EXPERT ADVICE: Help, my child has diarrhoea!

Frequent loose stools can be extremely troubling, especially in a young child. A paediatrician tells you how to treat diarrhoea.

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If your child keeps visiting the toilet and complains of loose stools, he may be suffering from diarrhoea.

One mother, Pauline Chua, says that her 3-year-old son, Jeremiah, had a mild case of diarrhoea after he started preschool. “It wasn’t very severe, so he was going about four or five times a day, but the stomach pain would come on suddenly and he would cry,” she said.

Since he seemed fine otherwise, she held off taking him to the doctor, and only went to the paediatrician about a week after the loose stool started. “He was still active and had a good appetite, but I started to get worried about him being dehydrated,” Chua adds.

Jeremiah’s bout of diarrhoea came at a most inconvenient time, Chua says. “We had just seen some progression in his toilet training, and he was off diapers during the day at home. But when he fell sick, we had to put him in diapers again.”

“If they do get diarrhoea when they are teething, it is usually due to a mild infection caused by the child putting things into their mouths.”

The diarrhoea lasted about two weeks. After Jeremiah got better, Chua says that because her son was not used to going diaper-free, they pretty much had to start from square one.

Causes of diarrhoea

Dr Ong Eng Keow, a paediatrician at International Child and Adolescent Clinic at Mount Alvernia Hospital, explains that diarrhoea is usually caused by an infection. “This can either be viral or bacterial. Sometimes, children can also get a bit of loose stools when they are on antibiotics,” he says.

For babies who are breastfeeding, it’s normal to have loose and watery stools. Dr Ong adds that there’s diarrhoea if the runniness is beyond the usual looseness, or if there is blood in the child’s stools.

In addition, he debunks the myth that teething causes diarrhoea. “If they do get diarrhoea when they are teething, it is usually due to a mild infection caused by the child putting things into their mouths,” he says.

When a child has diarrhoea, he usually has three or more watery bowel movements a day. For more serious cases, the number of loose bowel movements could be 10 or even more. You might see veggie bits or food from your tot’s recent meals in his stool ― such as tiny pieces of carrot or sweetcorn. The stools may also be smellier or paler than usual.