Toddler diarrhea is also known as chronic nonspecific diarrhea of childhood, and it while it affects children from 6 months to 5 years of age, it can continue on longer if the root cause is not addressed. Children with toddler’s diarrhea can have 3-10 loose stools per day. These stools typically occur during the day when the child is awake and sometimes immediately after eating.
The stool is frequently watery or loose and may have food particles in it, although the stools should not contain blood. If blood is present, then it is a sign that something else is also going on – perhaps a hemorrhoid, an anal fissure, colitis, or Crohn’s Disease (see the Home Remedies section on this site for treatment suggestions if you suspect any of these). The child may have days when stools are more formed and if the child has a condition known as spastic colon, then the diarrhea will alternate with constipation.
Despite the diarrhea, the child continues to grow and gain weight appropriately as long as the diet contains enough calories. The child is active and has a normal appetite. Abdominal pain is not typical and if there is abdominal pain, then it may suggest another cause, such as infection, or spasming from stress or lack of magnesium – again, see the Home Remedies section for Abdominal Pain if this is occurring.
Natural Remedy For Toddler Diarrhea (and Spastic Colon)
A friend wrote to me of her son who was diagnosed with toddler diarrhea. A Colonoscopy revealed nothing serious – no inflammation or ulceration. He has been on various medications since being diagnosed a couple of years ago, but they only work short-term and then he is back to explosive stool, leakage of stool into his underwear, or soiling his pants if he can’t get to a toilet soon enough.
Although toddler diarrhea is not considered a medically serious condition; diarrhea or fecal leakage in children is a condition that seriously hampers their confidence, security and quality of life. Not to mention the anxiety and extra work load for Mom!
My friend’s son is also intolerant to both dairy and wheat and both will aggravate his condition. He is prescribed a mild laxative once a day (when he gets home from school) – so the combination of the anti-diarrhea medication to stop bowel movments, and then once per day laxative to produce a bowel movement seems to be working. However, as my friend suspects, this in not a good long-term solution as both medications will lead to loss of bowel wall (muscle) tone and function over time.
I have done a couple of podcasts with Bianca James at The Sydney Colon Clinic and she often gets clients whose colons have completely shut down. There is nothing “wrong” with their colon, but exacerbation of these kinds of problems over the years has lead to increasing laxative use, to the point where the colon no longer functions. She has patients who are taking 20 – 40 laxatives per day, and still cannot have a bowel movement. So their gastroenterologist suggests removing their colon entirely. This is tragic.
Bianca takes these patients and restores them to normal bowel health. Of course, it takes quite a long period of time and the person has to be very self-disciplined with diet, supplements and also have daily colon hydrotherapy and probiotic retention enemas. However, these are extreme, long-term cases of bowel malfunction – where instead of getting to the root cause, the person (or the person’s caregiver) has masked the problem with medication.
So it’s great that my friend has contacted me early on (and that you are doing your research and are reading this too) so that the root causes of this condition can be fixed in childhood, before things worsen to an extreme state.
Just Diarrhea, or Constipation Too?
The first tricky bit with diarrhea is establishing whether it is just straight diarrhea, or, if the child is actually constipated (to the point of having impacted or stuck feces) and the fresher liquid poop is just oozing around the hard, impacted stool.
If you suspect your child may be impacted with hard, stuck poo, then the first thing you need to do is a colon cleanse. If you can get your child to take herbs and stool softeners (such as ColonEaze) that can assist that, that is ideal. But if they won’t, then the best thing is just to give warm water or coffee enemas. Full instructions for colon cleansing are in my book, Listen To Your Colon (available in softcover or eBook).
Again, depending on your child’s size and tolerance – and you may have to start slowly and just build up gradually over time as it is REALLY important not to hurt or traumatize your child – you can either use a regular size enema, with 2 – 4 cups of water, or you can use a baby enema bulb. If you buy a disposable enema bag, these have a much thinner tip than the regular enema bags and I just wash it with warm, soapy water and re-use numerous times. These are the bags I recommend to my readers (who have a sensitive or torn anus).
In my friend’s case, since her child has had a colonoscopy, there is not likely to be any impacted stool in his colon, since the colonoscopy test prep cleans the colon very thoroughly. Of course, there are many good reasons not to have a colonoscopy, so the risks should be assessed before deciding to go ahead with this procedure. See my eBook, What You Need To Know About Colonoscopy for all the details and also for instructions on how to protect your child’s gut before the colonoscopy and then how to help repair it afterwards.
If your child has spastic colon, then the remedies here are going to be useful, but for complete, detailed treatment you should really get my book, Listen To Your Colon.
TODDLER DIARRHEA TREATMENTS
The difficulty with treating a toddler or young child, is the discrepancy between what they should do, and what they will do. As the mother of 3 children, I understand this well! With adults, we can say, “Do these 4 things and you’ll be fine.” And the adult can follow through. But with a child, they can run the gamut from refusing the supplement, to vomiting it back up. So it does no good to force your child.
As difficult as it is, you’ll need to remain calm and patient and focus on explaining WHY this treatment will work, so your child becomes the director of his own treatment plan.
The good news, is that children are also usually more connected to their gut, to their body wisdom, than adults. So this is a powerful motivating tool you can use. For example, explain how and why probiotics (good bugs) work and then get your child to close their eyes, place a bottle of probiotics in their hand and get them to place their other hand on their tummy and ask their body how much of it they need – do they need a pinch, an 1/8 tsp., a 1/4 tsp., or 1/2 tsp.? Let your child direct his treatment. And then you can increase gradually to the required dose, over time.
With all children, it is usually a good idea to start really small with any new substance – maybe just a pinch, or 1/8 of a teaspoon to start – so that you can both allay their fear and also allow them to slowly get used to new tastes and textures. It may take longer to do it this way, but you have a greater chance of long-term success.
Also, be sure to allow your child to make his own decisions, and then always tie in his choices to the consequences. Do this for both positive and negative consequences. This is how we teach our children to be self-motivated to make good choices. Children don’t like to suffer any more than adults do! And if you continually point out the connection between your child’s poor choice and his ill health effects, he will eventually decide to make better choices.
Likewise, praise and encouragement is equally important for helping your child to affirm that his sacrifices are worth it. If he manages to take his probiotics and his stool bulking agent and then only has 5 bowel movements, rather than 8 or 10, be sure to point that out, so he can make the connection and feel encouraged. This will motivate him to continue.
Determine Food Intolerances
If your child has chronic diarrhea, the two top causes will likely be intestinal infection, or food allergy or intolerance. So in my friend’s case, she had her child tested for allergies and then also discovered herself (through food testing) that he does not tolerate wheat or dairy and both increase his diarrhea. However, even if he avoids wheat and dairy completely, his digestive system still does not function well.
So my approach to imbalance, or illness in the body, is to treat all possible causes and get the symptom under control and then you can start adding elements back in to determine what exactly are the causative elements – if you wish. Many people don’t need to know what caused their dis-ease, they just want to heal it and then are happy to continue on with whatever works. Either approach is fine.
To test for food allergies, you can see a specialist. But to test for food intolerances, you will have to discover that on your own. The easiest way is to completely eliminate the top allergen foods for 10 days (to clear) and then add them back in, one every 3-4 days to test for intolerance. The top allergen foods that most people have trouble with are:
Pasteurized Dairy products (butter is often okay though)
Wheat (and sometimes gluten as well)
You will need to test your child to see where their tolerance levels are for each of these foods. And maybe they can tolerate wheat once per week, but three times per week pushes them over the edge and results in diarrhea or bloating. So when you introduce a new food, if you don’t get a reaction right away, then the next day, give more of that food. Increase the portion size or number of portions over 3-4 days and see what happens. And YES, you need to keep a written chart, or you will never be able to keep track!
If you don’t have time right now to test for your child’s specific food intolerances and allergies, then use this Reduce Diarrhea Diet as a general guideline to start on right away.
Diet and Diarrhea
If your child is having more than four bowel movements per day, use the following Reduce Diarrhea Diet (described in more detail in Chapter Three of my book Listen To Your Gut) until he is down to three or less bowel movements per day. Then switch to the Minimize Gas and Bloating Diet (also in Chapter Three) for as long as necessary. If his bowel movements increase after switching to the more lenient Minimize Gas and Bloating Diet, then switch back to this Reduce Diarrhea Diet for another three months.
The Reduce Diarrhea Diet
ELIMINATE: Wheat, soy (except soy sauce is ok), corn, dairy (butter is often ok), alcohol (if using herbal tinctures, place in hot water to burn off the alcohol), caffeine, carbonated drinks, citrus, acidic or fermented foods, spicy or spicy hot foods, tomatoes, beans and lentils, cabbage family vegetables (including broccoli), raw vegetables, onion and garlic, processed foods, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, margarine, fibrous foods like raw vegetables, nuts and seeds, and fried food.
EAT: Ripe bananas, watermelon, mango, papaya, cantaloupe and pears (fruit should be eaten alone – not with other foods); squash; carrots; mushrooms; avocados; asparagus; artichokes; cucumber; pumpkin; potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams; non-wheat pasta; eggs; lean or non-oily meat, chicken and seafood; whole grains (but not wheat) like rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat; dry curd cottage cheese; butter and cold-pressed, non-hydrogenated oils. All foods should be organic.
DRINK: At least four to six glasses of room temperature spring water a day; weak green, rooibos, or honeybush, or decaf English tea; diluted non-acidic fresh juice (dilute juice with 3/4 water, 1/4 juice).
Clear Infection and Re-Populate With Good Bacteria
Okay, now that you know what your child’s food intolerances are, or they are following the Reduce Diarrhea Diet, it’s time to address the balance of good and bad microbes in their gut.
Even if they don’t have a bacterial infection, they might have a yeast overgrowth (Candida albicans), or they could be infected with microscopic parasites. Or some fungal/bacterial hybrids that are only detectable via a DNA test. So just because your doctor says they don’t have any infection, unless she has tested for the full gamut with specialized stool and blood tests (none of these are covered by state health care plans – so if you haven’t paid extra, they haven’t been done!) there may still be an infectious microorganism in your child’s gut.
If your child has had a colonoscopy, then they are highly likely to have either an infection, or an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in their gut – see my eBook, What You Need To Know About Colonoscopy to learn why this is so. Likewise, if your child was born by caesarean, or not breastfed, or if you did not have a healthy gut flora (i.e. you were not taking probiotics and eating fermented foods daily) during pregnancy or breastfeeding, then your child will also have either too much bad bacteria and yeast in his gut, or an infection.
Probiotics are one of the remedies that will address the root cause of your child’s diarrhea to resolve it long term. Other remedies may produce fairly quick results, but they largely address the symptom, not the cause.
Ingesting probiotics, or good bacteria, improves digestion, absorption and elimination of food. Certain strains of bacteria help produce digestive enzymes, peptides, amino acids and B vitamins for your body’s use. They also inhibit or eliminate pathogenic microorganisms, like yeast, fungus, parasites, and bad bacteria. See my eBook, What You Need To Know About Probiotics for more in-depth information on probiotics or sign up below to receive it for free!
For this reason, as your child gradually improves his gut flora, he may be able to tolerate more foods, or with increasing frequency.
However, if you suspect that an intestinal infection is the root cause of your diarrhea, then you will get best results from first killing the disease-causing microorganisms and then implanting with probiotics. Full instructions for treating gut infection are in my eBook Jini’s Healing Guide: Natural Treatments for Gut Infection or in my book, Listen To Your Colon. And the dosage guidelines for children are given there.
Okay, getting back to probiotics: Currently, I only recommend Natren brand probiotics as they are the only company we know of that meets therapeutic standards for probiotic quality and effectiveness. You need to take the full spectrum of probiotics (Megadophilus, Bifido Factor, Digesta-Lac) in powder form only. Do not take probiotics in capsule form to treat diarrhea, as diarrhea causes rapid transit time through the gut and the capsule may not have a chance to dissolve and disperse properly.
The ideal way to take probiotics for efficacy is to give your child 1/2 tsp. of each probiotic powder (so that’s 1.5 tsp total) mixed together in 4-6 ounces of room temperature filtered or spring water (no tap water!) 3 times per day on an empty stomach (15 to 20 minutes before food, or 2 hours after food), until he no longer has diarrhea. However, most children will not be able to drink the probiotics mixed in water, so I’m going to give you the methods I use with my own kids, that still ensure good bioavailability.
If your child tolerates dairy, then the dairy-based Natren probiotic powders are the mildest tasting. They mix undetectably into milk, yoghurt or whey protein shakes. Otherwise, use the dairy-free probiotics and mix into almond or coconut milk. The best way to disguise probiotics for kids is to mix them into a smoothie (if your child likes smoothies). And then don’t give the child anything else to eat for at least 20 minutes.
BUT you must only mix the probiotics by hand, or you will damage the bacteria. So you blend your smoothie or protein shake as usual, then take out 1/4 cup of smoothie and mix the probiotics powders into the small amount of liquid with a spoon. Be sure to mash any lumps and mix with the spoon until perfectly smooth. Then pour back into the smoothie cup and stir again with the spoon to mix well. Serve.
The best way (for potency) is to take probiotics on an empty stomach, mixed into water. However, most kids cannot take them that way, so use the suggestions above.
Ideally, and for fastest relief, begin oral probiotic supplementation along with Jini’s Probiotic Retention Enema (also in Listen To Your Colon or in my eBook Natural Treatments for Gut Infection). Then follow with oral supplementation.
Depending on your child’s health, you’ll see improvements fairly soon, but complete elimination of chronic diarrhea may take up to 6 months of supplementation. After your child’s diarrhea improves, take the probiotics 1 to 2 times per day for the next three months. Then take once per day for at least a year, or as needed, letting your bowel movements be your guide – if your stools start getting loose again, start taking probiotics twice a day (or more as needed).
While waiting for your child’s gut flora to improve, you can also use the remedies below for quick relief – but keep in mind that the goal is to heal the root cause(s) of diarrhea so that your child can pass normal stool without having to use a supplement for years and years. You don’t want your child to just take L-glutamine or bentonite clay for the rest of his life.
If your child tends to get attacks of cramping, or he has gas, bloating, or he has to run for the toilet and then sit there for the next hour or two because every time he tries to get up he has another bowel movement, then a Colonic Massage will be a big help to him. You can give your child this colonic massage while he is lying down, or while he is sitting on the toilet, to help reduce the frequency of loose bowel movements. I have also taught each of my children how to do this massage for themselves. Whether your child is constipated or suffers diarrhea, or just wants to poo quickly and get back to playing, it is invaluable!:
Along with this colonic massage, make sure your child either has a stepping stool under his feet when he defecates, or a squatting platform, like a Squatty Potty as this will also help him to have a complete evacuation and prevent poor bowel habits from developing or worsening. Basically, make sure his knees are higher than his hips when pooing – everyone in my family follows this guideline for healthy defecation.
IMMEDIATE REMEDIES FOR TODDLER DIARRHEA
These next remedies are for you to use to help your child get immediate relief from the symptoms of diarrhea, while you are taking the time to heal the underlying causative factors.
This is simply dry cottage cheese without the milky liquid, and it works well for mild diarrhea. Eat some for breakfast and you’ll notice it begin to take effect within 24 to 48 hours. A good way to eat it is with a very ripe banana (which also helps lessen diarrhea). You can still eat this dairy product if you have a lactose intolerance, as it contains virtually no lactose.
This is one of the best remedies to stop diarrhea that I have found. It is also super easy to administer to children since it is virtually tasteless and the pharmaceutical-grade mixes seamlessly into water. However, while it resolves the symptom, it does not completely address the cause of diarrhea – for that, you also need to give your child the probiotics as instructed above.
L-glutamine is well known as a key to the metabolism and maintenance of muscle. It can be considered (along with other amino acids) as a primary energy source for the immune system. L-glutamine is of particular interest to people with digestive disorders because it’s the primary nutrient for the cells that line the gastrointestinal tract. It’s an important nutrient for the large bowel and helps maintain normal functioning of the mucosal cells that line the colon.
One of L-glutamine’s primary effects is the increased transport of water from the inside of the colon back into the body. This lessens the loss of electrolytes and water from the intestines that usually occurs with diarrhea. However, it’s important to keep in mind that L-glutamine only has this effect when taken on an empty stomach (2 hours after food, or 20 minutes before food)
Recommended L-Glutamine Dosage:From 1/2 to 4 teaspoons of L-glutamine per day depending on size and needs of child (in typical concentrations, 1/4 teaspoon equals 1 gram of glutamine), mixed in cold or room temperature water or non-acidic juice. It’s best to break the dosage down as much as possible (e.g. 1/2 teaspoon, 4 times per day). You can buy it in powder form, and the great news is it’s practically tasteless and odorless. Make sure your child takes it on an empty stomach. Store your glutamine in a cool, dry place, but do not refrigerate.
The glutamine takes effect very quickly and within a few days your child’s stool will be formed and semi-solid. If he’s had diarrhea for a long time, his rectal canal and other parts of his colon will have grown used to only soft, watery stool passing through.
So expect a bit of an uncomfortable period as his colon learns to adjust to a new type and process of passing stool. It’s best to take it slowly, and give his colon plenty of time to adjust gently to the changes. Some may experience pain as the harder, larger stool passes through a colon that has grown used to only soft bowel movements. Anal fissures may open as the rectal canal is quickly stretched wider than it is accustomed to. If that occurs, you can use FissureHeal to heal them quickly.
My recommendation is to start with only 1/4 teaspoon of glutamine per day for the first few days. If your child’s colon is handling that dosage well, then increase it to two or three times per day. Then increase to 1/2 teaspoon per day, if needed. If that’s too much, then stay at 1/4 teaspoon, or drop to 1/8 teaspoon until his bowel has adjusted. Gradually increase the dosage by 1/4 teaspoon at a time, and increase the number of times per day you give it, as your child’s colon adjusts to the firmer stool, until you’re up to a dosage that works well for your child and results in 3 or less bowel movements per day.
L-glutamine purchased at a bodybuilding supplement store can be a lot cheaper than glutamine purchased at a health food store/pharmacy. However, the more expensive pharmaceutical grade L-glutamine powder is usually more finely ground, and dissolves better in water. If your child has chronic renal failure (kidney disease) or liver disease, he should not take L-glutamine.
ColonEaze Stool Bulking Agent
ColonEaze is all-natural, mostly organic, with no fillers/flow agents etc – my ideal blend of ‘binding’ or bulking & softening agents, along with targeted herbs.
You may have heard of using bentonite clay as a binding agent (see below), but keep in mind, bentonite should only be used short-term as it removes ALL bacteria; good and bad.
*CAUTION: With all stool bulking agents – like psyllium, bentonite, ColonEaze, be very careful if you have an intestinal obstruction or stricture. In that case, start with a very small dose (1/4 tsp) and build up very gradually to test for tolerance and prevent plugging up your stricture or narrowed section.
If your child will not take ColonEaze – because it also has psyllium and flaxseed, it forms a thicker gel fairly quickly and some kids cannot handle the thick texture – then try him with just plain bentonite clay. The bentonite has the blander taste of the two and you can also dilute it as much as you like to make it super bland – it’s easily drinkable just mixed in water. If you mix it in apple juice, your child may prefer that, or not. Try a 1/4 tsp in water first and see what he says.
Bentonite clay is a volcanic ash containing many minerals, and it has the added benefit of being a good detoxification agent. Montmorillonite (the active ingredient in bentonite) has the ability to adsorb (not absorb) many times its own weight and volume in a liquid medium. Bentonite’s structure enables it to attract and soak up toxins and contaminants on its exterior wall, and then draw them into the interior center of the clay, where they are held and then excreted out in your stool.
However, montmorillonite has been shown in studies to also draw bacteria out of the intestines. If your bacterial flora is unhealthy, this is a good thing. But if you’re supplementing with probiotics trying to implant a healthy intestinal bacterial flora, then you certainly don’t want to be ingesting a substance long-term that’s going to pull all these good bacteria out of your gut! Therefore, onlyuse bentonite clay short-term for two weeks or so, and then get your child on the high dose probiotic supplementation that will address the root-cause of his diarrhea.
Start with half a teaspoon mixed in 4 ounces of spring or filtered water, or apple juice, once a day on an empty stomach. Increase the dosage and/or frequency as needed. If your child has an unhealthy gut flora, or intestinal infection, then go slowly as you don’t want to detox too quickly or you’ll make your child sick from the detox and flushing of pathogens (nausea, headaches, bloating, etc.).
If your child is also taking probiotics, then give the bentonite clay first. For example, give the bentonite clay upon waking, wait 15 to 20 minutes, and then give the probiotics, wait another 15 to 20 minutes, and then have breakfast.
If your child suffers from spastic colon, or occasionally gets constipated, or you have used too much bentonite, or ColonEaze, or L-glutamine, then you can use magnesium citrate to stimulate a bowel movement. My son (who gets constipated if he eats too much wheat) really likes the Natural Calm raspberry-lemon magnesium drink, made with warm water. Alternatively, you can get magnesium citrate in capsules and empty them into your child’s shake or smoothie.
However, if your child is only suffering from diarrhea, then you need to give them magnesium in nanoparticle, or transdermal form. This way, your child can receive enough magnesium to keep his intestines from spasming and calm his nervous system, but yet NOT stimulate a bowel movement. I have a detailed blog post on these forms of magnesium where you can learn more. I also give all 3 of my kids (and myself) nanoparticle-sized magnesium every day (along with Bone Matrix and Trace Matrix), these minerals are absorbed through the mucosal lining in your mouth, therefore do not require digestion and do not irritate the gastrointestinal tract. We just hold them in our mouths for 30 seconds and then swallow, they taste pretty much like water and are often used with autistic kids (who are super difficult about swallowing anything).
Pregnancy/Breastfeeding/Babies: I have used Natren probiotics and L-glutamine while pregnant and breastfeeding. I also gave them periodically to my kids as babies (give babies ONLY Life Start – B. infantis – probiotic) and toddlers. There are no known contraindications for psyllium seed, flax seed, or bentonite clay. Avoid giving babies any pasteurized cow’s milk products.
Some Final Tips for Dealing With Toddler Diarrhea
If your child’s bum is getting sore and irritated from frequent diarrhea, then:
Gently wipe your child’s anus with 2-ply plain tissues (no added softeners like aloe or vitamin E, etc.) moistened with warm tap water after each bowel movement (don’t use commercial wipes – they can be irritating). You do not need soap (soap can dry and irritate the area), just warm water and plain tissues.
Have your child wear only 100% cotton underwear and natural fabric pants, shorts, etc. This allows your child’s skin to breathe properly and prevents chemicals and xenoestrogens from leaching into his skin.
Make sure your child’s sheets are 100% cotton. If possible, give your child a wool or lambskin pad under his cotton sheets.
Sleep bare-bum at night.
If the soreness persists, then apply comfrey salve (I like Burt’s Bees Res-Q Ointment) to all sore areas. If you suspect some infection, use diluted wild oregano oil (6:1 dilution with olive oil) applied on and just inside your anus – see my eBook, What You Need To Know About Wild Oregano Oil for detailed dilution and application instructions. NOTE: Unfortunately, as so often happens, the company Burt’s Bees was bought out once it became successful, and the new owner is now downgrading the ingredients; they greatly reduced the amount of comfrey present and instead of actual leaf and root it now only contains ‘comfrey leaf extract’. So I went searching for something else that was just as good and I believe I found something even better from another company I’ve loved for a long time (still original owner!) called Herb Pharm Original Salve
TODDLER DIARRHEA TREATMENT SUMMARY
Give the full spectrum of Natren brand probiotics (Megadophilus, Bifido Factor, Digesta-Lac) in powder form only. Begin with Jini’s Probiotic Retention Enema if you can.
Test for allergies and food intolerances, or just use the Reduce Diearrhea Diet. Keep a food diary to chart reactions and symptoms.
Give 1/4 teaspoon of L-glutamine powder per day in half a glass of cold or room temperature water, on an empty stomach. Gradually increase the dosage by 1/4 teaspoon at a time as your child’s colon adjusts to the firmer stool, until he’s up to a dosage that works well for you.
Give 1/2 to 1 tsp. of ColonEaze mixed with apple juice, 1 to 3 times per day, on an empty stomach, just before food, follow package directions. OR: Bentonite clay, 1/2 – 1 tsp. mixed with water, 1 to 3 times per day. Go slowly to avoid too rapid detoxification, and don’t use for longer than two weeks.