How to Get a Child with Diarrhea to Eat Food
Diarrhea can be caused by an infection, an illness, a food sensitivity, or certain medications. If your child has diarrhea, she may pass loose or watery stools for several hours or longer. Some bouts of diarrhea can be mild and go away within a few days, and some diarrhea can last much longer. To ensure your child does not become dehydrated or malnourished while she has diarrhea, you should make sure she drinks lots of liquids and eats food that will help her feel better and maintain her health.
Adjusting the Child’s Eating Schedule
Wait for your child to have more than one loose stool movement.Before you shift your child’s eating schedule, you should make sure your child has had more than one loose stool movement, usually within a short period of time. One loose stool movement does not mean your child has diarrhea. But several loose stool movements within a short period of time is a good indicator that your child has diarrhea and would benefit from changes to her eating schedule.
- Increasing the amount of fluids your child drinks and making changes to her diet are two key ways to treat diarrhea at home. This will help to prevent your child from becoming dehydrated and malnourished as she recovers from the diarrhea.
- Making adjustments to your child’s eating schedule can also make it more appealing for her to eat when she has diarrhea.
Have your child eat small meals throughout the day.Having small meals and snacks throughout the day rather than three big meals can often be gentler on your child’s stomach and help her maintain an appetite. Prepare small meals in small bowls and give them to your child throughout the day. Always pair the meals with lots of fluids so your child does not become dehydrated.
- Some sources recommend giving your child fluids first and then giving her solid food. You can try to get your child to drink several glasses of water before and after her small meals to keep her hydrated.
Offer your child her favorite foods.Your child may not have much of an appetite while she has diarrhea, so you may want to focus on ingredients that your child enjoys and prepare them in ways that will encourage her to eat.
- For example, if your child likes chicken, then you can make chicken noodle soup. The soup should be easy for your child to eat with a sore stomach and give her the necessary nutrients to stay nourished despite her diarrhea.
Allow your child to gradually return to her normal eating schedule.If your child’s diarrhea clears up on its own after two to three days, you should slowly have your child go back to her normal eating schedule. This may mean giving her one to two full meals as well as one smaller meal or two small snacks. Do not force your child to eat her normal meals right after she has recovered as her body needs time to get used to lots of solid foods again.
- Some children can experience a bout of diarrhea once they return to their regular diet. This is usually due to your child’s gut getting used to regular food again. This type of diarrhea does not last very long and is not the same as diarrhea due to an illness or infection. After a day or so, the diarrhea should go away and your child should be okay with eating her regular diet.
Offering the Right Foods and Liquids
Make sure your child gets enough fluids.Dehydration is a common complication of diarrhea. Prevent your child from becoming dehydrated by ensuring she drinks a lot of fluids. Give her plain water for the first one to two hours of the diarrhea and then switch to liquids that contain sodium and other nutrients, such as milk. Too much plain water can be harmful, as water does not contain any sugars or key electrolytes. She should drink at least eight to ten glasses of liquid per day to ensure she stays hydrated.
- Avoid giving your child fruit juices like apple juice or any other full fruit juice. Fruit juices can make her diarrhea worse. However, if your child is not a fan of plain water, you can add a splash of juice to the water to give it a bit of flavor.
- Do not give your child any carbonated drinks or drinks that contain caffeine, such as soda or caffeinated teas. These can also make diarrhea worse.
- If your child has issues with dairy products or if your child's diarrhea seems worse after she consumes dairy, do not give her milk to drink. Instead, give her water mixed with a rehydration solution, such as Rehydralyte and the World Health Organization’s oral rehydration solution. You can also try Pedialyte and Infalyte, which you can get over-the-counter at your local drugstore or supermarket. Older children can also drink sports drinks to rehydrate, such as Gatorade.
- Always consult your doctor before using any rehydration solutions for infants or children under 1 year old.
Prepare bland, starchy foods.Most children with diarrhea will respond best to foods that are bland and high in starch. If you cook any foods, season it with only salt and pepper. Try baking or broiling foods so they do not have a strong flavor or a strong taste that will turn off your child. Example foods you can prepare include:
- Baked or broiled meats, such as beef, pork, chicken, fish, or turkey.
- Boiled eggs.
- Toasted slices of white bread.
- Plain pasta with cheese or white rice.
- Cereals like cream of wheat, oatmeal, and cornflakes.
- Pancakes and waffles made with white flour.
- Baked potatoes or mashed potatoes.
- Some cooked vegetables, steamed or sautéed in light oil, such as carrots, mushrooms, zucchini, and green beans. Avoid squash, broccoli, peppers, beans, peas, berries, prunes, leafy green vegetables, and corn, as they can trigger bowel movements, bloating, and gas.
- Bananas and fresh fruits like apples, pears, and peaches.
Remove seeds and skins from food.To make food more appealing to your child, and easier for her to digest, you should try to take all seeds out of foods and all skins off of foods. This means removing seeds from any vegetables or fruits you give your child. You should also peel the skins off of foods, such as zucchini and peaches.
Go for snacks high in salt.Salty snacks are good for children with diarrhea as your child can have low sodium levels due to the diarrhea. Give your child salty snacks like pretzels and saltine crackers. You can also add salt to cooked foods, such as a dash of salt on baked or broiled chicken and salt on a baked potato.
- Put out bowls of salty snacks for your child to munch on throughout the day, as this will likely encourage her to eat. Make sure she is consuming water with the salty snacks to balance out her sodium levels and prevent dehydration.
Give your child popsicles and jello.These treats are actually a good source of clear fluids and can help your child stay hydrated. Give your child popsicles made with very little fruit juice and water. Avoid popsicles that contain dairy products, as dairy can irritate your child’s stomach. You can also try giving your child Pedialyte popsicles.
- Jello made of fruit can also be a good way to ensure your child gets enough fiber in her diet. The fiber will help her stools to become more solid and absorb some of the water in her digestive system.
Include low-fat yogurt in your child's diet.Yogurt contains live and active cultures that can help to replenish the good bacteria in your child's digestive tract.Try to give your child a serving of yogurt every day to aid her recovery.
- Choose a low-fat, low-sugar yogurt. Too much fat or sugar can make your child's diarrhea worse.
- Try blending yogurt with fruit to make a smoothie. If your child is not fond of yogurt, then she may be more likely to eat a smoothie that contains yogurt. Try mixing half of a cup of yogurt with a banana and a handful of frozen berries. You can also add a half cup to a cup of water to give your child some extra fluids.
Avoid spicy or fatty foods.Spicy and fatty foods can lead to further irritation of your child’s stomach and more diarrhea. Do not give your child any spiced foods, such as curries, spicy soups, or any foods that contain red pepper. You should also avoid giving your child food high in fat, such as fried foods or processed and prepackaged foods.
- Do not give your child foods that are hard to digest, such as sausage, pastries, donuts, and other processed foods high in sugar and fat.
Taking the Child to the Doctor
Bring your child to the doctor if there is mucus or blood in her stool.These are signs that your child’s diarrhea may be a symptom of a more serious medical issue. It is important to note any mucus or blood in your child’s stool and bring her to the nearest medical facility right away so she can be examined by a doctor.
- You should also note if your child is experiencing other severe symptoms in addition to her diarrhea, such as vomiting, abdominal cramping, nausea, stomach pain, or a high fever. Take her to a doctor if she is experiencing these symptoms.
Talk to your child's doctor if diarrhea lasts more than two to three days.Most diarrhea will go away after two to three days, though it may take a week or two for your child to go back to her normal eating habits. If her diarrhea lasts longer than two to three days and does not seem to be subsiding or getting better, call your child's doctor to find out if you need to bring her in for an appointment.
- You probably will not have to bring your child in unless there is blood in her stool or the diarrhea is severe.
Get your child to a doctor if she shows any signs of severe dehydration.Children with diarrhea are susceptible to dehydration, especially if they are not getting enough fluids. The symptoms of severe dehydration include:
- A dry and sticky mouth.
- No urination in six to eight hours, or less than three times in 24 hours.
- No tears when crying.
- Eyes that appear sunken.
- Decreased activity.
- Weight loss.
Discuss treatment options with the doctor.Your child's doctor may check samples of your child's stool to see if an infection is causing the diarrhea or she may order other tests to help determine the cause of your child's diarrhea. Once your child has been examined by a doctor, she may rarely prescribe antibiotics for the infection or illness that is causing your child’s diarrhea. Antibiotics are not often prescribed, and they may only be prescribed if a bacterial cause of the diarrhea is known, as antibiotics can be ineffective or have unpleasant side effects if they are prescribed improperly.
- Most antidiarrheal medications are not recommended for children. The doctor will likely avoid prescribing them for your child’s diarrhea. Instead, she may suggest over-the-counter medications for diarrhea that are made for children. For example, your doctor may recommend treatment with probiotics to help your child's diarrhea.
- Your doctor may refer your child to a gastroenterologist, a specialist in stomach and intestine problems, if the diarrhea is long-lasting or associated with other symptoms.
Sources and Citations
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