The frequency, quantity, consistency and colour of stools vary from child to child. Stools also change as children grow older and depending on what they eat (see Stools). You will learn to recognize what is normal for your child.

When children have diarrhea, their stools change from what is normal for them: Bowel movements are more frequent and more liquid than usual. Most diarrhea is caused by germs, like viruses.

What to do?

Essential information to remember

The germs that cause diarrhea can be contagious. For information on how to prevent the transmission of these germs to others, see Preventing infections.

If your child’s stools suddenly become more liquid, it may be a sign of a transient trouble. If your child is healthy, continue to feed him normally.

If your child seems to be behaving unusually, eating or drinking less than normal, or seems ill, keep an eye on him to see if the situation improves. If your child has a fever, see What to do if your child has a fever.

A child with diarrhea can become dehydrated. Take steps to prevent dehydration (see Preventing dehydration and watch for the signs of dehydration described.

If your child’s bottom becomes red or irritated, see Redness on the bottom (diaper rash).

When to consult a health professional

Call Info-Santé (8-1-1) or a doctor if the situation worsens or persists, or you have concerns about your child’s condition.

If you think he might have COVID-19, and you have questions, contact Info-Santé (8-1-1).

If your child loses weight or the diarrhea continues for more than 1 or 2 weeks, consult a doctor.

See a doctor right away if your child has diarrhea and is showing any of the following signs:

  • There is blood in her stools (red or black stools).
  • She seems to be in pain (e.g., she is very irritable, constantly cries, or curls her legs up against her belly).
  • She exhibits unusual behaviour (e.g., is difficult to wake, sleepier than usual, or responds very little to others).
  • She vomits often for a period of more than 4 to 6 hours.
  • She shows signs of moderate to severe dehydration (see Dehydrated baby).

Gastroenteritis (stomach flu or “gastro”)

Information to which you should pay special attention

Don’t give your child anti-nausea or anti-diarrhea medication if you have not been advised by a doctor. This type of medication can have serious side effects and is rarely recommended for young children.

A child with diarrhea often has gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis spreads easily from person to person, especially among children.

It is a very common childhood infection. Almost all children come down with it at least once in their first year.

A child with gastroenteritis is visibly ill: she has diarrhea and she might vomit and have fever. You can refer to the recommendations in the sections on Diarrhea above, Vomiting and Fever.

Most gastroenteritis cases clear up on their own within a few hours or days.