Expert advice on how to treat vomiting in children and prevent dehydration.
Reviewed by Stuart Crisp
Everyone suffers from sickness every once in a while, children included. If you’re little one is vomiting, it’s not usually a cause for a concern – but that doesn’t mean it’s a pleasant experience for anyone involved.
It is, however, important to understand what is causing your kid to throw up and how to stop them from getting dehydrated in the process. With that in mind, we look at the causes, treatment and prevention of vomiting in children:
What is vomiting?
Almost all infants vomit occasionally. This applies to both breastfed and bottle fed children. When a child becomes ill, from any cause, their stomach may stop working properly.
It does not empty as fast as usual, and this causes the food to come up again. Unwell children will vomit easily. It’s unpleasant for a child to vomit, but it is seldom dangerous.
What causes vomiting in children?
Many different things can make children vomit. These include:
- If it’s only a small amount and the baby is well, it may be because the child has eaten or drunk too much and vomits the surplus
- Vomiting may occur in cases of stomach upset (gastroenteritis), often together with diarrhoea. It is usually due to a viral infection
- If a child gets an ear infection, an infection of the airways or the urinary system, the appendix, the throat or chest, and runs a temperatureat the same time – this often causes vomiting.
- Children who are under a lot of stress at school, or at home, may occasionally vomit. If this happens repeatedly, it would be wise to consult your doctor.
Vomiting in children treatment tips
After a child has vomited, help them rinse their mouth with water because vomit has a sour taste, or they may like to clean their teeth. Smaller children who cannot rinse their mouths can have a little water to drink.
A child is often cold, sweaty and tired after they have vomited. Wipe their face with a damp cloth and let them rest. Most children want to go to sleep afterwards and that is fine. Check on them frequently, and be prepared to help if they are sick again.
Breastfeeding can be continued. But if vomiting continues, call the doctor. If it’s an older child who vomits, avoid giving them milk, dairy products or fatty foods for a couple of days because these are not well absorbed if the stomach is inflamed because of the vomiting.
Avoid giving your sick child milk, dairy products or fatty foods for a couple of days.
They should not drink a lot straight away after vomiting because the fluid may irritate the stomach and cause them to be sick again. If they can’t keep the fluid down, let them rest for a couple of hours then start giving them frequent small drinks, eg a teaspoonful every couple of minutes.
In the meantime: if your child is thirsty, give them small amounts of water using a teaspoon. Water is easier for the stomach to handle, if it’s not ice cold. If the child wants to drink too much, too fast, give them a clean facecloth soaked in cold water to suck, or an ice-cube or ice lolly.
How to prevent dehydration in sick children
Make sure the child doesn’t become dehydrated by giving them plenty of fluids to drink. An oral rehydration solution, breast milk or water are recommended and are better than diluted juice or ‘flat’ cola.
If vomiting occurs together with diarrhoea, it will result in a loss of fluids. This may not be serious if it only lasts for a couple of days. But if it occurs for longer, your doctor or health visitor should be consulted.
Make sure the child doesn’t become dehydrated by giving them plenty of fluids to drink.
They may advise you to buy carbohydrate and electrolyte solution or powder at the chemist. These rehydration solutions (such as Dioralyte, Rehidrat) are added to water to make sure the child gets enough salts and energy. They are also available on prescription from your GP or from your pharmacist for children under two years old. Your doctor or pharmacist can advise you on how much oral rehydration fluid to give your child.
If your child continues to vomit or have diarrhoea, call the doctor.
Is vomiting in children ever serious?
In rare cases, if a baby of three to five weeks suddenly begins to vomit in a recurrent and violent manner, it is possibly pyloric stenosis – the narrowing of the muscular outlet of the stomach. This baby will feed, vomit and then look hungry again. Seek medical help right away.
If your child acts strangely, seems confused or is hard to communicate with, call the doctor.
Pyloric stenosis will need to be corrected by surgery, and recovery will be complete. Vomiting in a child under four can also be due to intussusception where one part of the bowel is telescopes into another. In the case of infants, they will pull up their legs, go pale and may pass blood in their stools, which are usually loose.
A doctor should be consulted urgently. But an operation isn’t always necessary. If your child acts strangely, seems confused or is hard to communicate with, call the doctor.