Diarrhea and the Breastfed Baby

Information, Causes, and Treatment

Mother changing a newborn's cloth diaper.
Vanessa Davies/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Breastfed babies get diarrhea less often than formula-fed babies. Since breast milk is full of antibodies, it helps protect infants against some of the common childhood illnesses including diarrhea. Plus, if a baby is breastfeeding as his primary source of nutrition, his exposure to organisms in food and water that can cause stomach infections and diarrhea is limited.

The more a baby breastfeeds, the more protection he receives.

Exclusive breastfeeding is better than partial breastfeeding, and partial breastfeeding is better than formula feeding. However, breastfeeding can't completely prevent illness. So, even if you breastfeed, it's still possible for your baby to get diarrhea.

The Difference Between Regular Baby Poop and Diarrhea

It's normal for breastfed infants to have many bowel movements each day. If your baby's poop is yellowish and soft with small curds or seeds in it, you don't have to worry. That's typical of breastfed baby poop, and it's OK if you see it every time you change the diaper. The concern is if you notice any changes to your child's normal poop.

Baby Diarrhea may be:

  • Green or darker than normal
  • Loose, wet, and watery
  • Foul smelling
  • Bloody or containing mucus


Many things can lead to diarrhea in babies. Some of the common causes include:

  • Illness: Viruses and bacteria can cause infections that lead to diarrhea in children.
  • A Mother's Diet: Some foods in your diet can cause allergies and sensitivities in your breastfed baby. Cow's milk, chocolate, gassy foods, spicy foods, and caffeine are the foods most likely to trigger a problem. You may have to evaluate your diet to try to figure out if something that you're eating could be causing your baby's diarrhea.
  • A Mother's Use of Laxatives: Stool softeners and some mild fiber supplements or bulk-forming type laxatives are usually safe to use while you're breastfeeding. However, strong stimulant-type laxatives may pass to your baby and cause diarrhea. Talk to your doctor before taking a laxative when you're breastfeeding.
  • Travel: Breastfeeding can help to protect your child against traveler's diarrhea, but it isn't 100% effective. Just as adults can develop diarrhea when traveling, so can children. Infants and young children may be at an even greater risk. Be extra cautious when traveling with young infants and breastfeed as often as possible.
  • Weaning in the U.S. and Other Developed Countries: The introduction of new foods into an infant's diet can lead to stomach issues due to food sensitivities and allergies. Cow's milk is a common irritant that can cause diarrhea in younger children. If you're weaning to infant formula, keep in mind that many formulas are made from cow's milk.
  • Weaning in Other Parts of the World: In some areas of the world, health and nutrition are compromised. Children living in these areas are more prone to illness, infection, and disease once they've weaned from the breast and they're no longer receiving the nutrition and protective properties found in breast milk.

    How Diarrhea Affects Babies

    When a baby has diarrhea, fluids leave the body. If the baby loses more fluids than he takes in through feedings, he can become dehydrated. Dehydration in newborns and young children can happen very quickly. The signs of dehydration to keep an eye out for include:

    • Less than six wet diapers a day (24 hours)
    • Dry mouth and lips
    • A lack of tears when the baby is crying
    • Poor feeding
    • A depressed soft spot on top of the baby's head
    • Irritability

    If you notice the signs of dehydration, call the doctor right away.

    Treatment for Baby Diarrhea

    Treating diarrhea in babies is centered around keeping the baby hydrated.

    If the diarrhea is mild, you can often manage it yourself at home.  

    • The most important thing you can do to treat baby diarrhea is to continue to breastfeed. Breastfeed more frequently while your child has loose stools to provide extra fluids. 
    • If you're breastfeeding and your child is taking feedings well, you do not need to give your child an oral rehydration fluid such as Pedialyte unless the doctor instructs you to do so. Breast milk contains the fluids and nutrition your baby needs to replace what she's losing through diarrhea. There are also antibodies in your breast milk that help your baby fight off infection and disease. 
    • The doctor may order an antibiotic for your child if the diarrhea is due to an illness or infection.
    • Soiled diapers can irritate your baby's skin and cause a diaper rash so change wet and dirty diapers often. Try to keep your baby's diaper area as clean and dry as possible. Using a diaper ointment after each change can be soothing and add a protective barrier to your child's skin. Be sure to wash your hands after each diaper change to prevent the spread of germs.
    • Avoid giving your child over-the-counter medication for diarrhea. Anti-diarrheal medicine can be harmful to babies, so it's not recommended. 
    • Severe diarrhea that leads to dehydration may require treatment with intravenous (IV) fluids in the hospital.

    Diarrhea can be dangerous for newborns and young children since it can lead to dehydration and weight loss. If your baby has diarrhea without any other symptoms, and it does not go away within 24 hours, notify the doctor. But, if your child has diarrhea along with a fever, signs of dehydration, excessive sleepiness, or poor nursing call your doctor right away.


    De la Cabada Bauche J, DuPont HL. New developments in traveler's diarrhea. Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2011 Feb;7(2):88.

    Farthing M, Salam MA, Lindberg G, Dite P, Khalif I, Salazar-Lindo E, Ramakrishna BS, Goh KL, Thomson A, Khan AG, Krabshuis J. Acute diarrhea in adults and children: a global perspective. Journal of clinical gastroenterology. 2013 Jan 1;47(1):12-20.

    Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD.  Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.

    Lamberti LM, Walker CL, Noiman A, Victora C, Black RE. Breastfeeding and the risk for diarrhea morbidity and mortality. BMC public health. 2011 Apr 13;11(3): S15.

    Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.