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Diet and Diarrhea
Q: Besides Pedialyte and bananas, what should I feed my one-year-old when he has diarrhea? What should I stay away from?
A: When a child has diarrhea, it is useful to change the diet to help limit the number of stools each day. Diarrhea generally occurs as the result of an infection in the intestine, usually from a virus. The infection causes some inflammation of the lining of the intestine so that it doesn't do its usual job of absorbing fluids and foods. The inflammation also causes the intestine to lose extra fluid, as well as salt and other minerals. While dietary changes won't "cure" the cause of the diarrhea, they help to slow down the diarrhea some and make sure that the body is getting the nutrients it needs.
Pedialyte is an oral electrolyte (salt) solution used to provide fluid, glucose and sodium in the proper amounts. In the initial severe phase of a diarrheal illness, Pedialyte is a useful fluid to use to help prevent dehydration.
There are some foods that seem to help with "binding" up the excess fluids and waste that occur with diarrhea. You mention one of them, bananas. Others are applesauce, rice, potatoes, and toast. The starch in these foods seems to help with slowing down the stools. Things that tend to promote diarrhea are foods that are generally high in sugar or fat content. Sweetened juices and meat dishes should be avoided. You may want to also hold off on whole milk for 24 hours or so, as the high fat and protein content of the milk may make it difficult to digest.
Over-the-counter medications to manage diarrhea are not recommended for young children.
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Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.