As babies develop into toddlers they make the switch from breast milk or formula to whole milk, and eat more and more solid foods. This significantly changes the appearance of their bowel movements. Once soft and unformed, toddler stools tend to have more structure. Toddlers who have loose stools might not be getting enough good fats in their diets.
Loose Stool vs. Diarrhea
There is a difference between loose stool and diarrhea. Loose stool refer to the consistency of your child's poop. A loose stool is soft and unformed, with a higher liquid-like content than usual. Conversely, diarrhea refers to the frequency of your child's bowel movements. A child with diarrhea has frequent, very loose stools, often characterized by a foul smell. Regular loose stools in toddlers is called toddler's diarrhea and often is due to extra fluids or too much fruit juice. However, according to the Riley Hospital for Children, a lower fat diet is another common cause of loose stools in toddlers.
When a toddler has either loose stools or toddler's diarrhea, a common first step is to add more fat to their diets. According to Dr. Ari Brown, pediatrician and contributor to the book "Toddler 411," high-fat foods increase the amount of bulk in your child's stool. She is not, however, referring to junk foods. Instead, Dr. Brown recommends feeding your toddler avocado, nuts, fish or meats, which allow the stool to form before it passes through the bowels. Another healthy choice is whole milk yogurt. In addition to being high in healthy fats, yogurt contains probiotics, which can restore the healthy flora to your toddler's gut.
Other Causes of Loose Stool
If increasing the amount of fats in your toddler's diet does not change the appearance of his stool, he might have a more serious issue. Chronic intestinal infections and rare disorders of the bowels, such as celiac disease, can cause chronic loose stools. Another possible cause of frequent loose stools is a food allergy, such as to lactose. The frequent loose stools caused by these disorders might occur in the absence of any other symptoms, making it easy to confuse them with less-serious disorders such as toddler's diarrhea. However, any sudden change in your child's bowel movements should be discussed with his pediatrician, especially if it persists.
When to See the Doctor
Some types of loose stools require immediate medical attention. If your toddler's poop is loose and watery and contains blood or mucous, he might have an infection that requires medical attention. In addition, loose stool accompanied by vomiting warrants a call to the pediatrician. However, if your child seems happy and healthy other than his loose stools, changing what he eats might make the difference. If increasing the healthy fats in his diet does not do the trick, talk to his doctor about an elimination diet to see if any of his regular foods are causing the problem. When all else fails, take your child to his pediatrician.