Diet for Diarrhea Only (Infant/Toddler)

Image of a woman administering an oral rehydration solution to a small child in a highchair using a baby bottle.

The main goal while treating diarrhea is to prevent dehydration. This is the loss of too much water and minerals from the body. When this occurs, body fluids must be replaced. This is done by giving your child small amounts of liquids often. You can also give oral rehydration solution. Oral rehydration solution is available at pharmacies and most grocery stores. Don't use sports drinks—they are not good enough. In general, for mild diarrhea, the child can continue to eat.

If your baby is breastfed:

  • Keep breastfeeding. Feed your child more often than usual.

  • If diarrhea is severe, give oral rehydration solution between feedings.

  • As diarrhea decreases, stop giving oral rehydration solution and resume your normal breastfeeding schedule.

If your baby is bottle-fed:

  • Give small, frequent amounts of fluid. An ounce or two (30 to 60 mL) every 30 minutes may improve symptoms. Start with 1 teaspoon (5 mL) every 5 minutes and increase gradually as tolerated.

  • Give full-strength formula or milk. If diarrhea is severe, give oral rehydration solution between feedings.

  • If giving milk and the diarrhea is not getting better, stop giving milk. In some cases, milk can make diarrhea worse. Try soy or rice formula.

  • Don’t give apple juice, soda, or other sweetened drinks. Drinks with sugar can make diarrhea worse. Sports drinks are not the same as oral rehydration solutions. Sports drinks have too much sugar and not enough electrolytes to correct dehydration.

  • If your child is doing well after 24 hours, resume a regular diet and feeding schedule.

  • If your child starts doing worse with food, go back to clear liquids.

If your child is on solid food:

  • Keep in mind that liquids are more important than food right now. Don’t be in a rush to give food.

  • Don’t force your child to eat, especially if they are having stomach pain and cramping.

  • Don’t feed your child large amounts at a time, even if they are hungry. This can make your child feel worse. You can give your child more food over time if they can tolerate it.

  • If you are giving milk to your child and the diarrhea is not going away, stop the milk. In some cases, milk can make diarrhea worse. If that happens, use oral rehydration solution instead.

  • If diarrhea is severe, give oral rehydration solution between feedings.

  • If your child is doing well after 24 hours, try giving solid foods. These can include cereal, oatmeal, bread, noodles, mashed carrots, mashed bananas, mashed potatoes, applesauce, dry toast, crackers, soups with rice noodles, and cooked vegetables.

  • Don't feed your child high-fat foods.

  • Don't feed your child high-sugar foods, including fruit juice and sodas.

  • For babies over 4 months, as they feel better, you may give cereal, mashed potatoes, applesauce, mashed bananas, or strained carrots during this time. Babies over 1 year may add crackers, white bread, rice, and other starches.

  • If your child starts doing worse with food, go back to clear liquids.

  • You can resume your child's normal diet over time as they feel better. If the diarrhea or cramping gets worse again, go back to a simple diet or clear liquids.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider as advised. If a stool sample was taken or cultures were done, call the healthcare provider for the results as instructed.

Call 911

Call 911 if your child has any of these symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Confusion

  • Extreme drowsiness or loss of consciousness

  • Trouble walking

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Stiff neck

  • Seizure

When to seek medical advice

Call your child’s healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Belly pain that gets worse

  • Constant lower right belly pain

  • Repeated vomiting after the first two hours on liquids

  • Occasional vomiting for more than 24 hours

  • Continued severe diarrhea for more than 24 hours

  • Blood in stool

  • Refusal to drink or feed

  • Dark urine or no urine, or dry diapers, for 4 to 6 hours in an infant or toddler, or 6 to 8 hours in an older child, no tears when crying, sunken eyes, or dry mouth

  • Fussiness or crying that cannot be soothed

  • Unusual drowsiness

  • New rash

  • More than 8 diarrhea stools within 8 hours

  • Diarrhea lasts more than one week on antibiotics

  • Symptoms get worse or your child has new symptoms

  • Fever (see Children and fever, below)

Fever and children

Use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Don’t use a mercury thermometer. There are different kinds and uses of digital thermometers. They include:

  • Rectal. For children younger than 3 years, a rectal temperature is the most accurate.

  • Forehead (temporal). This works for children age 3 months and older. If a child under 3 months old has signs of illness, this can be used for a first pass. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Ear (tympanic). Ear temperatures are accurate after 6 months of age, but not before.

  • Armpit (axillary). This is the least reliable but may be used for a first pass to check a child of any age with signs of illness. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Mouth (oral). Don’t use a thermometer in your child’s mouth until they are at least 4 years old.

Use the rectal thermometer with care. Follow the product maker’s directions for correct use. Insert it gently. Label it and make sure it’s not used in the mouth. It may pass on germs from the stool. If you don’t feel OK using a rectal thermometer, ask the healthcare provider what type to use instead. When you talk with any healthcare provider about your child’s fever, tell them which type you used.

Below are guidelines to know if your young child has a fever. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you different numbers for your child. Follow your provider’s specific instructions.

Fever readings for a baby under 3 months old:

  • First, ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

Fever readings for a child age 3 months to 36 months (3 years):

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear: 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 101°F (38.3°C) or higher

Call the healthcare provider in these cases:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher in a child of any age

  • Fever of 100.4° (38°C) or higher in baby younger than 3 months

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2

  • Fever that lasts for 3 days in a child age 2 or older

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