When your child has diarrhea

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Why is diarrhea dangerous to children?
A child's body is made up of about 80 percent fluid. This fluid is necessary for the body to work properly. When a child has diarrhea, too much fluid and important minerals are lost.

How can I replace the fluid that is lost because of diarrhea?
Fluid lost because of diarrhea can be replaced with drinks made specially for this purpose. These drinks contain the right amount of fluid and minerals to help your child feel better. They are called oral rehydration solutions (some examples are Pedialyte, Ricelyte and Rehydralyte).

Liquids like apple juice, cola drinks and sports drinks have too much sugar, and that can make your child's diarrhea worse. Plain water doesn't replace the lost minerals, and that makes the child even sicker.

How do I use oral rehydration solutions?
The best way to get enough liquid into your child is to give very small amounts every few minutes. If you give your child one teaspoonful of liquid every minute, in less than an hour your child will have taken one cup. Even a child who is vomiting can usually keep down the rehydration solution if a teaspoonful is given every minute.

When children have diarrhea, they need at least twice as much fluid as they usually drink when they are well. You can keep giving them their usual mealtime feedings and then give the oral rehydration solution between feedings.

How do I know if the oral rehydration solution is working?
Call your doctor right away if your child is not able to keep down fluids, has a high fever, has blood in the bowel movement or shows any of these signs of dehydration:

A dry mouth (no drooling)
Signs of thirst
Fewer wet diapers
Sleepiness or fussiness
"Sunken" eyes
No tears when the child is crying
Where can I find oral rehydration solutions?
Your doctor will give you the names of oral rehydration solutions to give your child for diarrhea. You can buy these solutions at drugstores without a prescription. They generally cost between $4 and $6.50 for a 1-liter bottle.

Should I keep feeding my child regular meals?
Yes. It is important to keep offering your child regular meals even when he or she has diarrhea. If your child gets plenty of oral rehydration solution and keeps eating the right foods, the diarrhea won't be harmful. If you are breast-feeding your child or using a bottle and formula, you should go on with the same feedings.

If your child is eating table food, the following foods are especially good for children who have diarrhea:

Unbuttered rice, potatoes or noodles, crackers and toast
Unsweetened hot or cold cereals
Soups with rice or noodles, meat and vegetables
Unbuttered cooked vegetables
Fresh fruits, especially bananas
Are all foods okay?
No. Some foods can make the diarrhea worse because they have too much natural or added sugar. You should not offer your child these foods:

Canned fruits
Grape juice, apple juice, or orange juice
Soft drinks like cola or ginger ale
Ice cream, sherbet
Sweetened cereals
Fried foods or fatty foods
How can I make my child feel better?
The diaper rash and sore bottom that occur with diarrhea can make your child fussy. Here are some things you should remember when your child has diarrhea:

Don't use baby wipes.
Change diapers more often.
Every time you change a diaper, wash your child's bottom with soap and then rinse and pat dry with a clean towel.
Put petroleum jelly, ointment, or zinc oxide on your child's bottom to protect the tender skin.
Courtesy of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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