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, breast milk or formula is the best fluid. Breast milk can help reduce how serious the diarrhea is. But if your child shows signs of dehydration, the doctor may tell you to use an oral rehydration solution. Oral rehydration solution can replace lost minerals called electrolytes. Oral rehydration solution can be used in addition to breast or bottle feedings. Oral rehydration solution may also reduce vomiting and diarrhea. You can buy oral rehydration solution at grocery stores and drug stores 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, your 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 does not stop, your healthcare 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 your 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 breast milk or full-strength formula for all feedings.

For children on solid foods:

  • Follow the diet your 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 cubes. 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 seek medical advice

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

  • Fever (see Fever and children, below)

  • 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 cannot be soothed

  • Unusual drowsiness

  • New rash

  • More than 8 diarrhea stools within 8 hours

  • Diarrhea lasts more than 1 week on antibiotics

Fever and children

Always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Never use a mercury thermometer.

For infants and toddlers, be sure to use a rectal thermometer correctly. A rectal thermometer may accidentally poke a hole in (perforate) the rectum. It may also pass on germs from the stool. Always follow the product maker’s directions for proper use. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a rectal temperature, use another method. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which method you used to take your child’s temperature.

Here are guidelines for fever temperature. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Infant under 3 months old:

  • Ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

Child age 3 to 36 months:

  • Rectal, forehead (temporal artery), or ear temperature of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

Child of any age:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old. Or a fever that lasts for 3 days in a child 2 years or older.

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