Does Pedialyte Help With Children's Diarrhea?

child drinking juice and eating banana

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Many people wonder what to do when their child — especially young children — develop diarrhea. Are there any medications that can help? What kind of diet works?

Medications for Diarrhea

In general, most experts recommend that parents not give their children anti-diarrheal medications when they have diarrhea. Even though medications such as Imodium and Kaopectate may be recommended for adults, these medications should not be used in children, and could even be dangerous. So is there any "treatment" besides making sure your child does not get dehydrated and using dietary measures?

At this time, the only thing left to try—beyond pushing fluids to prevent them from becoming dehydrated—is providing them with the probiotic supplement acidophilus. If you want to try this you may consider adding yogurt with acidophilus to your child's diet or ask your pediatrician about acidophilus supplements.

If your child's diarrhea is bothersome enough that you are considering acidophilus supplements or any other treatment for diarrhea, it's a good idea to consult their pediatrician first.

Acidophilus is a type of beneficial bacteria or probiotic. Taking this supplement or adding it to food will provide your child with live bacteria normally found in the GI tract. Existing research findings suggest that increasing the population of "good" bacteria in the intestine can help to protect the digestive tract. Diarrhea can be one symptom that results from an imbalance in "good" and "bad" bacteria in the intestine.

Dietary Treatments

In addition to encouraging yogurt and other fermented foods that are typically chock-full of healthy probiotics, it is otherwise a good idea to keep your child on their regular diet when they have diarrhea that is caused by a simple stomach virus. It is usually recommended that you not start restricting a lot of foods from your child's diet. And mothers can typically continue to breastfeed or give their child full-strength formula.

It's important to note that these recommendations are true even if your child appears to have an increase in diarrhea while on a regular diet. Those who have done the research are aware of this, and it's still considered important to continue a regular diet. Stated in other words, it's okay if your child does have more diarrhea.

Many parents feel that treating diarrhea should include either not feeding their children or limiting what they eat to the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast). However, this is not typically necessary in the absence of vomiting and may delay introducing the protein and calories that children need from their diet to recover from acute diarrheal illnesses.

If your child has acute diarrhea and/or occasional vomiting, you should avoid:

  • Removing or limiting milk (lactose) in your older child
  • Changing your infant's formula
  • Restricting your child to the BRAT diet

Instead, most children with acute diarrhea should continue to:

  • Breastfeed
  • Receive full-strength formula once they are rehydrated
  • Have access to an age-appropriate unrestricted diet as soon as possible
  • Encourage whole-grain or complex carbohydrates, including potatoes, rice, bread, lean meats, yogurt, fruits, and vegetables
  • Limit foods and beverages with a lot of added sugars (including juice and carbonated soft drinks) and high-fat foods

If you are only able to feed your child Pedialyte or half-strength formula for more than about 12 hours, then you should talk to your Pediatrician.

Pedialyte

Although Pedialyte and other electrolyte solutions are usually recommended when children have diarrhea, it is important to realize that they don't actually make diarrhea go away. Instead of being a treatment for diarrhea, they are actually given so that your child doesn't become dehydrated.

Some children with vomiting and diarrhea may only tolerate small amounts (like 1 teaspoon every 5 minutes) of Pedialyte. However, children that are feeling better can drink as much Pedialyte as they like. So, in addition to their regular diet, you can usually give a few ounces of Pedialyte after each large, watery stool. If your child has a lot of diarrhea or is showing any symptoms of dehydration, then you may have to give even more Pedialyte.

If you don't have Pedialyte on hand, and you'd rather stay home and comfort your child, some parents prefer to make their own homemade rehydration solution with this recipe for oral rehydration fluid that used as an alternative in the "Rehydration Project." It doesn't have the fancy bottle or color, but many experts believe it works as well for rehydration in those who do not have symptoms severe enough to need IV rehydration.

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Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. How to Treat Diarrhea in Infants and Young Children. Updated October 2011.

Additional Reading
  • Fleisher, G., and D. Matson. Patient information: Acute diarrhea in children (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. Updated 08/27/15. http://www.uptodate.com/contents/acute-diarrhea-in-children-beyond-the-basics.