Diet for Vomiting and Diarrhea (Infant/Toddler)

Vomiting and diarrhea are common in babies and young children. They can quickly lose too much fluid and become dehydrated. This is the loss of too much water and minerals from the body. This can be serious and even life threatening. When this occurs, body fluids must be replaced. This is done by giving small amounts of liquids often.

For babies, breastmilk or formula is the best fluid. Breastmilk can help reduce how serious the diarrhea is. But if your child shows signs of dehydration, their healthcare provider may tell you to use an oral rehydration solution. This can replace lost minerals called electrolytes. It can be used in addition to breast or bottle feedings. Oral rehydration solution may also reduce vomiting and diarrhea. You can buy it at grocery stores and pharmacies without a prescription. 

In cases of severe dehydration or vomiting, a child may need to go to a hospital to have IV (intravenous) fluids.

Giving liquids and feeding

For breast or formula feedings:

  • Continue the breast or formula feedings. Do this unless your healthcare provider says otherwise.

  • If you use formula, the healthcare provider may tell you to try a different kind of formula. A common cause of vomiting in newborns is a problem with formula.

  • Give your baby short, frequent feedings. Feed every 30 minutes for 5 to 10 minutes at a time over a period of 2 to 3 hours. This will help give your baby more fluids.

  • If vomiting or diarrhea doesn't stop, the provider may tell you to give a formula with no lactose, or low lactose. Lactose is a milk sugar that can be hard to digest. Follow the provider's advice about what type of formula to give your baby.

If using oral rehydration solution:

  • Follow the healthcare provider's instructions when giving the solution to your baby. Oral rehydration solution may be alternated with breast or formula feedings.

  • Use only prepared, purchased oral rehydration solution. Don't make your own solution.

  • Give your baby short, frequent feedings. Feed every 30 minutes for 2 to 3 hours. This will help replace lost electrolytes.

  • If vomiting or diarrhea gets better after 2 to 3 hours, you can stop the oral rehydration solution. Resume breastmilk or full-strength formula for all feedings.

For children on solid foods:

  • Follow the diet your child's healthcare provider advises.

  • If desired and tolerated, your child may eat regular food.

  • If unable to eat regular food, your child can drink clear liquids such as water, or suck on ice chips. Don't give high-sugar fluids such as juice or soda. Give small amounts of food and drink often.

  • If clear liquids are tolerated, slowly increase the amount. Alternate these fluids with oral rehydration solution as your healthcare provider advises.

  • Your child can start a regular diet 12 to 24 hours after diarrhea or vomiting has stopped. Continue to give plenty of clear liquids.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or 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 trouble walking

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Stiff neck

  • Seizure

When to get medical advice

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

  • Fever (see "Fever and children" below)

  • Belly (abdominal) pain that gets worse

  • Constant lower right abdominal pain

  • Repeated vomiting after the first 2 hours on liquids

  • Occasional vomiting for more than 24 hours

  • Continued severe diarrhea for more than 24 hours

  • Blood in vomit or stool (black or red color)

  • Refusal to drink or feed

  • Dark urine or no urine for 8 hours, no tears when crying, sunken eyes, or dry mouth

  • Fussiness or crying that can't be soothed

  • Abnormal drowsiness

  • New rash

  • More than 8 diarrhea stools in 8 hours

  • Diarrhea lasts more than 1 week on antibiotics

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° F (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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