The most important thing is to recognize when your child is becoming dehydrated. If your child is mildly dehydrated, try your best to hydrate her. There are rehydration drinks, available in supermarkets and drugstores, that contain electrolytes meant to replace those lost during ongoing diarrhea. Unfortunately, these drinks are not safe if they are the only nutrition consumed for more than 24 hours. Also, most of them taste awful. Therefore, in addition to these, give your toddler clear fluids, diluted juices, flat soda, or starchy water such as rice water.
Remember that if your child will drink but not eat, she is getting limited calories. Eventually, the lack of calories will cause her to feel weak or sleepy.
The key to replacing fluids is to do it slowly. If your child has been vomiting, she will eventually become thirsty. If she drinks a large amount, chances are that she will vomit up the fluids she has drunk. Small sips stay down longer. You may be surprised by how small the volume of liquid can be — sometimes only one teaspoon every 5 to 10 minutes — but this is enough to begin to turn things around. A toddler can get very upset when she is thirsty and you are slowing down her fluids. One easy way to minimize the struggle is to soak a washcloth in water and let her suck on it. Popsicles work well, too. The worst way to slowly rehydrate your child is to pour a big glass of something and say, “Now drink this just a little bit at a time.”
If your child has only diarrhea, then she will be able to keep liquids and solids down, but they may go straight through her. To help firm up her stools, you can give her bland, constipating foods such as rice, pasta, crackers, or bananas. The old recommendation was to follow the BRAT diet — bananas, rice, apple sauce, and toast — but it turns out that any bland food is fine. If your child wants chicken, go for it. Just stay away from spicy foods, sugary foods, and dairy products. Spicy foods will upset a relatively empty stomach. Sugar will draw more water into the intestine, which can worsen diarrhea. And dairy products seem to exacerbate diarrhea almost immediately. If your child insists on milk, try soy or rice milk instead of cow’s milk, and dilute them if you can.
When your child’s dehydration is the result of pain and subsequent refusal to drink, give her a pain reliever. You can use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin). Both are effective pain relievers, but ibuprofen may cause stomach upset, especially in a child who is having stomach pain already. Another handy pain reliever is called “magic mouthwash.” This combination of Maalox and Children Benadryl Allergy Liquid coats the mouth and throat and reduces local pain caused by inflammation.