Toddlers Diarrhoea & IBS Connection

Worried about toddlers diarrhoea? If you’ve been up Googling late at night in search of answers, you are in the right place.

As parents, it’s crucial to gain a comprehensive understanding of toddlers diarrhoea to navigate this common concern effectively. 

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the world of toddler diarrhoea, explore its potential connection with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and introduce valuable tools for managing and monitoring your child’s digestive health.

What Is Toddler Diarrhoea?

Toddler diarrhoea, a common concern among parents of young children, is characterised by loose and frequent bowel movements in toddlers, often under the age of four. 

While it can be distressing to witness your child experience this condition, it’s essential to gain a comprehensive understanding of it.

Toddlers Diarrhoea: Common Symptoms

If your toddler, under the age of four, is experiencing daily watery stools—sometimes even up to three a day—it’s not uncommon. 

You might notice bits of undigested food like sweetcorn, carrots, or tomatoes in their stools.

The good news is that despite these symptoms, children usually remain clinically well, grow along their expected growth trajectory, and maintain healthy appetites. 

But as a parent, it can be distressing to witness your child frequently dealing with chronic nonspecific diarrhoea. 

It may lead to:

  • Uncomfortable nappy rash
  • Tummy discomfort
  • Difficulty with potty training
  • Irritability and mood changes
  • Reduced appetite during mealtimes, which in the long term could lead to poor weight gain
  • Time away from nursery or school

We understand how challenging it can be to see your little one go through this. 

This is where understanding the potential connection to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) becomes crucial.

Understanding Toddler Diarrhoea

children’s poop described by type, a kid friendly IBS poop chart

As a parent, deciphering the consistency and characteristics of your child’s stools is a valuable skill in understanding their tummy troubles. 

Stools falling within grades 5-7 typically indicate loose to watery stools, a common hallmark of toddler’s diarrhoea.

Normal stools in children are typically sausage-shaped, soft, and easy to pass, earning them a grade 5 on the scale. 

Occasionally, in cases of toddler’s diarrhoea, you might notice intermittent shifts in stool consistency, including bouts of diarrhoea interspersed with days of harder stools, (often graded between 1 to 3 on the Bristol stool scale).

Understanding these variations in stool grading is a crucial step in monitoring your child’s digestive well-being. 

It can provide valuable insights into their symptoms, triggers, and potential connections to conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

By keeping a close eye on their stool patterns, you can take proactive steps to support your child’s digestive health effectively. 

In the Happy Belly Club, you’ll have access to the right tools and monitoring forms to assist you in this endeavour.


Causes of Toddlers Diarrhoea

It’s not fully understood what causes general toddler diarrhoea that affects some children between the ages of one and up to five years. 

However, here are typical reasons for toddler diarrhoea:

  • Gastrointestinal infections, such as viral gastroenteritis
  • Food poisoning
  • Other viral illnesses
  • Food allergies (e.g. cow’s milk protein allergy)
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Coeliac disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

When to Seek Medical Attention For Toddler Diarrhoea

If your child has persistent diarrhoea or you notice blood in their stools, this must be reviewed by a medical doctor to rule out some of the more serious medical reasons for toddler diarrhoea.

The Link Between Toddlers Diarrhoea and IBS

Now that we’ve explored the ins and outs of toddler diarrhoea and learned how to assess your child’s stool consistency, let’s dive into the intriguing connection between toddler’s diarrhoea and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

You see, while we often associate IBS with adults, research has increasingly shown that it can manifest in toddlers and school-aged children too. 

This discovery highlights the importance of looking beyond the immediate symptoms of toddlers diarrhoea.

Here’s the catch: IBS in toddlers may show up differently than it does in adults, which can make it a bit trickier to diagnose. 

Nonetheless, it’s essential to consider the possibility of IBS when your child experiences recurrent and unexplained bouts of toddler diarrhoea.

The reason for this consideration is that IBS shares some common symptoms with toddler’s diarrhoea, including abdominal discomfort, changes in bowel habits, and sometimes even the presence of mucus in stools.

By recognising this potential link, you’ll be better prepared when you speak with your child’s medical doctor and paediatric dietitian. 

However, it’s important to note that a medical review should first rule out more serious conditions like coeliac disease and inflammatory disorders prior to any dietary interventions.


IBS in Toddlers: Exploring the Connection

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a digestive issue that affects children and adolescents, often characterised by either constipation or diarrhoea as their primary concerns. 

IBS can be understood as a cluster of symptoms, which include:

  • Abdominal pain is typically located in the central or lower abdominal region and is often alleviated after a bowel movement.
  • Bloating, with or without visible distension of the abdomen.
  • Excessive gas or wind.
  • Diarrhoea is accompanied by a sense of urgency, sometimes leading to nappy rash.
  • Constipation may be associated with soiling or a feeling of incomplete bowel emptying.

IBS Symptoms in Toddlers

Let’s take a closer look at the specific symptoms that may manifest in toddlers with IBS. Keep in mind that IBS can exhibit differently in young children compared to adults, making it essential to recognize the signs tailored to their age group:

Abdominal Pain: Toddlers with IBS may experience recurrent abdominal pain. This discomfort is typically located in the central or lower abdominal region and often improves after a bowel movement.

Bloating: Bloating is another symptom that may affect toddlers with IBS. It can occur with or without visible distension of the abdomen, contributing to their discomfort.

Excessive Gas: Excessive gas or wind can be a common occurrence in toddlers with IBS. This can lead to additional discomfort and tummy troubles.

Diarrhoea with Urgency: Diarrhoea in IBS toddlers is often accompanied by a sense of urgency. This means that they may need to go quickly, which can sometimes lead to nappy rash.

Constipation and Soiling: On the flip side, some toddlers with IBS may experience constipation. This can be particularly challenging as it may be accompanied by soiling or a feeling of incomplete bowel emptying.

By understanding these specific symptoms in the context of toddlers, you can better identify potential signs of IBS in your child. However, it’s crucial to remember that a medical professional should be consulted to confirm any suspicions and rule out other conditions.

Managing Toddlers Diarrhoea and IBS


Dietary Triggers and Restrictions For Toddler Diarrhoea

Now, let’s talk about what’s on your toddler’s plate and how it might be contributing to those frequent bouts of diarrhoea. It’s crucial to remember that every child is unique, and what triggers one might not trigger another. 

However, there are some common dietary suspects to consider.

Toddler diarrhoea foods to avoid

  • Spicy Foods: Spicy foods can irritate the sensitive digestive systems of toddlers, potentially worsening diarrhoea.
  • High Fibre Intake: While fibre is essential for digestive health, excessive fibre intake, especially insoluble fibre, can lead to loose stools. Monitor your child’s fibre intake to maintain a balanced diet.
  • Fruit Juice: Fruit juices, especially those high in fructose, can contribute to diarrhoea when consumed in excess. Diluting juices and offering them in moderation can help manage symptoms.

Remember, each child is unique, and their tolerance for these foods may vary.

Fruit Juice

While fruit juice may seem like a healthy choice, it’s worth scrutinising your toddler’s juice intake. 

You see, fruit juices can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, they provide essential vitamins and nutrients, but on the other hand, they can be packed with excess fructose.

Fructose is a type of sugar found in fruits, and in large quantities, it can spell trouble for your toddler’s tummy. 

Too much fructose can ferment in the gut, leading to bloating, gas, and, you guessed it, loose stools.

So, if your toddler is sipping on fruit juice throughout the day, it might be time to consider cutting back. 

Don’t worry; this doesn’t mean banning fruit juice entirely. It’s all about finding the right balance to keep your child’s digestive system happy. 

Opt for whole fruits as much as you can, and when you do offer juice, make sure it’s diluted and enjoyed in moderation.  See NHS guidelines for diluting fruit juice for children.

To manage diarrhoea in toddlers, encourage them to drink enough fluids to keep them hydrated.

Read: 7 Ways To Get Your Toddler To Drink Water

By taking a closer look at your child’s diet and making a few strategic adjustments, you can play a pivotal role in alleviating their symptoms. 

But remember, always consult with your paediatrician or paediatric dietitian before making significant dietary changes. 

bread to reduce bloating

Demystifying Gluten: Does It Trigger Toddlers Diarrhoea?

Now, let’s tackle a common dietary suspect that often gets the blame for toddler diarrhoea: gluten.

Many parents worry that gluten-rich foods may be the root cause of their child’s digestive woes, but the truth is a bit more nuanced.

Gluten Tolerance: First things first, most children can digest gluten-rich foods without any issues. 

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye, and it’s a staple in many diets worldwide. 

So, if your toddler loves their bread, pasta, and baked treats, there’s usually no need to hit the panic button.

Fructans in Wheat: However, there’s a twist in the gluten story, especially for some children with IBS. 

It’s not actually the gluten itself that’s the problem but rather a carbohydrate called fructans found in wheat. 

In these cases, a high intake of fructans can contribute to loose stools and tummy troubles.

Toddlers are known for their hearty appetites, and it’s not uncommon for them to enjoy plenty of wheat-based foods like bread, pasta, and baked goods. 

These foods are essential for their growing bodies, providing carbohydrates needed for normal growth and development.

If you suspect that wheat might be playing a role in your child’s diarrhoea, you don’t necessarily need to banish bread from their diet. Sometimes, a simple switch from regular bread to an alternative can make a significant difference.

Read: Does bread cause bloating?

For some children, switching from white to wholemeal bread can do wonders too!

It’s a small adjustment that could have a big impact on your toddler’s comfort.

FODMAPs can trigger toddler diarrhoea

FODMAPs, short for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols, can indeed trigger toddler diarrhoea.

Despite their complex-sounding name, these carbohydrates can significantly impact your child’s stool patterns, especially if they have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

In the Happy Belly Club, following the diagnostic criteria from the ROME Foundation, we assess whether FODMAPs might be contributing to your child’s toddler diarrhoea.

Our approach involves a step-by-step process to identify the specific FODMAPs responsible for your child’s symptoms. By pinpointing the culprits, we can tailor dietary recommendations to ease your child’s discomfort and promote better digestive health.

Our mission as parents is to equip you with the knowledge and tools necessary to support your child’s digestive well-being. Addressing dietary triggers like FODMAPs is a significant step toward enhancing your child’s comfort and overall quality of life.

It’s crucial to seek guidance from a paediatric dietitian who specialises in assisting children with digestive issues like IBS. Referring to the Monash directory can help you find a qualified paediatric dietitian with the necessary expertise.

Their role is instrumental in ensuring that any dietary adjustments made concerning FODMAPs and their impact on your child’s IBS are both safe and tailored to meet your child’s unique requirements.

Keep in mind that FODMAPs are just one part of the puzzle.

Understanding these subtleties empowers you to make informed decisions about your child’s nutritional requirements.

Medications and Supplements

Antibiotics are powerful medicines designed to combat infections. 

However, they come with a double-edged sword effect. 

While they target harmful bacteria causing illnesses, they can also inadvertently kill the beneficial gut bacteria, which play a crucial role in digestion and overall gut health.

When the delicate balance of gut bacteria is disrupted by antibiotics, it can lead to a bout of diarrhoea, often referred to as antibiotic-related diarrhoea. 

It’s a short-term side effect that can be uncomfortable for your child.

Fortunately, there’s a solution that can help alleviate these temporary symptoms: probiotics. 

Probiotics are beneficial live bacteria and yeasts that can support your child’s gut health, particularly during antibiotic treatment.

When considering probiotics for your child, it’s crucial to opt for ones that are proven to help relieve the symptoms of antibiotic-related diarrhoea. 

There’s a wide array of probiotic supplements available, including those specifically formulated for kids.

These probiotics can help restore the balance of good bacteria in your child’s gut and mitigate the digestive disruptions caused by antibiotics.

If you’re looking for guidance on the best probiotics for kids, be sure to check out our comprehensive guide on the 12 Best Probiotics For Kids. 

It provides insights into probiotic options that are safe and effective for children.

Incorporating probiotics into your child’s routine during antibiotic treatment can make a significant difference in their comfort and antibiotic-related diarrhoea. 

Prevention Strategies for Toddlers Diarrhoea

Preventing toddler diarrhoea and its link to IBS completely may not always be possible. However, parents can take steps to reduce the risk and manage symptoms effectively.

A well-balanced diet, with a focus on fibre and avoidance of trigger foods, is key to prevention. Encourage regular handwashing and hygiene to prevent gastrointestinal infections that can lead to diarrhoea. Additionally, creating a calm, stress-free environment for your child can help manage IBS-related symptoms, as stress can worsen toddler diarrhoea.

Rachel sought my assistance for her toddler’s persistent leaky nappy problem, concerned about dietary triggers for the diarrhoea.

With the Happy Belly Club’s step-by-step approach, Rachel tackled the issue and achieved successful potty training.

The Happy Belly Club is a comprehensive programme for infants and older children’s digestive health. The programme can help you identify and manage simple constipation, paediatric IBS-type constipation, diarrhoea and other tummy troubles.

Book a discovery call today to get the support you need.


In the world of parenting, tackling toddler diarrhoea can be a challenging journey. However, remember that you’re not alone. There is a path to providing your little one with the care and support they need. 

With your newfound insight into toddler diarrhoea and its link to IBS, you’re well-prepared to navigate these challenges.

Remember, every child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. 

Seek guidance from medical professionals and IBS-trained paediatric dietitians, and explore tailored solutions to restore your toddler’s gut. 

Through diligence, patience, and the right resources, you can help your child embark on a healthier, more comfortable digestive journey.

Bahee Van de Bor is a registered paediatric dietitian, specialising in gut health, food intolerance and fussy eating. You can work with her 1-2-1 inside the Happy Belly Club.

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