“Seriously!” goes through my head. “Not today, please not today.” Even reading the word makes most of us cringe. There is never a good time to have a sick child.
No one wants their child to be sick, but diarrhea is especially inconvenient. It is smelly and messy and miserable for all involved. Better yet, it is often accompanied by its friend vomiting.
Diarrhea is usually caused by a viral infection of the intestines. These infections can hit just one member of your family or several over the course of a few days day. Bacterial infections are more rare. Most bacterial infections of the gut are related to contaminated foods, but there are other sources. You can’t always tell what the cause is and sometimes it doesn’t matter, but there are a few important things to watch for and manage regardless of the source:
Dehydration: This is the most common problem with any diarrhea-related illness. Children need to drink a lot when they have diarrhea. Water is great. Really, anything is better than nothing. Low sugar electrolyte (salt) drinks are the best choice. They are salty and some children may not take to them easily. Freezing these drinks into a popsicle mold may help your child take it down easier. “Pedialyte” is the most common brand though many generic versions are available. These drinks are ideal for infants, children, and adults, so don’t shy away when your child shares this lovely illness with you. Food is a good thing. If your child is hungry continue to feed them a variety of healthy foods. Restricting your child’s diet to things like bananas and applesauce will not make your child better any faster.
Mess: Consider putting a younger child back in diapers. It may seem embarrassing but it is not as tough on the ego as when your child fails to make it to the bathroom and the couch, carpet, or bed takes a hit. I have heard that some parents will put a diaper on backwards since the most absorbent part is in the front and middle of the diaper. I can’t speak from personal experience on that nor take responsibility for what happens when your little one pees, but it might work. Otherwise cover key surfaces with a water proof barrier or a folded towel for extra protection.
Diaper Rash: Infants are very prone to this. The acid in the diarrhea can literally burn your child’s sensitive bum. The best way to battle this is to prevent it by applying a thick layer of ointment over and around their bottom to protect the skin before the rash starts. Change their diaper frequently. Instead of rubbing the skin with a standard wipe consider washing them gently with mild soap and water to prevent further irritation.
Life: Kids should be kept home from daycare or school until they are able to manage their diarrhea easily and are feeling better or until the stool is at least somewhat formed and stays in the diaper. Children should not be in a swimming pool until the diarrhea has resolved completely.
Seek help from your doctor if:
- there is blood in the stool
- your child hasn’t urinated in more than 8 hours or has a dry mouth or cries without tears
- your child seems limp or isn’t responding appropriately to you
- the diarrhea lasts for more than 7 days
- your gut says something is wrong
And as always wash your hands frequently and decontaminate key surfaces like bathrooms and door knobs. Hopefully, it will all pass quickly!