All About Diarrhea

Posted 3.31.11 | Rob McCandlish, RDN

Here at Neocate, we get lots of questions about diapers. I mean lots! Many questions relate to constipation or diarrhea. We’ve posted about constipation in the past, but I thought it would be helpful to pull together our past comments on diarrhea, as well as provide some more medical information on the topic courtesy of the National Institutes of Health, or NIH.

Defining “Diarrhea”

Simply defined, diarrhea is loose, watery stools. It also means having these loose stools three or more times a day. There are more specific guidelines, but most people know diarrhea when they see it. Diarrhea happens to everyone, usually about once a year for adults and twice a year for young children.

Typically, diarrhea is acute, meaning that it lasts one or two days and then goes away. This type of diarrhea is typically caused by an infection. If diarrhea lasts more than two days, it can be something more serious. Diarrhea lasting more than two to four weeks – chronic diarrhea – may be a symptom of a chronic disease or condition.

The concern with diarrhea, especially when it lasts more than two days, is a risk of dehydration. Our bodies absorb most of the water and some minerals at the end of our digestive tract. When we have diarrhea we can’t absorb those things, leading to dehydration, which can be serious.

Diarrhea in Infants

New parents quickly become experts at several things, one of which is changing diapers. Since infants go through about eight diapers a day, parents easily pick up on anything abnormal. Every baby’s stools are different in terms of how watery they are, which makes defining diarrhea in infants difficult. To keep it simple, diarrhea is typically a sudden onset of frequent bowel movements that are more watery than usual.

The risk of dehydration from diarrhea is much higher in children than most adults, and especially in infants. Since infants can’t tell us what they’re feeling, it’s important to keep an eye out for signs of dehydration. With children and infants, you shouldn’t hesitate to call their healthcare provider if you have concerns. For infants under 4 months, the recommendation is that you contact the doctor at the first sign of diarrhea or dehydration.

Diarrhea and Food Allergies

Pulling this all together, diarrhea is one of the top signs of a food allergy, especially for infants. In infants with food allergies, diarrhea often lasts more than just a few days and may even be combined with other symptoms. It’s not uncommon to also see blood or mucus in the stool. Diarrhea can also result from lactose intolerance, which is not as severe as a food allergy, but which may also require a change in diet.

Like we hear from many Neocate parents, diarrhea is often one of the first signs to clear up after they start using Neocate. This is because Neocate doesn’t contain any lactose (or any dairy at all!) or whole proteins. These substances would normally cause a reaction in the body that leads to poor absorption and diarrhea. Infants are able to absorb the nutrients they need from Neocate without the bad reaction that often results in diarrhea. Most parents tell us that the switch to Neocate has meant more solid stools and many fewer diapers.

- Rob

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Read Comments (8)

  • 2016-09-18 | Vanessa Williams

    My son just turned 1. He’s been on Neocate full time since I stopped nursing him around 7 months. We transitioned to Neocate Junior with Prebiotics last week. He’s been having diarrhea every day—about 3 times a day…getting worse this weekend to about 5 - 7 times a day. Do you have any experience with this and do you know what it could mean? i.e. is this normal…is there a transition period…or should I not do Neocate anymore? Thank you.

  • 2016-09-19 | Nutrition Specialist

    We’re sorry to hear that your little one has had an increase in stools. For some, a transition period from the previous formula to the new formula is beneficial. The fading technique is often used to help with this transition: .

    Please don’t hesitate to contact our team of Nutrition Specialists if you have any further questions (Monday-Friday, 8:30a-5:00p EST at 1-800-365-7354, option 2). If you haven’t done so already, we would encourage you to discuss this concern with your little one’s health care professional as well.

  • 2016-12-28 | Abby

    My 8 week old has been on Neocate for over a month now due to reflux and several food allergies. His bowels have definitely changed and are less frequent. But the past two weeks, they have changed to the point that he only has a bm every 3rd day and when he does go, its explosive and a very thick, paint like consistency. Is this normal on Neocate? Before he was having a bowel movement daily if not multiple per day. This is a big change. Also worried about how much is coming out on that 3rd day and how watery and paint like it is. Bc it’s only once every third day, it doesn’t fit the definition of diarrhea bc it’s not multiple times in a day but it looks like diarrhea to me. Cld this just be how poop looks for him on Neocate?

  • 2016-12-29 | Nutrition Specialist

    Hi Abby,
      Great questions! What you described isn’t unusual. A lot of Neocate babies have a bowel movement once every day or every other day, but some have them less frequently, like you described. The consistency you mentioned - paint like - isn’t unheard of with amino acid-based formulas like Neocate. To answer your final question, yes, this is probably his “normal” on an amino acid-based infant formula.
      That said, you could ask his healthcare team if they would suggest any type of fiber or prebiotic supplement. Prebiotics can mimic something in breast milk, human milk oligosaccharides, that can influence stools. It’s possible prebiotics could mildly influence his stools. We recently launched Neocate Syneo Infant, which is like the Neocate Infant DHA/ARA that you’re using, but with added prebiotics and probiotics. The research behind Neocate Syneo Infant found that there may be some minor changes in stool characteristics (e.g. color and consistency) with this formula compared to a formula without pre- and probiotics, though usually not be a big difference. Also, in the first days/weeks of using Neocate Syneo Infant, babies may have a little more gas or flatulence, which may cause some temporary discomfort or fussiness. If you’re curious about trying Neocate Syneo Infant, talk to your baby’s healthcare team. Best of luck to you Abby!

  • 2016-12-31 | Anonymous

    I need your advice. My son Will be 3 months next week.
    He was on a high calorie diet to help gain weight for a vsd and was on alimentum ready to serve with alimentum powder (reflux).
    Had diarrhea it’s a week now so I switched to neocate Dha ara it is now two days and he still has some bouts of diarrhea. Sometimes he has little and sometimes it’s of a darker shade. Is this normal?
    Just to let you know - I am following a recipe for higher calories.
    Do u think I am on the correct neocate or is the dha ara too strong?
    Would appreciate a response.
    Please help.

  • 2017-01-02 | Nutrition Specialist

      We’re sorry you’ve had to deal with so much so soon with your little one. After two days, it’s probably still too early to tell what your son’s “normal” will be on an amino acid-based formula like Neocate. The general guidance is that it takes up to around 2 weeks to see most of the adjustment in terms of frequency, color and consistency. That’s also usually enough time to see most of the improvement in any food allergy-related signs and symptoms.
      Neocate Infant DHA/ARA is our standard Neocate, so it wouldn’t be too strong. Just make sure to follow the mixing instructions provided by your healthcare team. The other infant formula we offer is Neocate Syneo Infant, which has added prebiotics and probiotics. If you have further questions about what you should be seeing or the mixing, check with your healthcare team first.
      Best of luck to you!

  • 2017-09-15 | Kasia

    Is there a difference between neocate and neocate syneo can it cause issues? I just switched and I think my 5 month old has issues with syneo…her poop from dark green and smelly changes to yellow sour smelling and she poops 5 times a day instead of regular one time….

  • 2017-09-19 | Nutrition Specialist

    Hi Kasia,
        Great question! It’s not unusual for a little one to take some time - up to about 2 weeks - to adjust to a new hypoallergenic formula. What you’re describing with your daughter’s switch from Neocate Infant to Neocate Syneo isn’t unusual.
        Neocate Syneo is our most advanced infant formula and is the only hypoallergenic formula with an added probiotic and prebiotics, specifically designed to support food-allergic infants. This for some infants leads to stool that is more similar to that of breastfed infants - yellow and more frequent - like you’re describing. You can read answers to some FAQs here -
    And this page has a handy guide to help with a gradual transition, if your healthcare team recommends it -
        Best of luck to you!

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Food Allergy Living is a resource for parents of children with food allergies, brought to you by Nutricia, the makers of Neocate. For more in-depth information about our purpose & authors, see our About Food Allergy Living page.