth Organics has a great probiotic supplement for baby’s that I use with my littles.
You can add the prescribed amount of drops to food or to their bottles. Nursing mamas, you can add drops to your nipple before latching your baby.
What About Oral Rehydration Solutions – Like Pedialyte?
Only offer your newborn baby an oral rehydration solution – like Pedialyte – if you have been instructed to by your pediatrician.
Even though these oral rehydration solutions are marketed for young children they need to be diluted with water. How much water to dilute with is based on your baby’s weight and age. So it’s best to receive this information from your doc.
Let’s Talk About Normal Baby Poop
In order to understand what is not normal – diarrhea – it’s important for you to know what normal baby poop is like. Every baby’s normal is going to be different. When your baby’s stool differs from their “normal” that is when there would be a cause for concern.
Normal poop can be a wide range of colors and consistencies. Your baby’s stool will be dependent on their age and diet.
Normal baby poop tends to be some shade of:
It can vary in consistency from runny to thick or formed.
Breastfed babies tend to have yellow, runny stools with small curds or seeds. Again this is why it’s so hard to spot when they have diarrhea because their poop is already so runny!
Formula-fed babies’ stools can range from tan to brown – usually a bit darker than breastfed infants. Formula with an iron supplement may result in green poop. It is also thicker in consistency. This allows changes in their bowel movements to be spotted more easily.
If your baby is breastfed but also supplements with formula occasionally their poops will be some combination of the two. You will find what is “normal” for your baby after the first few weeks of life.
How Many Bowel Movements Are Normal?
Every baby is going to have a different “normal” when it comes to their bowel movement frequency too. Some babies poop every other day and some have a bowel movement after every feeding.
Again the important thing here is to look for something different from their normal.
For example, if your baby usually poops once per day. If they start having a bowel movement every few hours this may be a case to question if it is diarrhea.
The Concern With Diarrhea in Infants – Dehydration
The reason it is so important to take diarrhea seriously in infancy is that babies have an increased risk of dehydration compared to children and adults.
Anyone who has diarrhea is losing a great amount of fluid in their bowel movements. If that fluid is not replaced this can cause dehydration.
Infants have a higher risk of dehydration because they:
- Have a higher metabolic rate (they digest their food quicker)
- Have smaller fluid reserves
- Depend on others for food
How can you tell if your baby is dehydrated? Look for these signs:
- Less than 5 or 6 wet diapers in a 24-hour period
- Having a sunken soft spot
- Difficulty eating
- Dry lips
- Dry mouth
So remember diarrhea = need for extra fluids!
Weight loss is also a concern if your baby is having frequent diarrhea.
When Should You Contact Your Baby’s Pediatrician?
It’s a good idea to contact your baby’s pediatrician immediately if your baby has diarrhea for 24 hours or if you suspect they are dehydrated.
One or two loose stools are not a cause for concern, but you should call if one or more of the following occurs:
- You suspect your baby may have eaten spoiled food or formula
- Your baby has loose watery stools for 24 hours
- Your baby is projectile vomiting repeatedly or for 24 hours
- Blood in stool
- Seems ill or lethargic
- Showing signs of dehydration – decrease urine output, sunken eyes, sunken soft spot, dry skin, scanty saliva
Diarrhea After Solids Have Been Introduced
As I mentioned in the “What Causes Diarrhea In Babies” section, introducing solid foods, food sensitivities, and food allergies can also cause your baby to have diarrhea. So I wanted to talk a bit more about each of these because it is really common after 6 months of age.
Introduction of Solid Foods and Diarrhea
Anytime you introduce a new food to your baby’s developing digestive system it may cause a bit of tummy issues. If you notice your baby is gassy, uncomfortable, or has loose stools after the introduction of new food, wait about 2 weeks before offering this food again.
This is why it’s advised to wait 3-5 days in between introducing new foods to your baby. That way you can monitor and watch to see if your baby might have too sensitive of a stomach to tolerate that particular new food.
Food Sensitivities and Allergies
If your baby has any of the following after eating a new food along with diarrhea it may signal a food sensitivity or allergy:
- Runny nose and eyes
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Projectile vomiting
- In severe cases – anaphylactic shock
Your pediatrician should be consulted if you think your baby may have a food allergy. If your baby is wheezing, your throat is swelling, having trouble breathing then you need to take your baby to the ER immediately.
Determining if your breastfed baby has diarrhea can be extremely challenging as a new parent since their stools are already typically loose and watery. Remember to look for:
- Increased frequency
- Increased volume
- Mucus in their stool
- Blood in their stool
If your baby has diarrhea contact your pediatrician. Keep their diet the same and remember to feed as often as possible to replace fluid loss!
Also, don’t forget to download my free gift to you: Superfoods for Babies + Toddlers to boost the nutrition of their meals and snacks!