Diagnosing Diarrhea

How can I tell if my baby has diarrhea? I know babies poop often.

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

Normal baby stool can look a lot like an adult’s diarrheal stool. Healthy baby poop is often soft and runny, and (especially in the first month) quite frequent. One 2-week-old with 10 runny stools a day may be perfectly healthy, while another 4-month-old with 3 stools a day, all firmer than the other baby’s, may have diarrhea. So how can a parent tell?

Look for a sudden increase in the frequency of the stools. Each baby has her own stool frequency pattern that changes slowly over time. If it changes noticeably within only a few days, she may have diarrhea. Any baby who has more than one stool per feeding should also be suspected of having diarrhea, even if this isn’t a sudden change. Also look for a sudden increase in the water content of the stool.

Other signs of illness in your baby, such as poor feeding, a newly congested nose or a new fever, make the diagnosis of diarrhea more likely. Blood in the stool is concerning and should be reported immediately to your doctor. Also, look for signs of dehydration in your baby such as dry lips, decreased urination, and decreased tears when crying. Over the longer term, your physician should keep an eye on your baby’s weight. Significant diarrhea is less likely if your child is thriving.

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.

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