A stomach infection, or gastroenteritis, is a very common reason parents contact the pediatrician. Most stomach infections are usually self-limiting. The concern with children, more so than adults, is dehydration from stomach infections when children lose fluids from the body. It is important to know what to look for and how to prevent dehydration.
Viruses are the cause of most stomach infections, and present with vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, loss of appetite and sometimes fever. As a mom, I know it is so hard to see your child vomiting. Hang in there. The vomiting usually subsides first, within the first day or two, and the diarrhea continues longer as the virus runs out of the child’s system. Often, once the vomiting subsides, the diarrhea can linger for days later – even up to a week.
The main treatment is to prevent dehydration with the fluid loss. It is important to try to give fluids to your child. Early in the illness, when your child has vomiting, it is important to encourage just sips of fluids at a time to keep it from coming back up. Sips, even with a syringe if necessary, are vital. However, be sure to hold off on giving anything to drink for about an hour after vomiting to let your child’s stomach rest. Otherwise, more likely than not, your child will vomit it right back up.
Another option is ice pops, which work well in children who don’t have an interest in eating or cannot tolerate larger amounts without vomiting. For younger babies, a syringe is also helpful for giving small amounts of fluid at a time.
Fluids such as Pedialyte electrolyte solution – or breast milk or formula for younger children – are good options to be used. Hold off on juices! Apple juice, for example, can actually worsen diarrhea. Often, once the vomiting subsides, your child will be thirsty and hungry. Initially limit what your child takes in, and gradually introduce sips and foods.
When your child is tolerating fluids, you can start with bland foods, including toast, crackers, rice, jello and bananas. As your child starts improving, slowly resume a normal diet. Taking too much all at once when your child is hungry and thirsty is also a common reason why your child may vomit again.
It is important to watch for signs of dehydration. A good way to measure this is to ensure you see wet diapers in younger children. Make sure your child is urinating and check that you see tears. It is important to call your doctor if you don’t see tears when your child is crying, or if there are no wet diapers during the day, within about 8 hours.
Do not use any medications to stop the diarrhea – this can just prolong the illness. If the diarrhea goes on for longer than a week, or you notice blood in the diarrhea, be sure to contact your doctor.
Just remember that encouraging fluids and keeping your child hydrated is most important (in addition to giving lots of hugs!). As a mom, I’ve been there with a child with a stomach virus. I know it can be difficult for parents to see their child feel so sick. Dealing with a sick child (and never ending laundry!) can be exhausting and difficult for parents.
The good news is that most stomach viruses resolve quickly. Always be sure to speak to your pediatrician if you have any concerns or questions.
Ali is a board certified pediatrician who practiced general pediatrics for five years in a busy private practice in Manhattan NY. She since has moved into the pharmaceutical industry and oversees and mentors many physicians globally. She enjoys sharing her knowledge and experiences as a pediatrician with other moms and dads. Ali’s outside interests include working out, acting, piano, guitar, dance and being a mom! Ali currently lives in NYC with her husband, 3 year old daughter and 1 year old son.
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