When your child is vomiting, no one involved is happy. They’re miserable, you’re concerned and you’re probably worried about what to do and how to keep it from spreading to other family members, especially if you have other small children. The good news is while it’s exhausting for both you and your little one, illnesses that cause vomiting are typically short-lived and will go away on their own. That doesn’t mean you can let your guard down, though.
Get to the Bottom of What’s Causing it
First and foremost, call your child’s pediatrician. He or she will know your child's health and whether there’s any sickness “going around.” Vomiting could be a sign of gastroenteritis, or what you probably know as the stomach flu. Gastroenteritis is caused by common viruses that we come into contact with every day. Because kids frequently put their fingers in their mouths, they’re more prone to getting the stomach flu. Along with vomiting, gastroenteritis can also cause nausea, fever, stomach pain and diarrhea. It typically lasts anywhere from 12 to 72 hours.
If your child has the stomach flu, the virus will run its course over a couple of days. During that time, however, it is important to keep your child comfortable and hydrated. The most dangerous facet of a stomach illness like gastroenteritis is that it may cause your child to lose fluid and nutrients very quickly, so it’s vitally important to replenish those so you child doesn’t end up dehydrated. Your child’s doctor may recommend an oral electrolyte solution. These can be found over the counter at most grocery and drug stores and in a variety of flavors.
Here’s a quick overview of how to treat vomiting by age:
- If your child is younger than 1, do not give plain water to replenish nutrients unless instructed by your doctor. This can disrupt the balance of nutrients in their system. Breastfed babies can be fed smaller amounts for shorter periods of time every two hours until they stop vomiting. Once vomiting has stopped for eight hours, you can return to your normal breastfeeding schedule. Formula babies can be given small, but frequent, amounts of formula with a small amount of electrolyte solution mixed in.
- If your child is older than 1, give clear liquids in small amounts every 10-15 minutes. Avoid milk products. If they’re still vomiting, give them a smaller amount of fluid every 10-15 minutes. After they have not vomited for eight hours, reintroduce solid foods slowly, starting with bland foods like crackers, toast or mashed potatoes.
Remember, this is a contagious virus, so keep your kids home from school and make sure everyone in your house is washing their hands regularly.
It is also important to remember that over-the-counter medications that treat the symptoms of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea aren’t necessarily recommended for kids, so talk to your doctor before giving any of these to a child.
When to Be Concerned
Chances are your child’s illness will be over within 48 hours, but if you notice any of the following, call your doctor immediately:
- Your baby, younger than 1 year old, is vomiting an entire feeding
- Sudden onset of abdominal pain
- Persistent dark green vomit
- Worsening of condition
- Blood in vomit
The biggest concern during bouts of the stomach flu is dehydration. If you notice any of these signs, get your child medical help immediately:
- Fewer than four wet diapers per day
- Few or no tears when crying
- The soft spot on your baby’s head appears flatter than normal
- Baby appears weak
In kids and teenagers:
- Dry mouth
- Dry, wrinkled skin (you might notice this around their upper arms and legs, or on their belly)
- No urination for six to eight hours
- Decreased alertness
- Very fast or weak pulse
- Sunken eyes
- Rapid breathing
If none of the above signs are present, then arm yourself with towels, rubber gloves and hot water for clean-up duty and prepare to wait it out.
Dr. Wright is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Tanglewood Clinic. Child obesity, newborn care and ADHD are among her top clinical interests. Being around kids makes every day at work fun for her.