What about babies?
For babies who haven’t started to eat solid foods, give them extra water in between their normal feeds. If your baby is eating solid foods, make sure they drink plenty of water or diluted fruit juice in between meals. Try to include small amounts of fruit as well. This can be chopped or pureed depending on their stage of weaning. To help encourage bowel movements, you can also try gently massaging their stomach.
When should I be concerned?
If you are concerned, it is always advised to speak to a GP for further guidance. If you notice any of the following, you should see a GP urgently.
- Bleeding from the back passage or in stools.
- Persistent tiredness.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Other gut symptoms such as intermittent diarrhoea or vomiting.
Diarrhoea can be unpleasant and uncomfortable for children, although in most cases there is nothing to worry about. It usually affects most children at some stage of life and can usually be treated at home without the need for medical intervention.
How to prevent and treat diarrhoea?
- Ensure adequate fluid intake. Diarrhoea can lead to dehydration, so it is essential to replace any lost fluid as soon as possible. It is often more effective to give smaller amounts of fluid more frequently. Avoid fruit juice or fizzy drinks as these can often make symptoms worse. Encourage your child to take regular sips of water throughout the day.
- If your child is dehydrated, consider giving them an oral rehydration solution. This can help to replace lost fluid and nutrients. It is usually advised to give this to your child after each bout of diarrhoea. Speak to a GP or pharmacist before using these to ensure the correct dose is given.
- Make sure they get plenty of rest.
- Anti-diarrhoea medications are not usually necessary and most types are not suitable for children.
When should I be concerned?
Usually, diarrhoea will clear up by itself within five to seven days. However, if your child has any of the following, you should speak to a GP straight away.
- More than six episodes of diarrhoea in the past 24 hours.
- Persistent diarrhoea lasting more than seven days.
- Symptoms of dehydration. These include dizziness, dry mouth, cold or blotchy hands, dark coloured urine or low urine output.
- Blood in stools or from the back passage.
- Very watery stools.
- Severe stomach pains.
Tips for children with a stomach bug
- Encourage your child to start eating solid food as soon as they are able to. Start with small amounts of plain food, such as bread, soup, pasta or potato. For babies, continue to feed as normal.
- The priority for a child with a stomach bug is to prevent dehydration, so avoid giving them any solid food until they have drunk enough fluids. Once they stop showing signs of dehydration, they can resume a normal diet again. If they do not feel like eating, continue to give them plenty of fluids and wait until their appetite returns.
What about probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria, usually described as ‘good’ or ‘friendly’ bacteria. They are often added to yoghurts and are thought to help restore the natural balance of bacteria in the gut. Probiotics may be beneficial in some cases, for example there is fairly good research to support the use of probiotics for children whilst taking antibiotics. Antibiotics can reduce the amount of friendly bacteria in the gut, causing adverse side effects including diarrhoea and bloating. Taking probiotics may help to replace the bacteria lost as a result of antibiotic use. More research is needed to support the claimed benefits of probiotics, as it appears that people respond differently to different strains of bacteria and the evidence is not strong enough yet to recommend them as a treatment.
Summary: general tips for good digestive health
- Ensure adequate fibre intake to prevent constipation. Try adding beans to soups or stews or give your child vegetables sticks with hummus as a snack. A great way of boosting fibre at breakfast is to mix a high fibre cereal with your child’s favourite, choose wholegrain options where possible and try to keep skins on potatoes.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Aim for 5 portions a day, but always start small and build up gradually. As a general guide, one portion is roughly the size of your child’s fist. Try adding a small handful of dried fruit to porridge or add a few cherry tomatoes to their lunchbox. For older children, keep pre-prepared fruits and vegetables in the fridge, such as pre-chopped fruit salad or chopped celery for a snack. For fussy eaters, hide chopped vegetables in pasta dishes. The Change4Lfie website provides other useful tips for boosting fruit and vegetable intake (link below).
- Ensure adequate fluid intake. Water is best, but diluted sugar free squash is also an option.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks. Caffeine can have a laxative effect, so avoid giving to your child in large amounts. The obvious sources are tea and coffee, but also be aware that fizzy drinks often contain large amounts of caffeine.
- Ensure that your child eats regular meals and encourage them to eat slowly at meal times to avoid swallowing excess air, which can cause gas and bloating.
- Give your child small portions to prevent overeating, which can cause bloating or wind.
- Avoid fatty, rich or spicy foods, as these can irritate the gut.
- Keep a food and symptom diary. This can help to identify trigger foods that may cause nasty gut symptoms.
- Follow general healthy eating guidelines. The Eatwell guide gives detailed advice about how to implement a healthy, balanced diet (see link below).
- Monitor any changes in your child’s stools and seek advice from a GP if there are any unusual changes, such as an unpleasant odour, blood, a greasy texture, pale colour or any change in consistency or frequency of bowel movements.
Useful Links and References
NHS - Eatwell Guide
Change4Life – Tips to reach 5 a day
British Nutrition Foundation (Portion size guide for toddlers)
Caroline Walker Trust – Eating well for 1-4 year olds
British Dietetic Association – Healthy Eating for Children Fact Sheet
British Dietetic Association – Fibre Fact Sheet