Diarrhea in babies
It is common for babies to get diarrhea, but do you know when it is time to worry?
As a parent, you might be unsure of what causes diarrhea in babies and how your baby may be affected. By knowing what to look out for when your baby has diarrhea and understanding how to manage diarrhea in babies, you will be able to help them on their road to recovery.
It is well known that Breastfeeding is the best protection as it improves the immunity of infants and makes them more immune to viruses that might cause different diseases including Diarrhea. The WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and then the continuation of it up to 2 years with the addition of suitable foods
Is it normal for babies to have diarrhea?
Despite being a common condition that is usually simple to manage, diarrhea is a leading cause of illness and death in children under five years of age, especially in low-income countries. Globally, there are nearly 1,7 billion cases of childhood diarrhea each year, with children under 5 years of age experiencing an average of 2,7 episodes of diarrhea a year,
Babies are particularly vulnerable to episodes of diarrhea, As such, parents must be able to recognize the signs of diarrhea in babies, when they should be concerned, and how it can be managed.
What does baby diarrhea look like?
If your baby has diarrhea, they will present with a decrease in the consistency of their stool, leading to loose or liquid stools and/or an increase in the frequency of their stool output to three or more in 24 hours. This can happen with or without fever or vomiting. Your baby's diarrhea can be acute, prolonged, or chronic, depending on the type and duration of their diarrhea symptoms.
Acute diarrhea occurs when your baby has diarrhea lasting 7 days or less. Chronic diarrhea occurs when your baby has diarrhea lasting 14 days or more. Food allergies and intolerances, Gastrointestinal tract problems, and long-term use of certain medications usually cause chronic diarhea.
Why does my baby have diarrhea?
Diarrhea is usually a symptom of an infection in your baby's gastrointestinal tract, which a variety of bacterial, viral, and parasitic organisms can cause. These infections can damage the lining of your baby's intestine and cause intestinal dysfunction, which prevents their gut from absorbing water, electrolytes, and other essential nutrients or make their gut secrete too much,
If left unmanaged, repeated episodes of diarrhea can negatively impact your baby's gut health and how their gut functions. The infections that cause diarrhea in babies can be spread in several ways, usually through contaminated food or drinking water and from person to person. Antibiotics can also cause diarrhea in babies, known as antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD). This is because antibiotics help treat your baby when they have an infection, but they can also kill the normal bacteria in their gut, affecting their digestion and damaging their gut's lining, which can cause diarrhea.
When should I worry about baby diarrhea?
Though most episodes of baby diarrhea are not always severe and generally resolve on their own, acute diarrhea can lead to significant fluid loss and dehydration, which are associated with increased health risks, malnutrition, and loss of body weight. Sometimes, your baby's diarrhea can last several days. Dehydration becomes the biggest concern because it causes water and electrolytes to be lost through liquid stools, vomit, sweat, and urine.
Diarrhea in babies can become dangerous if these losses are not replaced, and severe dehydration occurs. When your baby has diarrhea, you should become concerned if they start presenting signs of dehydration, like having a dry mouth and sunken eyes, or being thirsty, irritable or lethargic. You should seek medical help immediately if your baby presents with any of these signs or if diarhhea lasts for more than 24 hours.
How to manage diarrhea in babies.
Given the varied causes of diarrhea in babies, you should always consult your healthcare professional if you are concerned about your baby's diarrhea, as they will decide the best course of action to manage it. While management for diarrhea in babies varies, fluid and electrolyte oral rehydration solutions (ORS) are the most recommended and used to restore hydration. Maintaining your baby's nutrition and giving them a probiotics are also suggested for specific cases of diarrhea based on doctors recommendations.
Since dehydration is the main complication of diarrhea, you must ensure your baby is sufficiently hydrated. Most cases of dehydration can be restored by giving your baby an oral rehydration solution (ORS). These are absorbed by your baby's gut and replace the water and electrolytes lost in their diarrhea.
The progression of your baby's diarrhea can be managed with an ORS, which can replenish their nutrient losses, manage their dehydration, and lead them to have a better nutritional status. These solutions contain a combination of water and minerals and can be given immediately after the appearance of diarrhea until your baby recovers.
Historically, ORSs have been shown to be effective in managing diarrhea in babies, and they are also proven to be cost-effective, affordable, and relatively straightforward to administer.
Diarrhea and malnutrition have a two-way relationship, as diarrhea can lead to malnutrition while malnutrition aggravates the course of diarrhea." As such, severe and prolonged episodes of diarrhea can cause malnutrition in children, and malnourished children are more likely to develop complications with diarrhea.
Indeed, diarrhea is a leading cause of malnutrition in children under five years of age, as it can affect their nutritional status by causing them to experience reduced intake, poor digestion, poor absorption, and gut inflammation.
The best way to guarantee your baby's good nutrition when they have diarrhea is to rehydrate them with an ORS while ensuring that you feed them the food they usually eat, as feeding protocols may differ.
When given correctly, some probiotics can benefit your baby's health by improving their immune system, helping them absorb nutrients from food, and assisting the microbiota in their gut to recover, which is why healthcare professionals may recommend them when your child is experiencing a diarrheal episode.
Because antibiotics can cause gut microbiota imbalances that cause AAD, probiotics can also help your baby from developing AAD and manage it once it has developed. Some studies have even shown that probiotics are effective in reducing AAD in babies when given at the start of their antibiotic treatment until the end.
Probiotics have been shown to be well-tolerated and safe, with little to no adverse effects when used appropriately.
ORS is recommended as first-line solution for managing acute gastroenteritis in infants and children, replacing electrolytes and water lost during diarrhea and vomiting, and supporting rehydration.