Diarrhea is a change in stool pattern that is not explained by a change in diet or medication.

A child has diarrhea if there is an increase in the number of stools over what is normal for that child AND the stools are loose and watery.


  • Breast-fed babies and exclusively formula-fed babies have stools that are normally loose.
  • Children who have recovered from a bout of diarrhea and are acting normally may have a persistent pattern of looser stools for weeks afterward that test negative for diarrhea-causing bacteria and parasites.

Actions to Take

Carefully watch a child with even one loose stool and take precautions. Infectious diarrhea can quickly spread to other children.

Children with diarrhea should be sent home until their diarrhea has ceased, and if possible should avoid all contact with children and staff for at least 24 hours. These children may be highly contagious, especially children who aren’t able to make it to the bathroom on time and those still in diapers.

While the child with diarrhea is waiting to be picked up by her family, the following guidelines for care should be followed:

  • If the child is willing to eat, offer a normal diet except for fruits and sugary drinks. Banana is one fruit that is good to give to children with diarrhea. Oral re-hydrating solutions are available world-wide for children who have significant diarrhea and are showing signs of dehydration, such as less frequent and more concentrated urine.
  • Avoid any milk except breast milk. (The sugar in full-strength juice and milk can make diarrhea worse.)


Although vomiting and diarrhea are generally considered mild illnesses, they can sometimes lead to dehydration. Dehydration—an excessive loss of water and nutrients from the body—is a special concern in infants.

Watch for these symptoms of dehydration:

  • decreased frequency and amount of urinating
  • concentrated (dark) urine
  • few or no tears
  • sunken eyes
  • a sticky or dry mouth, and/or thirst
  • loss of skin elasticity (that is, skin does not spring back when pressed gently)