Diarrhoea in children: Causes & Management

Diarrhoea can be defined by one symptom — loose stool being passed at a frequency of more than three times a day. One of the most common ailments, it afflicts children about 10 to 15 times in the first five years of life.

But, sometimes you could be mistaken by diarrhoea-like symptoms. If your child is passing blood and/or mucus in the stool, it is called dysentery.


Diarrhoea [Illustration by Shiju George]

If you suspect diarrhoea, you should begin treatment at home even before you contact a doctor.


Most cases of diarrhoea are caused by infectious agents like bacteria, viruses or parasites.


It leads to loss of water and electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride etc.) from the body which if not replenished immediately leads to a state of severe dehydration and even coma.


The basic principle in the management of diarrhoea is maintenance of water in the body. This is best accomplished by the use of oral rehydration salts (ORS).

As soon as the child starts having loose motions, start giving him sips of ORS. (Add one packet of ORS to 1 litre of pre-boiled and cooled water to make an ORS solution.) You could start giving her one teaspoonful (5 ml) in one minute, taking care to give her at least 200 ml after each bout of loose stool.

For infants and new borns, 100 ml and 50 ml respectively after each bout is recommended. In case you do not have ORS at home, you could administer a salt-sugar solution (add a pinch of salt and a teaspoonful of sugar in 200 ml of water to make the solution) to your child.

Feeding during diarrhoea

A great amount of nutrients is lost in diarrhoeal stools. Children even have a tendency to develop malnutrition during diarrhoeal episodes.

For breast-fed babies, breast-feeding should be continued as often as the infant desires it.

For artificially-fed infants, milk should be diluted with an equal volume of water and fed along with ORS for a day or two, reverting back to the original formula after the bouts of diarrhoea decrease.

If your baby is bottle-fed, she is more susceptible to stomach disorders as compared to breast-fed babies. You can prevent this situation by being careful about the way you prepare her feeds.

Sterilise all the feeding equipment and do not hesitate to throw away any unfinished feeds. Never keep a feed warm for a long period.

For older children, on both solid and liquid diets, the diet should contain enough calorie-rich foods. Porridge, or a gruel of rice and dal (khichdi) supplemented by fruits like bananas usually works wonders. Oily and fatty food need only be decreased and not eliminated from the diet. Small frequent feeds are generally easily tolerated by these children.

If your child is vomiting
An occasional vomit need not be treated. If your child vomits during ORS therapy, stop giving her ORS for about 10 minutes and then restart, giving a spoon in every 2 to 3 minutes.

Consult the doctor if your child:

  • Passes blood and/or mucus in her stool.
  • Has protracted vomiting.
  • Shows increasing drowsiness.
  • Has cold hands and feet.
  • Refuses drinks.
  • Has sunken eyeballs.
  • Has absence of tears.
  • Has a parched tongue and lips.
  • Is breathing fast.