What are loose stools?
Loose stool is a bowel movement that is watery, soft, mushy, and/or shapeless.1 It may have a strong or unpleasant odor and may happen as a single occurrence or many times throughout the day.1 Chronic loose stools can be an issue for weeks at a time, and are likely related to other issues.1 They are commonly accompanied by other gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and stomach pain, which may be difficult for a toddler to articulate.1
What Causes Loose Stool?
There are several things that can cause loose stool in your little one. Common causes include chronic gastrointestinal conditions, certain food or drink, infectious conditions, or some medicines.2
Repeated or frequent loose stools could be a sign of a chronic condition, such as:2
- Celiac disease
- Cow’s milk protein allergy (CMP)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Lactose intolerance
If you have any concerns about whether or not your child has one of these conditions, speak to your little one’s care provider.
Foods or Drinks
Before your little one starts on solids, there likely won’t be a lot of variation in what they consume day to day. Do keep in mind, though, that breastfed babies tend to have softer, looser stools than formula-fed babies.3 When your baby graduates to eating solid foods, there are a wider range of culprits when it comes to loose stool:2
- Fatty, greasy, and oily foods. Fast food may be convenient on the go, but it can wreak havoc on your little one’s digestive tract.
- Natural and artificial sugars. Everything from high-sugar fruits and veggies to table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners. Fruit juice causes this so frequently in toddlers that the following loose stools are sometimes called “toddler’s diarrhea.”4
- Spicy foods. It’s a joy to explore new kinds of flavors with your little one as they get used to solids but remember that something you may not find hot or spicy might be too much for their gentle tummy.
If removing these things from your little one’s diet doesn’t seem to help, please see your care provider.
Some medications can cause loose stools. Antibiotics are common culprits when it comes to loose stool in little ones.2
Infectious Causes of Loose Stool
The culprit for your child’s loose stool may not be anything they’ve consumed. Instead, a viral or bacterial infection may be to blame. Some common infectious causes include:5
- Rotavirus. This common infection affects a baby’s digestive tract and can lead to high fever, stomach pain, and dehydration.
- Stomach flu. When your little one’s stomach and intestines are inflamed, they are said to be suffering from gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu.
- Foodborne illness. If your child ingests solid foods that have harmful bacteria, parasites, and viruses on them, they may suffer from food poisoning.
- Parasites. Your little one may ingest a parasite by drinking untreated water or consuming unpasteurized dairy products.
Check your child’s symptoms to decide if they should see a doctor. Young children may easily become dehydrated, so it’s best for parents to keep a close eye on them in order to prevent additional problems.5
How to Clear Up & Prevent Loose Stool
Loose stool is, by nature, temporary, but there are things you can do to help your little one get through it and prevent it from coming back:6
- Push fluids. Keep your little one hydrated—and avoid sugary drinks.
- Avoid high-sugar foods. Make sure you check labels—sugar can lurk in surprising places.
- Offer tummy-taming foods. Oatmeal, crackers, rice, and bananas are tried-and-true ways to ease loose stools.
- Rule out underlying medical conditions. As discussed above, some chronic medical conditions can cause loose stools.
When to See the Pediatrician About Loose Stool
If your little one’s loose stool is accompanied by any of these other symptoms, don’t wait—get them in to the care provider to ensure something more serious isn’t happening:2
- Black or blood stool
- Stool containing pus or mucus
- Confusion or fatigue
- Dizziness or fainting
- High fever
- Rapid heart rate
- Severe abdominal pain
As your little one grows, their bowel movements are bound to change. Feeding issues can seem scary—and certainly feel uncomfortable—but they’re a common, treatable part of exploring new foods and growing.