Parent Information about Diarrhea

* This information is general and may not fit your particular situation. It should be used in addition to what you learn from your doctor.


Symptom Definition

  • Diarrhea is the sudden increase in the frequency and looseness of bowel movements.
  • Mild diarrhea is the passage of a few loose or mushy bowel movements.
  • Severe diarrhea is the passage of many watery bowel movements.


  • Usually viral gastroenteritis (viral infection of the stomach and intestines).
  • It usually has to run its course; there is no medicine we can give to cure a viral infection

Call EMS 911 NOW if your child is very weak, limp, not moving, unresponsive, has gray skin, etc.

Go to EMERGENCY ROOM NOW! (Or to the office) if your child looks very sick or weak.

Call the Office NOW for the following symptoms:

  • Signs of dehydration (e.g., no urine in more than 12 hours, no tears with crying, and very dry mouth)
  • Blood in the stool (bring in a sample).
  • Fever more than 105F
  • Age less than 12 weeks with a fever of 100.4 or more
  • Abdominal pain present for more than 2 hours (EXCEPTION: pain clears with passage of each diarrhea stool).
  • Very watery diarrhea combined with vomiting 3 or more times.
  • Age less than 1 month with 3 or more diarrhea stools.
  • Age less than 1 year with more than 8 diarrhea stools in the last 8 hours.

See Today in Office for:

  • Mucus or pus in the stool for more than 2 days.
  • Loss of bowel control in a toilet trained child for more than 2 days.
  • Fever more than 100.4 rectal for more than 3 days.

Home Care Advice for Diarrhea (For example, from viral gastroenteritis)

Diarrhea is the body's way of getting rid of the infection. Here are some tips on how to keep up with the fluid loss:

  1. Mild Diarrhea: Continue regular diet. Eat more starchy food. Drink more fluids. (EXCEPTION: avoid fruit juices because they make diarrhea worse. White grape juice is fine to give your child).
  2. Formula-Fed Infants who are less than 1 year old WITH frequent, watery diarrhea
    • Start oral rehydration solutions such as Pedialyte or Liquilyte for frequent, watery diarrhea. Formula is fine for average diarrhea. For infants who don't like the flavor of Pedialyte or Liquilyte, add a small amount of NutraSweet or a little Kool-Aid powder.
    • Use Pedialyte or Liquilyte alone for four to six hours to prevent dehydration. Offer unlimited amounts.
    • If parents can't buy these products, consider making your own solution. Mix cup of dry infant cereal with 2 cups (16 ounces) of water and level teaspoon of salt.
    • If neither is available, use formula (unlimited amounts) until the family can get some. Avoid Jell-O water and sports drinks (Reason: inadequate sodium content).
  3. Returning to Formula:
    • Use full-strength formula. (Reason: it contains adequate water).
    • Offer the formula more frequently than you normally do. Lactose-free formulas are only needed for watery diarrhea persisting for more than 3 days.
    • Infants older than 6 months: Isomil-DF, a fiber containing soy formula may be helpful.
    • Extra Pedialyte or Liquilyte: also give 2-4 ounces of these liquids for every large watery stool.
    • Solids: if older than 4 months, continue rice cereal, strained bananas, mashed potatoes, etc.
  4. Breastfed Infants WITH frequent, watery diarrhea:
    • Continue breastfeeding at more frequent intervals. Add solids as above.
    • Offer 2-4 ounces of Pedialyte or Liquilyte between feedings for each large stool especially if urine is dark.
  5. Children Older Than 1 Year Old WITH frequent, watery discharge:
    • If child eats enough solids, give water or strength Kool-Aid or strength Gatorade. If your child refuses solids, give milk or formula.
    • Avoid all fruit juices and soft drinks. (Remember: white grape juice is fine to give your child).
    • Pedialyte or Liquilyte is rarely needed. For severe diarrhea, also give 4-8 ounces of Pedialyte or Liquilyte for every large watery stool.
    • Starchy foods are absorbed best. Give dried cereals, oatmeal, bread, crackers, noodles, mashed potatoes, rice, carrots, applesauce, strained bananas, etc.
  6. Yogurt: If older than 12 months, give 2-6 ounces of yogurt twice a day (Reason: restores healthy bacteria to GI tract).
  7. Diaper Rash: Wash buttocks after each bowel movement to prevent a bad diaper rash. Applying a protective ointment (For example, vaseline) around the anus to protect the skin.
  8. Expected Course: Viral diarrhea lasts 5-7 days. It's always worse the first two days.
  9. Call back if:
    • Signs of dehydration occur.
    • Diarrhea persists for more than 2 weeks.
    • Your child becomes worse.