Diarrhea can be defined as having 3 or more loose watery stools per day, or as having an increased number of stools than is normal for that child. There are many possible causes of diarrhea, but most commonly, diarrhea is caused by an infection in the stomach or intestine (“gastroenteritis”). Viruses are the most common infecting agents, however bacteria and even parasites can be the occasional cause, especially if there has been a recent travel history or a specific exposure. The infection is usually contagious and may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and fever. When a child has a gastrointestinal virus, the diarrhea may last longer than the vomiting, often several days to a week. In most cases, diarrhea will stop without specific medical treatment.

What Is the Best Way to Treat Diarrhea?

The goal is not to stop the diarrhea, but to provide the proper nutrition and adequate fluids to heal the intestines. Most children with mild diarrhea can continue to eat a normal diet which can include formula or milk. Breastfeeding can continue as most breastfed infants are less likely to develop severe diarrhea. Avoid juice (especially apple, pear or prune juice) as these may loosen stools and prolong the diarrhea. Special fluids are not usually necessary for children with mild illness.

Children with moderate illness may require special fluids called “electrolyte solutions” which are clear liquids designed to replace the water and salts lost through diarrhea. They do not stop diarrhea but may help prevent dehydration. Examples of these include Pedialyte, Gatorade and Powerade, although brand names and generic brands are equally effective and extremely helpful for the management of mild to moderately severe illness. If your child is not vomiting, these solutions can be used in very generous amounts until your child is back to making a normal amount of urine. If a breastfed infant does develop diarrhea, generally breastfeeding can continue, giving additional electrolyte solution only if your pediatrician thinks this is necessary. Many breastfed babies can continue to stay hydrated with frequent breastfeeding alone. Do not try to prepare these special fluids yourself – use only commercially available fluids. Contact your pediatrician if you have any questions about available products.

In most cases, diarrhea will stop on its own without specific medical treatment. You should never use over-the-counter or prescription remedies unless they have been prescribed by your child’s pediatrician and for this particular illness. When there is continued diarrhea, it is important prevent dehydration by encouraging your child to drink enough fluids to restore what has been lost through diarrhea. You may offer water and oral electrolyte solutions (ie. Pedialyte, Gatorade, Powerade), in addition to other clear liquids such as broth, gelatin (Jell-O) or popsicles. You may continue to offer their usual milk/formula as well as their normal diet of solid food, however, your child may refuse it temporarily until the diarrhea subsides and your child is feeling better enough to gradually return to eating a usual diet. You may try bland foods such as applesauce, bananas, toast, rice, potatoes and cereal as your child will need some normal nutrition to start to regain lost strength. Focus on keeping your child hydrated and call your pediatrician if you notice signs of dehydration or if your child is unable to tolerate fluid intake by mouth.

Reminders – Do’s and Dont’s


  • Watch for signs of dehydration which can include: dry mouth, lack of tears, sunken “soft spot”, decreased urination.
  • Call your pediatrician if your child has blood in the stool.
  • Call your pedatrician if your child develops a high fever (more than 102 degrees)
  • Call your pediatrician if your child develops severe abdominal pain, a distended (swollen, rigid abdomen,¬†if he/she vomits material that is green-colored, blood-tinged, or looks like coffee grounds, or if there is a rash or jaundice (yellow appearance of the skin or eyes).
  • Call your pediatrician if the diarrhea lasts longer than 2 weeks (chronic diarrhea) as this may indicate a more serious type of intestinal problem.
  • Keep your pediatrician informed if there is any significant change in your child’s behavior.
  • Continue to feed your child if he/she is not vomiting – offer smaller amounts of food at a time or give your child foods that do not further upset his or her stomach.
  • Use commercially available oral electrolyte solutions if your child is thirsty and able to tolerate fluids by mouth.
  • Avoid too much juice or sweetened beverages, as this could prolong loose stools (a condition known as “toddler’s diarrhea”)


  • Do not try to make your own salt and fluid combinations at home unless instructed by your pediatrician.
  • Do not prevent your child from eating if he or she is hungry.
  • Do not use boiled milk or other excessively salty broths.
  • Do not use “anti-diarrhea” medications on your child unless prescribed by your pediatrician.

Health Watch!

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Contact Information

Office Hours
Monday-Friday: 8:30am - 12:00pm
                               1:30pm - 4:30pm
Saturday: By Appointment

Phone: (585) 256-2210
Fax: (585) 256-2775
After Hours: (585) 453-2255

Pathway Pediatrics, LLC
Westfall Medical Park
2225 South Clinton Avenue, Suite 1A
Rochester, NY 14618
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