Diarrhea is a common problem in children. It is usually mild and lasts for a short time. It can be harmful because of the danger of dehydration.
What is diarrhea?
Loose, watery and possibly more frequent bowel movements are a common problem. It may be present alone or be associated with other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or weight loss. Luckily, diarrhea is usually short-lived, lasting no more than a few days.
How to tell if your child has diarrhea
Every child has a different pattern of bowel movements, so it is sometimes hard to tell if a child has diarrhea or just loose bowel movements. It is diarrhea if your child has either of the following:
- more loose bowel movements than usual,
- the bowel movements are more watery or unformed than usual.
Diarrhea is usually caused by a virus. Sometimes diarrhea is caused by bacteria and can be treated with antibiotics.
Germs that cause diarrhea spread quickly from person to person especially from child to child, through contact with feces, contaminated surfaces, food or water. To stop the spread, carefully wash your hands and the child’s hands after every diaper change. Make sure that children wash their hands after using the toilet. Wash often hands and always before preparing or eating food.
What to do at home if your child has diarrhea
- Watch your child for signs of diarrhea if other children have it.
- Make sure everyone in the house, including your child, washes their hands after using the toilet and after diaper changes.
- Wash hands often and always before preparing or eating food.
- Use a different towel, facecloth, dish, spoon, etc., for each person to stop the germs from spreading.
When to call your doctor or 811
Call your doctor if your child has diarrhea and is any of the following:
- under six months of age
- has bloody or black bowel movements
- has a fever with a temperature higher than 38.5°C
- has signs of dehydration
Frequently Asked Questions
What are signs of dehydration for infants?
- decreased urination (fewer than four wet diapers in 24 hours)
- increased thirst
- no tears
- dry skin, mouth and tongue
- fast heartbeat
- sunken eyes
- greyish skin
- sunken soft spot on baby's head
A child with diarrhea should NOT go to the childcare centre
- Any episode of bloody diarrhea.
- More loose bowel movements than usual, or bowel movements that are more watery or unformed than usual (2 or more liquid or watery stools within 24 hours).
A child with diarrhea should NOT go to school IF
- the bowel movements are loose, and there is a risk of spreading germs from diarrhea to surfaces used by others in the school.