Diarrhea: what to feed children?

January 22, 2024

Today we are talking about a topic that is as unusual as it is important to cover: children’s diarrhea.
It can happen to adults and children alike to catch a gastrointestinal virus or simply have intestinal disorders that cause us problems. If the adult can recognize the problem and manage it independently, the child needs someone to help him or her understand that something is wrong and intervene promptly. It may not seem like it, but diarrhea can also become a very dangerous situation.

How to stop diarrhea discharges in children?

To be able to intervene quickly, you necessarily need to observe your child, see if he or she has any pain or discomfort, and contact the nearest pediatrician. Remember that this situation might also influence how your kid will sleep and it might be part of a disease like the common cold or influenza. But still, keep an eye on the important stuff.

Have you ever heard of intestinal flora?

Gut flora is the collection of all the microorganisms in your intestines. Our bodies can contain over 500 different species of bacteria. These bacteria have made an ecosystem within our body and allow us to function properly. Let’s say that most of these bacteria can be called good and very important.
They help us deal with the arrival of “bad” microorganisms (which are actually not bad, they simply do different functions, functions that can cause problems in our digestion).

The collection of all these microorganisms in the gut flora makes up the microbiota. Young children do not have fully developed intestinal flora: in fact, it is a slow and very long process, which is why it can happen more often when a child manifests diarrhea.

What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea is defined as one or more discharges of semiliquid and/or liquid stools.
The duration and frequency of diarrhea defines whether it is:

acute (lasting a few days, caused by a bacterial or viral infection)

chronic (more than 3 discharges per day continuing beyond 3-4 weeks caused by infection, intolerance, or intestinal inflammation)

Children’s diarrhea: what to feed them?

Granted that the assessment is up to the referring pediatrician who, after careful analysis, defines the appropriate therapy for the little one, we can now look at what to feed children during diarrhea.

We receive many inquiries on this topic, which often go like this:

“These days he has had a few bursts of diarrhea, what should I feed him?”

Let’s look at it together, for different age levels.

Infant diarrhea

If your baby is breastfed, continuing is critical!
Replenishing lost fluids and all the nutrients in breast milk is so important to help your little one stay dehydrated and give his or her body all the tools to fight off bad bacteria. Be sure never to give water to your newborn before 6 months of age.

If your baby is formula-fed and you are certain that that type of milk does not cause problems for him, go ahead with the formula and check with your pediatrician.

Diarrhea in weaning

Introducing new foods may result in some minor discharges of diarrhea. In this case, it can simply be solved by better balancing the foods in the proposed dishes, for example, in classic weaning, it will be enough to increase the use of potatoes and carrots while decreasing the amount of zucchini.

Diarrhea after one year

If your child is already over a year old, you should always remember to supplement plenty of water to avoid dehydration and balance caloric and protein intake.
Do not force your child to eat but always try to offer every meal of the day. If he has a total refusal of food, you could entice him with small daily snacks rich in starch and calories, avoiding sugary foods or packaged products.

We also recommend cooking foods lightly: steam, griddle, grill, or in a pressure cooker.

Foods not recommended

Old beliefs tell of leaving children fasting or letting them eat foods “plain,” without condiments. This is not necessary.

Here is a list of foods that are not recommended:

  • sugary or carbonated beverages (packaged fruit juices and teas also fall into this category)
  • sweets (sugar, honey, candy, cakes…)
  • whole grain and fiber-rich foods
  • fresh cheeses
  • spicy foods
  • cold cuts
  • dried, syrupy or dehydrated fruits
  • sauces and condiments (butter, mayonnaise, meat broth, spices, stock cube..)

Foods in moderation

  • fresh vegetables and fruits
  • lean meats and fish
  • lean raw ham
  • bresaola
  • extra virgin olive oil

What to feed children

  • rice
  • toast
  • rusks
  • breadsticks or crackers
  • aged cheeses
  • yogurt
  • lean meats and fish (beef, poultry, veal cooked boiled or steamed, or grilled, or baked without fat)
  • vegetable broth (potatoes and carrots)
  • lemon juice

What to do to prevent diarrhea?

As you might have guessed, in most cases these are bacteria that the child unintentionally introduces into his or her body, which is why frequent hand washing helps eliminate bacteria and germs. We know that children, especially toddlers, often put their hands in their mouths: if he is old enough, define small but important routines to remember to wash his hands, while if the child is small, remember to wash his hands frequently.

Of course, washing the hands of those who are preparing food is also very important: it would be useless to make children wash their hands if adults do not do it. Always set a good example for them.

Washing vegetables and cooking food is also a key step; thorough cooking and washing with baking soda is preferable.

If you have an animal in the house, do not wash its bowls in the same sink you use to prepare meals for the family to avoid contamination risks.

If your child manifests discharges of diarrhea, you should still always consult your pediatrician. Only the pediatrician will be able to make an assessment of the situation and advise you on how you should move forward for the safety and health of your child.

We are with you.

We at Parentalife are by your side on the parenting journey, to help you through the difficulties. We support you with the private group, our guides and classes, and personalized counseling. Remember, on this journey, you will never be alone, we are with you.

SOURCES

Denk L. Diarrhea, Toddler’s. Pediatric Clinical Advisor. 2007:171-2. doi: 10.1016/B978-032303506-4.10095-1. Epub 2009 May 22. PMCID: PMC7151931.
Article updated November 22, 2023