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BRAT Diet

Diarrhea Basics

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Updated July 16, 2014

Mother feeding baby boy (9-12 months) bananas, baby smiling
Kei Uesugi/The Image Bank/Getty Images
Updated July 16, 2014
Many parents continue to restrict their children's diet when they have diarrhea, like when they have rotavirus or the 'stomach flu.' That usually means no milk or any of your kids other favorites.

While it might make sense to you to not let your children eat when they have diarrhea, this is now considered rather old-fashioned advice. Experts now believe that children should continue their regular diet when they have diarrhea. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that 'most children should continue to eat a normal diet including formula or milk while they have mild diarrhea.' And the CDC recommends that 'children receiving semisolid or solid foods should continue to receive their usual diet during episodes of diarrhea.'

Yogurt with active cultures, which contain acidophilus, may also be helpful when your child has diarrhea.

Foods To Avoid

Not all kids want to eat their regular diet when they are sick and have diarrhea though. And there are some circumstances in which giving kids their regular foods might make them feel worse, which is why it can be a good idea to avoid certain foods when your child has diarrhea, including:
  • carbonated soft drinks
  • fruit juice and liquids with a lot of sugar
  • gelatin desserts
What about milk? If milk or other foods make your child worse, causing vomiting, bloating, abdominal pain, or worsening diarrhea, then you might call your Pediatrician to see if you need to temporarily change your child's diet.

BRAT Diet

Although starting a BRAT diet is popular among parents when their kids have diarrhea, it is important to remember that it is usually not necessary.

So what is the BRAT diet? It includes:

  • Bananas
  • Rice
  • Applesauce
  • Toast
Does it help? Since some of those foods, especially bananas and rice, are 'binders' and are considered to be constipating, they might help diarrhea. But if you wanted to feed them to your child for that reason, you might just add them to his regular diet, instead of just restricting your child to a BRAT diet.

Misconceptions About Treating Diarrhea

In addition to restricting a child's diet, another common misconception when treating diarrhea is that Pedialyte or other electrolyte solutions will make diarrhea go away. Pedialyte isn't a cure for rotavirus and other causes of diarrhea though. Instead, they just help prevent your child from getting dehydrated.

Again, in most cases, when your child has diarrhea from a simple viral infection, you should usually continue him on his typical diet and just give extra Pedialyte when he has a large, watery diarrhea. The only time that you usually have to switch to giving only small amounts of Pedialyte is when your child has a lot of vomiting. And then you give very small amounts, like a teaspoon or tablespoon, every five or ten minutes until he is keeping fluids down. You can then slowly advance how much he is drinking as he vomits less and eventually start him back on his regular diet as tolerated.

Keep in mind that you should usually avoid giving your child just Pedialyte, unless instructed to do so by your Pediatrician, for more than about 12 hours.

References

  • American Academy of Pediatrics article on Treating Diarrhea and Dehydration
  • CDC. Managing Acute Gastroenteritis Among Children. November 21, 2003. MMWR/ Vol. 52/ No. RR-16

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