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This Care Guide Covers:

  • Diarrhea is the sudden increase in the number and looseness of stools
  • Diarrhea means 2 or more watery or very loose stools.  Reason: 1 loose stool can be normal with changes in diet.

If not, see these topics
When to Call Your Doctor

Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If
  • Not moving
  • Too weak or dizzy to stand
  • You think your child has a life-threatening emergency
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Dehydration suspected. (No urine in over 8 hours, dark urine, very dry mouth and no tears)
  • Blood in the stool
  • Weak immune system. (Such as sickle cell disease, HIV, cancer, organ transplant, taking oral steroids)
  • Constant stomach pain lasts over 2 hours
  • Vomits clear liquids 3 or more times
  • Age under 1 month with 3 or more diarrhea stools
  • Severe diarrhea (10 or more watery stools in the last 24 hours)
  • Fever over 104° F (40° C)
  • Age under 12 weeks old with fever. (Caution: Do NOT give your baby any fever medicine before being seen.)
  • You think your child needs to be seen urgently
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
  • Moderate diarrhea (6 or more watery stools in the last 24 hours)
  • Stomach pains that do not go away after each diarrhea stool
  • Loss of bowel control in a toilet trained child occurs 3 or more times
  • Fever lasts more than 3 days
  • Close contact with person or animal who has bacterial diarrhea
  • Contact with reptile (snake, lizard, turtle) in past 14 days
  • Travel to country at risk for diarrhea within past month
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Diarrhea lasts over 2 weeks
  • Loose stools are a frequent problem
Parent Care at Home If
  • Mild diarrhea (probably caused by a virus)
Causes & Health Information


Diarrhea Scale

Dehydration: How to Know

Diarrhea in Breastfed Babies: How to Tell

Diarrhea in Formula-Fed Infants: How to Tell

Return to School


  1. What You Should Know:
    • Most diarrhea is caused by a virus.
    • Diarrhea is the body's way of getting rid of the germs.
    • Here are some tips on how to keep ahead of the fluid losses.
  2. Mild Diarrhea:  
    • Keep on a normal diet.  
    • Eat more starchy foods (such as cereal, crackers, rice).
    • Drink more fluids. Formula or milk are good choices for this illness.
    • Do not use fruit juices or soft drinks. Reason: They make diarrhea worse.
  3. Formula-Fed Babies WITH frequent, watery diarrhea: Start Oral Rehydration Solutions (ORS)
    • ORS is a special fluid that can help your child stay hydrated. You can use Pedialyte or the store brand. It can be bought in food or drug stores.
    • Start ORS for frequent, watery diarrhea. (Note: Formula is fine for mild diarrhea.)
    • Use ORS alone for 4 to 6 hours to prevent dehydration. Offer as much of it as your child will drink.
    • If you don't have ORS, use formula mixed normally until you can get some. Offer as much formula as your child will take.
    • Do not use Jello water, sports drinks, or fruit juice. Reason: They make diarrhea worse.
  4. Going Back to Formula:
    • Go back to formula by 6 hours at the latest. Reason: Your baby needs the calories.
    • Use formula mixed the normal way. Reason: It contains plenty of water.
    • Offer the formula more often than you normally do.
    • Lactose: Regular formula is fine for most diarrhea. Lactose-free formula (soy formula) are only needed for watery diarrhea lasting over 3 days.
    • Extra ORS: Also give 2-4 ounces (60-120 ml) of ORS after every large watery stool. (especially if the urine is dark).
  5. Solids:
    • Babies over 4 months old: Keep on baby foods. If diarrhea is bad, start with cereals.
    • Go back to a normal diet in 24 hours.
  6. Breastfed Infants WITH frequent, watery diarrhea:
    • Keep nursing, but more often.
    • Offer 2-4 ounces (60-120 mls) ORS (such as Pedialyte). Give after all large watery stools (especially if urine is dark). Do this in addition to breastfeeding.
    • Babies over 4 months old: Keep on baby foods. If diarrhea is bad, start with cereals.
  7. Older Children (over 1 year old) WITH frequent, watery diarrhea:
    • Fluids: Offer as much fluid as your child will drink. If taking solids, use water or half-strength Gatorade. If won't eat solids, give milk or formula.
    • Do not use fruit juices and soft drinks. Reason: They make diarrhea worse.
    • ORS (such as Pedialyte) is rarely needed. But, for bad diarrhea, also give 4-8 ounces (120-240ml) of ORS. Do this after all large watery stools (especially if the urine is dark).
    • Solids: Starchy foods are the best.  Give dried cereals, oatmeal, bread, crackers, noodles, mashed potatoes, or rice.  Pretzels or salty crackers can help meet salt needs.
    • Go back to a normal diet in 24 hours.
  8. Probiotics:
    • Probiotics are healthy bacteria (such as Lactobacilli). They can replace harmful bacteria in the GI tract.
    • YOGURT is the easiest source of probiotics. If over 12 months old, give 2 to 6 ounces (60 to 180 ml) of yogurt. Do this twice daily. (Note: Today, almost all yogurts are "active culture".)
    • Probiotic supplements can also be bought in health food stores.
  9. Diaper Rash:
    • Wash buttocks after each stool to prevent a bad diaper rash.
    • To protect the skin, use an ointment (such as petroleum jelly). Put it on the skin around the anus.
  10. Return to School:
    • Your child can go back to school after the stools are formed.
    • The fever should also be gone.
    • The older child can go back if the diarrhea is mild.
    • The older child also needs to have good control over loose stools.
  11. What to Expect:
    • Viral diarrhea lasts 5-14 days.
    • Severe diarrhea only occurs on the first 1 or 2 days. But, loose stools can last for 1 to 2 weeks.  
  12. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Signs of dehydration occur
    • Diarrhea lasts over 2 weeks
    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 9/1/2012

Last Revised: 1/13/2013

Content Set: Child Symptom Checker

Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.