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Should I stop feeding my baby to stop a bad bout of diarrhea?
Q: There was a virus going around childcare, and my 16-month-old baby had a bad bout of diarrhea for about five days. My grandmother is from Mexico and she told me the custom was to stop feeding babies when they have diarrhea so the bowel movements will dry up. Should you stop feeding them or not?
A: Angelina, you will get a lot of advice from your grandmother and other relatives and friends—some of the advice may be good, but some may not be. Different cultures have different customs, and medical information has changed over the years. When your baby is sick, it’s best to call your doctor with your questions.

When babies have severe diarrhea, they can become dehydrated and seriously ill. The smaller a baby is, the quicker he can become dehydrated. Dehydration is more likely in babies under 2 years old, especially when the diarrhea is accompanied by vomiting and a fever, which cause even more fluid loss. Our medical advice is just the opposite of what your grandmother recommended: when your baby has diarrhea, you need to continue to feed her to make sure she doesn’t get dehydrated. The most important thing is to continue to give her plenty of fluids. If she’s hungry, it’s good to continue food as well. The recommendations are different depending on how severe the diarrhea is:

  • Mild diarrhea: You can continue with a normal diet including breastmilk, formula or milk. Sometimes, babies with diarrhea cannot digest cow’s milk and the doctor might recommend a switch to soy milk or soy formula.


  • Moderate diarrhea: Talk with your doctor about what to give your baby. If you’re breastfeeding, you should continue to breastfeed your baby. But your baby may also need special electrolyte fluids to replace the water and salts lost in the diarrhea. Don’t make up your own solution—buy the special preparations in the market or pharmacy. They are available as a ready-to-serve liquid, a powder to mix with water, or frozen pops. Ask your doctor what to give your baby, how much and for how long. If your baby is hungry, starchy and non-fatty foods are easiest to digest. Many doctors recommend the “BRAT” diet: bananas, rice, applesauce, and dry toast or tortillas. Continue to give your baby small amounts of fluids and food at frequent intervals.


  • Severe diarrhea: If your child develops signs of dehydration—sunken eyes, no tears when crying, dry and sticky mouth, extreme thirst, urinating less frequently, extreme weakness, and weight loss—call your doctor immediately. Your child might need IV rehydration in the emergency room or hospital.
For more information on diarrhea and dehydration, in English and Spanish (which you may want to share with your grandmother), click on the link below for the Children’s Hospital and Clinics in Minneapolis:
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