All parents become frustrated when they must change their toddler’s dirty diapers when diarrhea strikes. A child suffering from diarrhea may pass 5 to 10 stools per day. Those stools are loose or watery, often running down the child’s leg and soiling both carpeting and furniture. Diaper rash may appear. And medications seldom relieve the diarrhea. What a mess!
Recognizing Toddler Diarrhea
Fortunately, most diarrhea among children under 5 years old is due to mild viral infections that last no more than five to seven days. However, diarrhea can continue for weeks. When faced with this chronic diarrhea in their young children, parents need to know the features that separate serious infectious diarrhea from the common, mild, chronic, non-specific diarrhea of childhood, also called toddler diarrhea or sloppy-stool syndrome.
Usually this problem begins at about 18 months to 2 years of age and lasts for weeks to even years. The child customarily passes three to five loose or mushy stools per day without blood or pus in them. You may see undigested food particles come straight through, and the child is gassy. The child continues to grow and to gain weight normally while remaining happy, playful, and free from abdominal pain.
What’s the Reason?
The explanation for chronic diarrhea can be found in the child’s diet. The child has been eating large quantities of fruit or drinking large quantities of liquid, mostly fruit juices or fruit drinks. Because her parents desire to offer “heart smart” foods, the diet contains large amounts of starch and fiber with only small quantities of fat and protein. Food travels through the intestines too fast for adequate water absorption, so the stool comes out too wet and sloppy, i.e. diarrhea-like.
An excess of dietary sugars or sugar-alcohols and starches in these foods produces this diarrhea. Fructose is the major fruit sugar, and sorbitol is the sweet-tasting alcohol found naturally in many fruits and juices. When large amounts of fructose or sorbitol are taken in, they are not absorbed completely. In the large intestine, the normal bacteria ferment these sugars and pull in more water. The outcome is sloppy, wet stools and a gassy, jet-propelled child.
What Can You Do?