When Watery Diarrhea Goes from Messy Diaper to Danger Signal
Babies are experts at doing one thing the second they come into this world. Producing poop.
But when your little one starts filling that diaper with diarrhea, pay attention. If it becomes watery and more frequent, along with your child having excessive gas, bloating, vomiting, or fussiness, head to the pediatrician. Pronto.
Poopy Diaper Distinctions
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), babies normally have soft or loose stools, and newborn babies less than 3 months old have frequent stools, sometimes after every feeding.
But it is not normal for your baby to have more than one bowel movement after a feeding or have really watery poop, the definition of diarrhea.
The NIH advises parents to call their doctor whenever their newborn has diarrhea. In addition, parents should seek medical care right away if diarrhea lasts more than 24 hours.
Symptoms Beyond the Diaper
Pediatrician Daniel Brennan, MD, says that it’s time to call your doctor if your child has diarrhea with any of the following symptoms: a temperature of 102º or higher, belly pain, or poop that has blood or pus in it, or is black, white, or red, which are not normal colors.
He also advises calling your doctor if your baby is vomiting.
The Dehydration Danger Zone
Both ongoing diarrhea and vomiting, alone or together, can lead to dehydration, which is a harmful loss of water, as well as salt, potassium, calcium, and other electrolytes, which are substances essential for our bodies to function properly.
This chemical soup keeps our cells and organs functioning normally by directing the flow of nutrients and waste products in our body.
If more fluids are going out than coming in, which is common with severe diarrhea and vomiting, babies (and adults) can end up with serious complications, including seizures, loss of consciousness, and even a life-threatening drop in blood pressure and oxygen.
You don’t want your baby – or child of any age – to get to this level of dehydration.
Here are the signs of dehydration, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- No wet diapers for 3 hours
- Irritability or showing no interest in anything
- Dry mouth and tongue
- No tears when crying
- Unusually sleepy or sluggish
- Sunken eyes and cheeks
- Sunken soft spot on top of the head (called the fontanel)
- Less elasticity in the skin (it doesn’t spring back when you gently pinch and release it)
When the Cause of Diarrhea Isn’t Common
Babies may develop diarrhea due to common things like a stomach or intestinal infection or a medication side effect.
Or they might have a food sensitivity or food intolerance. For example, no doubt you’ve heard of gluten and lactose intolerances. These intolerances were little known at one time, but now grocery store aisles proudly display foods labelled “gluten-free” and “lactose-free.”
Now, there’s a growing awareness of another type of food intolerance, Sucrose Intolerance caused by Congenital Sucrase-Isomaltase Deficiency (CSID), which is a rare condition that makes it hard to digest sugar.
If your infant does have CSID, that means she can’t absorb the sugar in foods, which can also make it harder for her to absorb the other, important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals that are vital for healthy development. If this is the case, you might notice that she isn’t gaining weight or seems too small for her age.
Because Sucrose Intolerance, informally called “Sugar Intolerance,” is rare, many doctors don’t see enough cases to recognize it. That can leave some children without a correct diagnosis or the correct treatment.
Getting the right help for your baby means everything, so it’s important to talk with your doctor about this possibility. The physician can perform simple, painless tests that have been developed to detect CSID.
You can also take your baby to see a pediatric gastroenterologist (typically shortened to GI doctor), who specializes in treating stomach problems in children.
Be sure to tell your pediatrician if your baby’s diarrhea, bloating, and/or gas starts after eating. This is a real Sugar Intolerance tip-off if you’ve recently switched from breastfeeding to a bottle or soft foods and juices, which introduce sugar to your baby’s system.
A registered dietitian (RD) can give you the do’s and don’ts to manage your child’s diet. And there are treatments for CSID that your doctor can prescribe.