Diarrhoeal illnesses in babies may be caused by bacterial infections, viruses or protozoans. These organisms may infect children and cause diarrhoea which may lead to dehydration and its consequences. The most common of the viruses is the Rotavirus. Rotavirus causes gastro-enteritis. Gastroenteritis is basically an infection of the gastro-intestinal tract. It affects the stomach and the intestines (or gut). In other words, it causes inflammation of the gastro-intestinal tract.
Gastroenteritis is sometimes referred to as stomach flu, running belly, gastro and diarrhoea. The signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis are fever, vomiting and diarrhoea. You may know some of the other names that it is called. (Please share these with me). Some babies may exhibit only diarrhoea.
For the purpose of this article let us examine diarrhoea in babies.
What Really is Diarrhoea?
Diarrhoea is loose, watery stool (poop). It must be borne in mind that some babies pass stool often. The colour, odour, consistency and the unusually frequent stool matters. These give an indication of what is happening to the baby. I must point out that whatever you think, it is always good to consult with the Paediatrician to make sure. It is always better to err on the side of safety. Another way of putting this is to say, “it is better to be safe than to be sorry”. For that matter, it is no error to check with the doctor. It will only cost for good service and better health for the child.
The stool of the breastfed babies is usually of a soft consistency and is yellowish. The breastfed baby may pass stools up to six times per day. As the baby gets older, the number of times gets less.
The formula-fed babies may pass stool once or twice per day and most times it will have a strong odour. The stool of the formula-fed babies is not very soft.
As a matter of fact, if the feeding formula is not followed (that is scoop formula to amount liquid, for mix) according to manufactured instruction the feed may cause constipation or diarrhoea. This will be based on what is too much or what is too little. That is fluid to formula ratio.
A baby may have diarrhoea because of:
- Bacterial, protozoal, or viral infection
Milk allergies do occur when babies are lactose intolerant. If this is so with the baby, a suitable substitute should be found. Seek the advice of the Paediatrician.
There are some babies that are really sensitive or have allergies to particular foods. It cannot be over-emphasised that it is important and always good to introduce the baby to one food at a time, in order that likely allergies and preferences are easily picked up by the caregiver.
- Side effects or intolerance to prescription drugs. For example antibiotics
If this occur seek the immediate advice of the Paediatrician
- Formula feeds not properly prepared
It is always important to follow the manufacturer’s instruction. Do remember that if you switch feed, it therefore, becomes a new manufacturer and a new manufacturer’s instruction. One instruction does not fit all formulae. It is important that the feed is not prepared with more liquid than feed and neither should it be made up with more feed than that which is necessary. One or the other has its adverse reaction.
- Contaminated feeding utensils such as bottles and nipples
- Preparation of feed under unhygienic condition
The baby’s food should be prepared under sanitary environmental condition. Good personal hygiene of caregivers is also of great importance.
What to Do if Your Baby Has Diarrhoea
If your baby has diarrhoea:
- Consult the doctor or other qualified Health Care Worker
- Give the baby plenty of fluids. Plain, safe water which is treated or boiled, coconut water or thin soup may be given to the baby
- If you are breastfeeding continue to do so.
- If your baby was already eating from the family pot whenever he is well again, let him continue to eat.
- If the baby is not getting better, it is of great importance that you take him back to see the doctor.
How to Prevent or Minimise Diarrhoea in Babies
In order to prevent diarrhoea in babies caregivers and others must:
- Practice good personal hygiene. The care of the hands is important. Dirty hands transport and transmit germs. Food and utensils can be contaminated because of dirty hands. See to it that children do not stick fingers in each others or baby’s mouth. Generally, caregiver must keep baby and self clean
Caregivers must wash hands after using the lavatory, changing baby diapers, and handling other environmental stuff before handling the baby or anything which concern the baby.
Remember too that there are other agents of spread for germs. These may be seen as: contaminated clothing, contaminated food and water, rodents, insects, such as flies and cockroaches
- If the baby is a breast-fed baby, breastfeed the baby regularly. Breastfed babies can have diarrhoea also. However, it must be noted that the risk is lower than for the bottle-fed babies. What is your opinion on this? Please share with me.
- Use clean cup and spoon or bowl or plate and spoon to feed the baby. Bottles and nipples help to spread germs.
- Try to pinpoint if baby is allergic to any particular food or drug. Discuss with health provider.
- Keep the surrounding clean. The environment must be free of rodents and insects. Be reminded that these are also agents for the spreading of germs.
- Take the baby to the Paediatrician or clinic for regular checks. Follow up on appointments.
Dehydration in Babies
What is Dehydration?
Dehydration is the excessive loss of fluid from the body. This excessive loss of fluid from the body may be caused by illness, excessive physical activities, prolong exposure to the sun and in some cases abuse of some medications.
Gastro-enteritis can lead to dehydration. Vomiting alone can cause dehydration. The same is true for diarrhoea. This is also the same for fever. If anyone of these symptoms persists dehydration can be made easy. Can you imagine if all three signs or symptoms occur together? If the child is not properly monitored, in a short time the baby may become dehydrated.
Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration
Dehydration can cause the metabolic process to become disorganised. Below are some of the signs and symptoms.
- Generalised weakness. The baby maybe still not moving. not being playful
- The baby has dry eyes. Even if crying there is the absence of tears
- The mouth is dry
- Little or no urine
- Sunken eyes
- Loss of weight
- Sunken fontanelle The fontanelle is that soft spot of the head found int centre nearest to the hair line and the forehead. The fontanelle gets harder as the child gets older.
Dehydration in babies is considered a as a serious complication. Many children die worldwide because of dehydration, due to diarrhoeal diseases.
Many caregivers are unable to diagnose dehydration in children. Can you imagine, a sick baby who is not not yet talking or is too ill and not being able to say: “I want water”, or I am thirsty?”
How to Prevent Dehydration
The rules of preventing dehydration in children stand as:
- Take the child to see the doctor as soon as there is any sign of fever, vomiting and diarrhoea or any one of the three signs/symptoms.
- Follow the advice of the doctor. Remember that it is important to replace fluid loss with oral rehydration fluid (ORF). If the oral rehydration granules or salt (ORS) is given, follow instructions as how to prepare this. Of course, there are already made oral rehydration fluid on the market.
- Be vigilant to the baby’s condition. Monitor well.
- Follow up if the child does not respond to the treatment/does not respond satisfactorily or gets worse.
- Follow up even when the child gets better or seems well. The Health Provider will need to take note that the child is now well.
Every parent knows that it takes a lot to see to it that the child is healthy. Parents become very concern whenever the baby begins to exhibit signs of ill-health. let me therefore, encourage that it is important that every day is a day not to let up on the things that are to be done. Having the baby looking healthy, it is a joyous day. However, whenever the child shows signs of illness it then becomes a sad day. Let us continue to work for our babies well-being, every day.