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Toddler’s Diarrhea

Toddler's diarrhea, also known as chronic nonspecific diarrhea of childhood, is one of the most common causes of chronic diarrhea in otherwise healthy children.

Causes

There are several factors that contribute to toddler's diarrhea.

Excessive Fluid Intake

Too much fluid can overwhelm the ability of the toddler's digestive tract to absorb water and electrolytes, resulting in diarrhea.

Carbohydrate Malabsorption

Fruit juices often contain large amounts of sugars and carbohydrates such as sorbitol and fructose, which are poorly absorbed in the child's digestive tract.

Low Fat Diet

Fat can slow down a child's digestion allowing more time for absorption of nutrients. Diets low in fat may cause food to move through too rapidly resulting in diarrhea.

Immature Digestive Tract

The nerves supplying the toddler's digestive tract may not be fully mature and result in rapid movement of food moving through the digestive tract. This may not allow adequate time for absorption resulting in diarrhea.

Symptoms

Toddler's diarrhea is suspected in a child with chronic diarrhea who is age 6 months to 5 years, gaining weight and developing normally, and otherwise healthy.

Children with toddler's diarrhea often have:

  • 5-10 loose, watery, large stools per day
  • Stools with undigested food particles
  • Diarrhea lasting weeks followed by weeks of normal stools

Contact a pediatric GI specialist if your child experiences other symptoms with diarrhea such as:

  • Blood in stool
  • Weight loss or poor weight gain
  • Chronic fever
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Stooling accidents
  • Greasy or oily stools

Talk with your doctor if your child experiences diarrhea associated with dairy products or other foods.

Treatment

Changes in diet are often the best treatment for toddler's diarrhea.

  • Limit fruit juice, sport drinks and cola and other high carbohydrate drinks.
  • Avoid excessive fluid intake and “grazing” with bottles or sippy cups.
  • Increase the amount of fat in your child's diet with whole milk, butter and olive oil.
  • Increase the amount of fiber in your child's diet with fresh fruit, bread, cereal and beans.

Points to Remember

  • Children with toddler's diarrhea are healthy children who are growing and developing normally.
  • Diet changes may improve or alleviate your child's symptoms.
  • Symptoms may improve over time as your child's digestive tract matures.
  • Alert your child's pediatric GI specialist if your child experiences other symptoms with diarrhea such as blood in stool, weight loss or poor weight gain, chronic fever, severe abdominal pain, vomiting, stooling accidents and greasy or oily stools.
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