Diarrhea in Children – includes a free patient information PDF!

Download the free patient handout PDF near the end of this article!

It is important for children to drink a lot of fluids when they have diarrhea. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which is when your body loses too much fluid. Dehydration can be very dangerous if it goes on for too long.

What causes diarrhea?

Diarrhea is usually caused by a stomach virus and can be accompanied by vomiting and a fever. Food poisoning, irritable bowel syndrome, and lactose intolerance can also cause diarrhea.

What can I do for diarrhea?

It is not recommended to give anti-diarrhea medication to children. The best thing to do is to keep your child hydrated by drinking lots of fluids and an electrolyte solution (see below). You should continue feeding your child, but certain foods can be avoided to help stop the diarrhea. These foods are listed on the back of this handout.

Get medical help if diarrhea lasts a long time or worsens

Your child may need medical help if the diarrhea is serious. You should call your health care provider if:

  • The diarrhea lasts more than 24 hours
  • The diarrhea gets worse
  • There are any signs of dehydration such as:
    • Decreased urination
    • Sunken eyes
    • No tears when child cries
    • Extreme thirst
    • Unusual drowsiness or fussiness

Giving your child fluids

You can print copies of this PDF handout for your patients, to reinforce what you have told them.
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child drinking waterAs soon as diarrhea starts, give your child lots of fluids. It is good to also give your child an electrolyte solution to drink. It will put water and salt back into your child’s body that are lost with diarrhea.

  • You can get an electrolyte solution at the grocery store or pharmacy. Ask your pharmacist to help you find the right electrolyte solution for your child, and how to use it.
  • Keep giving oral electrolyte solution until the diarrhea stops.
  • If your child vomits, continue to give small amounts of the electrolyte solution using a teaspoon until your child can take the recommended amount.
  • Do not give sugary drinks such as Gatorade®, soda drinks, or fruit juice. They can make a child’s diarrhea worse. You can give clear broths like vegetable or chicken broth.

Feeding your child

Food will help your child get well. Continue to feed your child as recommended by your health care provider.

  • If your child is breast-feeding continue to breast-feed.
  • If your child is using formula continue to give formula.
  • If your child eats solid foods continue to feed your child regularly. See below for foods your child should eat and foods your child should not eat.

What Not to Eat and to Eat with Diarrhea

Do not Eat

milk and fries

• Dairy products (milk or cheese)
• Greasy or fried food
• Fatty foods including foods with butter, margarine, oils, or nuts
• Spicy foods
• Foods high in "insoluble" fiber such as raw fruits or vegetables, corn, or any fruit or vegetable skins or seeds

Do Eat

bananas and toast



• Bananas
• Plain white rice
• Applesauce
• Oatmeal or cream of wheat
• Toasted white bread or plain crackers
• Plain macaroni or noodles
• Boiled eggs
• Mashed potatoes
• Yogurt (this is a dairy product, but it's partially "digested" by the bacteria used to make it)
Used with permission from the Community Health Association of Mountain/Plains States (CHAMPS)