Caring for a child with diarrhoea and vomiting

Here we discuss how to look after your child with a sickness bug at home and stop the spread, and when to seek urgent medical advice.

Caring for a child with diarrhoea and vomiting at home

If your child has diarrhoea and vomiting, keep them at home and make sure they stay hydrated and get plenty of rest (NHS, 2018).

Do not give them anti-diarrhoeal medications. Instead, ask your GP or pharmacist whether you should give your baby oral rehydration solution (NHS, 2018). This helps replace the water and salts lost through vomiting and diarrhoea.

"If your child seems dehydrated, they’ll need extra fluids. Carry on breastfeeding or giving your baby their usual formula milk feeds (NHS, 2018)."

Formula-fed babies can also have drinks of water between feeds (NHS, 2018). Keep giving them formula at the usual strength – never water it down (NHS, 2018).

Toddlers over one year old can have other drinks, such as full-fat cows' milk. Avoid fruit juice and fizzy drinks as these can make diarrhoea worse. If your child is on solid foods, offer them food as usual if they seem to want it (NHS, 2018).

Keep them home from nursery and baby groups until they are better so they get plenty of rest and don’t spread the infection (NHS, 2018). As soon as they feel able to eat again, return them to their normal diet.

How to stop diarrhoea and vomiting spreading

Make sure everyone in the family washes their hands frequently, preferably using liquid soap with warm running water. They also need to dry their hands properly (NHS, 2018). Hands should be washed after going to the toilet (children) and changing nappies (parents/carers) and before preparing, serving or eating food. Towels used by infected children should not be shared (NICE, 2009).

Babies or children shouldn't swim in public swimming pools for two weeks after their diarrhoea and vomiting has stopped (NHS Choices, 2018). Children should not attend school or other childcare facility while they have diarrhoea or vomiting caused by gastroenteritis (NICE, 2009).

Children (and adults) are at their most infectious from when their symptoms start until two days after they've stopped (NHS, 2018). Keep your child off nursery or school until at least 48 hours since their diarrhoea or vomiting finished.

Get medical advice urgently if your child:

  • Is under eight weeks old and you're very worried about them.
  • Has vomiting that lasts longer than one to two days, or diarrhoea lasting longer than five to seven days, or they're showing signs of dehydration. Dehydration can be very serious especially in under fives.
  • Seems to be deteriorating rather than getting better.
  • Has a temperature of over 38°C for a baby less than three months old, or a temperature over 39°C  for a baby aged three to six months old.
  • Has blood or mucus in their poo.
  • Has bile-stained (green) vomit or their vomit contains blood.
  • Has severe abdominal pain.
  • Is vomiting constantly and can't keep down fluids.
  • Is vomiting and develops sudden and severe tummy pain, or they're floppy, irritable or less responsive.
  • If they're vomiting and have a headache, stiff neck and a rash.
  • If you think they may be getting dehydrated. Dehydration can be serious in babied and young children.

(NICE, 2009; NHS Choices, 2017, 2018)

Keep an eye out for signs of dehydration as this can be very serious for children under five years old and may need emergency treatment (NICE, 2009).

If you’re worried about any symptoms your child has, talk to your GP, call 111 for advice or in a medical emergency call 999. Check with your GP before going in for an appointment as they may suggest a phone check-up to help prevent spreading the infection.

This page was last reviewed in April 2018.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

NHS Choices has useful information about diarrhoea and vomiting in children and dehydration in under 5s.

NHS. (2017) Does your child have a serious illness? Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/spotting-signs-serious-illness/#signs-of-serious-illness-in-a-baby-or-toddler [Accessed 15th April 2018]

NHS. (2018) Diarrhoea and vomiting. Available from:  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/diarrhoea-and-vomiting/#child-treatment [Accessed 15th April 2018]

NICE. (2009) Diarrhoea and vomiting in children - Diarrhoea and vomiting caused by gastroenteritis: diagnosis, assessment and management in children younger than 5 years. Available from: https://www.nice.org.uk/Guidance/CG84 [Accessed 15th April 2018]

 

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