Diarrhea is the sudden increase in the frequency and looseness of stools. Mild diarrhea is the passage of a few loose or mushy stools. Severe diarrhea is the passage of many watery stools. Watery stools that occur every hour is definitely severe diarrhea. The best indicator of the severity of the diarrhea is its frequency or blood in the stools.
The main complication of diarrhea is dehydration from the loss of too much fluid from the body. Symptoms of dehydration are a dry mouth, the absence of tears, infrequent urination (for example, none in 8 hours), and a darker, concentrated urine. The main goal of diarrhea treatment is to prevent dehydration.
No matter how they look, the stools of a breast-fed infant must be considered normal unless they contain mucus or blood or develop a bad odor. In fact, during the first months, breast-fed babies normally pass very loose stools, some green stools, or even stools with a water ring.
The frequency of stools is also not much help in deciding whether your breast-fed baby has diarrhea. Breast-fed babies during the first 2 months pass from 4 stools per day to 1 after each feeding. The stools are normally liquid. However, if your baby's stools abruptly increase in number, your baby probably has diarrhea. Other clues are poor eating, acting sick, and a fever.
Diarrhea is usually caused by a viral infection of the lining of the intestines (gastroenteritis). Sometimes it is caused by bacteria or parasites. Occasionally an infant has a food allergy or drinks too much fruit juice, which may cause diarrhea. If your child has just one or two loose stools, the cause is probably something unusual your child ate.
Diarrhea caused by bacteria or a virus usually lasts several days to 2 weeks, regardless of the type of treatment. The main goal of treatment is to prevent dehydration. Your child needs to drink enough breast milk to replace the fluids lost in the diarrhea. Don't expect a quick return to solid stools.
Increased fluids and dietary changes are the main treatment for diarrhea. One loose stool can mean nothing. Don't start dietary changes until your child has had several loose stools.
If your breast-fed baby has diarrhea, treatment is straightforward. Continue breast-feeding but at more frequent intervals. Don't stop breast-feeding your baby because your baby has diarrhea. For severe (watery and frequent) diarrhea, offer Pedialyte or other electrolyte solutions between breast-feedings for 6 to 24 hours, but only if your baby is urinating less frequently than normal.
You may have to stop breast-feeding temporarily if your baby is too exhausted to nurse and needs intravenous (IV) fluids for dehydration. Pump your breasts to maintain milk flow until you can breast-feed again (usually within 12 hours).
Foods that contain a lot of starch are more easily digested than other foods during diarrhea. If your baby is over 4 months old, continue with solid foods. Good choices are: any cereal, strained bananas, mashed potatoes, and other high-fiber foods.
Remember that something in the mother's diet may cause a breast-fed baby to have more frequent or looser stools—for example, coffee, cola, or herbal teas. If you suspect this, take it out of your diet and see what happens.
Diarrhea is very contagious. Always wash your hands after changing diapers or using the toilet. This is crucial for keeping everyone in the family from getting diarrhea.
The skin near your baby's anus can become irritated by the diarrhea. Wash the area near the anus after each stool and then protect it with a thick layer of petroleum jelly or other ointment. This protection is especially needed during the night and during naps. Changing the diaper quickly after stools also helps.
For children in diapers, diarrhea can be a mess. Place a cotton washcloth inside the diaper to trap some of the more watery stools. Use diapers with snug leg bands or cover the diapers with a pair of plastic pants. Wash your child under running water in the bathtub.
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