Diarrhea, one of the most common childhood illnesses, has numerous causes in toddlers, from allergy to infection. Rotavirus, a common viral infection, accounts for 5 percent to 10 percent of all cases of diarrhea in children under 5 and prompts more than 500,000 doctor visits and 55,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations, according to eMedTV. Severe diarrhea can cause serious fluid loss and potentially life-threatening dehydration, but milk is not the drink of choice when your toddler has diarrhea, for several reasons.
Potential Lactose Intolerance
If a toddler develops diarrhea, he might have lactose intolerance, an inherited condition caused by lack of an enzyme that breaks down lactase, the sugar in cow's milk. Lactose intolerance normally doesn't cause problems in the first few years of life, but shows up after age 2. If your child develops diarrhea in conjunction with abdominal pain, gas or nausea after eating foods containing lactose, consider a possible lactose intolerance and stop cow's milk for several days to see if there's an improvement. Yogurt normally does not cause as many problems in children with lactose intolerance.
Potential Milk Allergy
A toddler who has been breastfed and then starts drinking cow's milk might exhibit diarrhea as a symptom of milk allergy. Milk allergy, the most common food allergen according to Baby Center, differs from lactose intolerance in that the proteins in milk cause allergic reactions. Other symptoms of milk allergy include rash, wheezing or cold symptoms. Talk with your pediatrician about allergy testing to determine if your toddler has a milk allergy.
If your toddler has had an intestinal infection or diarrhea from any other cause, he might develop temporary lactose intolerance. The enzyme that breaks down lactase is produced in the cells of stomach, which might be temporarily damaged from infection or irritation after a diarrheal infection. Pediatrician and author William Sears, M.D., suggests that if your child has diarrhea that lasts for more than three days, switch to soy-based milk for two weeks to allow the intestines to heal.
Instead of milk during a diarrhea episode, give your toddler electrolyte-balanced drinks such as Pedialyte. Avoid fruit juices, sodas, including ginger ale, and drinks like Gatorade, because the high sugar content pulls more fluid into the intestine and can worsen diarrhea. Electrolyte-balance rehydration drinks should be discarded after 24 hours if not used, since bacteria can proliferate quickly in the solution, eMedTV reports.