How to Care for Stomach Bugs
An age-by-age guide by the author of The New Basics
Vomiting From a Stomach Virus
Vomiting can be quite violent, especially at the onset of the illness. At first, food comes out, but soon there is no more food, only a thin green bile. In general, vomiting won’t last for more than twenty-four hours, especially if the fluid is replaced. Even more than diarrhea, vomiting can cause dehydration.
Stomach viruses are rare in infants, since tiny tots don’t attend nursery school, but when a virus does strike (possibly brought home by an older sibling), vigilance is the key. An infant, especially a young one, can become very dehydrated after just a few hours of vomiting. Keep in mind that other causes of vomiting, such as blockage of the intestine, may be mistaken for a stomach virus.
If Lucy suddenly vomits on more than one occasion (and if it’s real vomiting instead of just a little spitting up), you should continue to feed her breast milk or formula in small amounts, and call your doctor for advice.
With older kids, vomiting can usually be handled at home with simple measures. The goal is to prevent dehydration in the first twenty-four hours by replacing fluids. If you manage to replenish the liquids he’s losing, Jimmy’s body will do the rest and build its defenses to banish the viral intruder.
When to Worry
- If the vomiting persists for more than 24 hours, especially if it remains intense.
- If the tiniest amount of fluid makes Jimmy vomit.
- If there are signs of dehydration. If Jimmy becomes dehydrated, he’ll appear tired and pale. His eyes will barely stay open, and he’ll produce very little urine. These signs indicate that oral rehydration isn’t working. You should go to the doctor’s office or the hospital so Jimmy can receive intravenous fluids.
When Not to Worry
- If Jimmy remains active.
- If the vomiting recurs once or twice after subsiding for a day or two. This may indicate that you have been too quick to reintroduce foods that are a little tough on the tummy, such as pizza, despite Jimmy’s encouraging cravings.
What to Do
- Give Jimmy the tiniest amount of liquid he will tolerate without vomiting, but give it almost continuously until the vomiting has settled. Use an eyedropper if you have to, and go sloooowly. Too much volume will distend and irritate the intestine, and that will trigger more vomiting.
- As far as the type of liquid, you can use any soft drink (cola, ginger ale, sports drink) diluted by half with water and served at room temperature. Commercial rehydration solutions such as Pedialyte are expensive and not really any more effective than sodas at preventing dehydration.
- For baby Lucy, you can use small quantities of breast milk or formula diluted with twice as much water. If she vomits more than a couple of times, switch her to clear fluids, just, as you would an older child.
- Give only fluid until at least six hours after the vomiting ends. You can then start reintroducing very bland solid foods, such as crackers or dry cereal. Again, go very slowly. If Jimmy tolerates food, you can creep back toward a regular diet. If at any time vomiting begins again, go back to the fluid replacement as explained above.
What Not to Do
- Don’t use plain water. You need to replace minerals, salts, and sugars, along with the water.
- Don’t reintroduce solid foods too quickly.
- Don’t give cow’s milk or full-strength formula until the vomiting has subsided.
- Don’t use antivomiting suppositories. They’re inefficient and potentially dangerous.
In most cases, vomiting will last for a day or so and then subside. It could be followed by diarrhea, which entails another set of problems.
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