Being a parent means becoming an expert on all subjects, including how to take care of your little ones when unfortunate things happen, and knowing how to be prepared for the unexpected.
To help you out we’ve put together this comprehensive guide on what to feed and what not to feed a child with diarrhea. For care and treatment advice you should also check out our Ask Our Pharmacist post “How Can I Care for a Child With Diarrhea?”
So first things first, what do you need to know to help your child’s gastrointestinal system get back on track when they have diarrhea? In this article, we’ll cover the basics: What to feed them and what foods to avoid, what over-the-counter medication you should consider to relieve it, and in what cases you should call your doctor.
The B.R.A.T Diet
For years pediatricians have recommended the BRAT diet as a way to reduce the amount of stool produced by children and infants with diarrhea. BRAT is an acronym that stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.
The Brat diet makes sense because the foods included in this regimen are all easy on the stomach and they give the gut a chance to rest and ease back into normal after a stomach illness. For example, bananas are high in potassium and pectin, a type of starch that is good for the digestive tract and helps with the absorption of electrolytes and water.
Even though BRAT has been the go-to diet for decades as a way to treat diarrhea, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recognizes that it can lead to malnourishment if you stick to BRAT for too long due to the low amount of fibre, protein, and fat in this restrictive regimen. For this reason, in recent years they are now recommending that after 24 hours of the initial diarrhea symptoms, kids should go back to eating a well-balanced normal diet.
The Bland Diet
It is common knowledge that anyone suffering from diarrhea should do better with simple bland foods that are easier on the digestive system and will help absorb water from the stool. The food choices you make can help relieve your child’s symptoms and ensure a quick recovery.
Some of the most common bland foods are:
- Cooked eggs
- Plain white rice
- Cereals such as cream of wheat, farina, rice porridge, oatmeal, and cornflakes.
- Baked or boiled potatoes
- Baked or broiled beef, chicken, turkey or fish
- Pancakes and waffles made with cornbread and white flour without the syrup.
- Bread or toast
- Unseasoned crackers
What to avoid:
- Most dairy products, especially milk.
- Carbonated drinks
- Fried and greasy foods
- Onion and garlic
- High sugar foods such as donuts
- Tomato, apples and other citrus fruits such as pineapple, orange, grapefruit
- Raw vegetables, including salad greens, carrot sticks
- Vegetables that produce gas in the intestines such as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower
- Most processed or packaged foods.
- Some protein and fatty meats, including veal, pork, salmon, and sardines
- Nuts, seeds.
- Spicy food
Remember that even though whole-grain and high fibre foods are commonly known to be better for your digestive health because they speed up your digestive process, in cases of diarrhea the last thing you want is to overwork the digestive system and make the symptoms worse.
- Give your kids small meals throughout the day instead of 3 large meals
- Remove the seeds from fruits or vegetables.
- Remove the skin of poultry such as chicken and turkey.
- Every time your child has a loose bowel movement make them drink at least 1 cup of clear liquid.
- Make sure they stay hydrated by giving them 8 to 10 glasses of water every day. To learn more on how to prevent dehydration from diarrhea read our Ask A Pharmacist post, “How Can I Prevent Dehydration From Diarrhea?”
Although most dairy products are a no-no when we’re talking about diarrhea, there are some notable exceptions such as yogurt or kefir (a fermented milk drink) that contain probiotics that can help restore the healthy bacteria their bodies need to flush out diarrhea.
What OTC antidiarrheal medicines can I give my child?
During the first 24 hours of diarrhea, some over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medication can help relieve symptoms. Keep in mind that not all OTC anti-diarrheal medications are fit for children.
Fowler’s Anti-Diarrheal Oral Suspension is great for kids as young as three years old because the active ingredient is attapulgite, a medication that acts without shutting down their digestive system.
The good thing about Fowler’s is that it works well even if the cause of diarrhea is bacteria or parasites. Since the body has to first get rid of the “stomach bug” that’s causing diarrhea, Fowler’s keeps their digestive system active without stopping their bowel movements, just normalizing them. Stay away from loperamide medications like Imodium, because it could actually make this condition worse by delaying the elimination of the infectious agents from the intestines, and it may not be suitable for children.
When to call the doctor
As a parent it is very common to worry about your child’s health and want to immediately call your doctor as soon as you see your child sick; however, it is important to remember that by taking the steps mentioned above you can help relieve the symptoms of diarrhea on your own. However, If your child has diarrhea for more than 2 days without showing signs of getting better it’s time to call your pediatrician.
You should also immediately call your doctor if you notice high fever that doesn’t go away, severe abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting, stools with blood, mucus or unusual colour or odour.
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