When Trouble Arises
"Diarrhea can be caused by a number of things, depending on your child's age," Dr. Rehm says. "Some breastfed babies may appear to have diarrhea when they are just having normal, breastfed poop. The same thing happens often to toddlers who develop diarrhea—which most often is a result of their diet."
Since toddlers are notorious for eating one kind of food for days at a time, maintaining a well-balanced diet can be challenging. But if your two-year-old suddenly develops runny stools and isn't sick, try cutting down on greasy foods—like chicken nuggets, chips, and French fries—as well as fruit and fruit juices. Both cause diarrhea if they're not balanced out by appropriate amounts of whole grains and fiber.
"Following these two causes, the most likely additional cause is viral. The most important thing to watch [for] when your child has diarrhea are signs of dehydration," such as less than normal urine output, dry lips, and listlessness, Dr. Rehm explains. "If you are worried that your child is having less urine output than normal, it's important to discuss this with your pediatrician."
As tempting as it may be to try to stop the diarrhea with over-the-counter medicines like Imodium and Pepto-Bismol, doctors don't recommend it. Your child's body is ridding itself of the virus through the bowels, so you need to allow things to run their course.
Painful diaper rash is one of the unfortunate side effects of diarrhea. Oatmeal baths to dry out the rash, frequent diaper changes, plenty of diaper cream, and lots of fresh air on a bare bottom are the best ways to clear up the problem.
Keep in mind that the viruses that cause diarrhea are extremely contagious. Wash your hands and your child's hands thoroughly after every diaper change, sanitize changing tables with Lysol, and bathe siblings separately since kids often ingest drops (or gallons) of bath water, and it only takes a microscopic amount of contaminated fecal matter to make someone else sick.
On the other end of the spectrum, kids will sometimes suffer from constipation. While this uncomfortable condition can be caused by illness and is sometimes brought on by fear of using the toilet during potty training, it's most frequently the result of a child's diet. Therefore the most natural cure is a dietary change. Dr. Rehm suggests, "Increasing fluids, particularly after your infant is over four- to six-months-old will help. In a younger baby, you may add Karo syrup or mineral oil, or potentially a few ounces of juice." But she urges parents to discuss any constipation treatments with a pediatrician, especially the use of suppositories or laxatives, which could do more harm than good in a small child.
Blood in a child's stool is enough to give a mother fits, but it's usually caused by a large, hard bowel movement that creates a small tear in a baby's bottom. If your child is constipated and you notice a small bloody streak once or twice, it will probably clear up when things return to their normal consistency. But Dr. Rehm says, "If there are large amounts of blood or mucous then I would encourage you to call your pediatrician."
It's OK to Look
Admit it—poop is funny. It looks funny, smells funny, and has been the butt of jokes (pun intended!) since cavemen started grunting punch lines. But for all its strange, humorous, and gross qualities, it has also historically been a cheap, reliable method to determine a person's general health. A mother's compulsion to notice and even discuss her baby's bowel movements is as natural and healthy as … well … as using the bathroom.