An upset stomach in your baby or child can have any number of causes. Illnesses, motion sickness, or an infection of the digestive tract may be at the root of tummy troubles.
Fortunately, with time, hydration, and a few simple remedies, your child’s vomiting and stomach pain will likely subside.
If your kiddo’s under the weather with an upset stomach — and you want to know what you can do to help — we’ve got you covered. Here are our tips for treating it at home and when it’s time to see the doctor.
There’s no single surefire way to halt puking in its tracks. (If only!) The sad-but-true reality: The best course of action is usually to simply let an illness run its course.
In fact, though it might be tempting to reach for medication for a vomiting child, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against using any over-the-counter or prescription anti-vomiting drugs in kids (unless specifically advised to by your pediatrician).
Using antibiotics to treat throwing up is especially discouraged, as many stomach illnesses are caused by viruses, not bacteria.
Typically, the more important goal is to make sure your child stays hydrated throughout their bout of sickness. As they lose fluids through throwing up, giving them plenty to drink (and plenty of love and attention) is your best bet.
When you’re watching your kid upchuck for the fourth time in an hour, it’s only natural to want to do something. But with medications more or less off the table as a treatment, are there any ways you can actually help your poor sick kiddo? Yes — to a degree.
As mentioned, staying hydrated is the name of the game for bouncing back from gastrointestinal (GI) ailments.
To keep your baby hydrated, offer breast milk or formula at least 15 to 20 minutes after vomiting has subsided. Even if they only take in a small amount of liquid, that’s OK. Continue to offer frequently.
For toddlers and older kids, you have more options for hydrating drinks. Besides water, you can try offering:
- ginger ale
- nonsugary electrolyte beverages (such as Pedialyte)
In addition to providing fluids, focus your energy on offering appropriate foods, especially as your child recovers. A diet of mild, easily digestible foods is best. These may include:
- non-acidic fruits like bananas, melons, and figs
- lean meats without added seasonings
- rice or mashed potatoes
- toast, crackers, or plain cereal
- breast milk or formula for babies and toddlers
And what about probiotics, you may wonder? The most current research shows that the good gut bugs don’t do much to help kids get over stomach flu.
In the majority of cases, your child won’t require medical intervention to stop vomiting. Most instances of throwing up will go away on their own. However, sometimes, if vomiting is severe or goes on for a lengthy stretch, your doctor may prescribe medication.
Zofran is an anti-nausea drug often given to chemotherapy patients and sometimes prescribed for severe vomiting and diarrhea in children. Though it’s likely to be given to your child in extreme circumstances only, such as in the emergency room or while hospitalized, it’s possible your pediatrician may prescribe it for at-home use.
After your child loses fluids through vomiting, they’ll need help replenishing their stores. Children become dehydrated more easily than adults because of their higher metabolism and the fact that a greater percentage of their bodies are made of water.
Your child’s pediatrician can help you determine exactly how much fluid they need (and how often), but in general, it’s best to start small.
For infants, you can start by dispensing a single teaspoon of fluid in a syringe, rather than a spoon or cup. As they begin to tolerate this, increase the amount of fluid gradually.
For toddlers and older kids, offer small sips of water or other fluids at intervals of about 5 to 10 minutes. Once they’re able to keep this much down, let them slowly add more.
For all the advancements in our modern medical technology, it’s not always possible to zero in on exactly why your child is dealing with stomach pain and vomiting.
Still, some common causes include:
- infection with the norovirus, rotavirus, or adenovirus
- motion sickness
- food poisoning
- food allergies
- infections of other parts of the body, such as the ears or urinary tract
Kids are, of course, more prone to developing stomach infections simply because they don’t follow the same hygiene practices as adults. Babies and toddlers do all sorts of things that aren’t exactly typical for the average adult — from putting random objects in their mouths to crawling on the floor to picking each other’s noses.
Meanwhile, children’s immune and digestive systems are still developing, making them more susceptible to GI infections.
You can help your child prevent frequent stomach bugs by teaching them healthy habits. Hand-washing (especially before meals and after using the bathroom), a nutritious diet, plenty of physical activity, and good, consistent sleep go a long way toward keeping viral infections at bay.
Let’s face it: Vomiting is gross — and sometimes borderline violent. Since it’s such a dramatic, unpleasant symptom, it can be tough to gauge the seriousness of the situation. So when should you tough it out at home and when should you call the doctor?
In general, the following warning signs in children mean it’s time to seek medical attention:
- a fever of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher
- severe stomach pain
- refusal to drink fluids
- signs of severe dehydration, such as listlessness, fast heart rate, no tears, or no urine for 6 hours or more
- vomiting after a head injury
- muscle stiffness
- bloody diarrhea
- symptoms that continue to worsen
Vomiting and stomach illness in young infants may require medical attention more quickly, as children this age can become dehydrated rapidly. If your baby under 3 months old has these symptoms, call your doctor immediately.
- no wet diapers for 4 to 6 hours
- refusal to drink fluids
- vomiting after every feeding
- an absence of tears
- sunken fontanel
- nonstop crying
- a tight, hard abdomen
While it’s always an ordeal to watch your kid go through something like this, the good news is that most GI illnesses come and go quickly. (Whew!)
Since experts don’t typically recommend vomiting or nausea medicines for kids, it’s best to give your kiddo plenty of TLC and hang on until the storm of passes. Pretty soon they’ll be back to running around playing — rather than running to the bathroom to toss their cookies.
Of course, if you have concerns about the severity or duration of your child’s illness, don’t hesitate to reach out to a medical professional. A visit to your pediatrician can set your mind at ease — or get to the bottom of a more serious concern.