It can be very concerning to see your baby or child having bouts of diarrhoea and vomiting. This helpful information aims to explain some of the common causes and strategies to help you alleviate your child’s symptoms.
Diarrhoea symptoms in babies and children
Most babies have occasional loose stools or faeces (poo) and breastfed babies normally have looser stools than formula-fed babies. It’s diarrhoea if they repeatedly pass unformed, watery stools.
Some children between the ages of 1 and 5 pass frequent, smelly, loose stools that may contain recognisable foods, such as carrots and peas. Usually, these children are otherwise perfectly healthy and are growing normally. The diarrhoea may be due to drinking too much cordial or sugary drinks, but you should check with your doctor. Sometimes the doctor can’t find any cause.
Children may have large, runny, frequent or watery poos. The colour of the poo might vary from brown to green, and the smell can be quite offensive.
They may also have stomach cramps or pain.
Causes of diarrhoea and vomiting in children
Diarrhoea and vomiting may be caused by many different things, including:
Treatments for diarrhoea and vomiting in children
The main treatment for diarrhoea and vomiting is to keep your child at home and make sure they keep drinking fluids often such as water, oral rehydration solution, breastmilk or formula.
Don't give your child any medicines to stop diarrhoea without medical advice. Antibiotics are not usually given to treat diarrhoea and vomiting.
Diarrhoea and vomiting is more serious in babies than older children because babies can easily lose too much fluid from their bodies and become dehydrated. Signs of dehydration are:
- fewer wet nappies
- dark yellow urine
- a dry mouth
- sunken eyes
- a sunken soft spot (fontanelle) on a baby’s head
- few or no tears when they cry
If your baby becomes dehydrated they will need extra fluids. If you are breastfeeding, keep offering feeds and feed more often. If you are bottle feeding, offer clear fluids in between feeds. You can also give an oral rehydration fluid from your local pharmacy or chemist, or get a prescription from your doctor.
When to see a doctor
Babies under 6 months old should always be checked by a GP if they have vomiting and diarrhoea. All children should see a doctor if:
- they’re not drinking
- the diarrhoea doesn’t improve after 10 days
- they are vomiting and can’t keep any fluids down
- they are dehydrated (fewer wet nappies, not weeing, dark yellow or brown wee, dry lips and mouth)
- they have a bad stomach pain
- there is blood in their poo
- they have green vomit
- you are worried
Diarrhoea and vomiting self care
If your child has diarrhoea and vomiting there are a number of things you can do to help manage their condition:
- breast and bottle fed babies should continue to be given their normal feeds (at normal strength)
- if your child is on solid foods, be guided by their appetite. There is no evidence that fasting benefits someone with diarrhoea and vomiting
- older children should eat normally. Foods high in carbohydrates, like bread, potatoes, pasta and rice are good, and soup will also help replace fluids
- if they wear nappies, a barrier cream may help to prevent soreness or nappy rash developing
- ensure your child’s bottom is cleaned gently and thoroughly, after each episode of diarrhoea to avoid irritation to the skin
- your child may feel tired and irritable. Always place your baby on their back in their cot to sleep, as this position reduces the risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy
Diarrhoea and vomiting prevention
The best way to avoid diarrhoea and vomiting is to have good personal hygiene:
- wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm running water to prevent the spread of infection. Dry your hands thoroughly but do not share towels as this can spread an infection
- wash your hands:
- before handling food, including babies’ bottles
- before eating
- after going to the toilet or changing your child’s nappy
- after cleaning up blood, faeces or vomit
- after wiping a nose, either your child’s or your own
- after handling garbage
- clean surfaces — washing with detergent and water is a very effective way of removing germs from surfaces you have touched
- with formula-fed babies, make sure that bottles are sterilised carefully
- do not share personal items — your child should use their own personal items, such as towels, toothbrushes, flannels or face cloths
- if your child has diarrhoea, organise a separate toilet to other people if possible and clean it with disinfectant after use
- do not take your child swimming until 2 weeks after their last episode of diarrhoea or vomiting
- if your child has diarrhoea or vomiting they should not go to school or day care for 24 hours after their last episode of either. Here’s a list of common childhood illnesses, including diarrhoea, and their recommended exclusion periods
- immediately remove and wash clothing or bedding contaminated with diarrhoea or vomit
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Last reviewed: July 2019