About vomiting in babies, children and teenagers
Vomiting in children has many causes, but the most common are minor illnesses like gastroenteritis or urinary tract infections. Sometimes even colds can cause vomiting in children.
Other causes of vomiting include motion sickness and more serious illnesses like appendicitis or meningitis.
Young babies tend to vomit up small amounts of milk after feeds. This is known as gastro-oesophageal reflux.
Vomiting is very common in children. But it can be an unpleasant and frightening experience for you and your child. It might help to know that children usually get over vomiting very quickly.
Symptoms related to vomiting
Children who are vomiting often also have stomach pain, diarrhoea and nausea.
Dehydration is one of the serious risks of vomiting, especially in young babies. Signs of dehydration include fewer wees (with fewer wet nappies in babies), sunken eyes, dry tongue and mouth, loss of weight, tiredness and lethargy.
Does your child need to see a doctor about vomiting?
If your child is under 6 months old and has vomiting, always see your GP.
You should take your child to the GP if your child:
- is vomiting often and can’t seem to keep fluids down
- has poor weight gain because of vomiting.
Take your child to a hospital emergency department straight away if your child:
- seems dehydrated – they’re doing fewer wees than usual or no wees at all, look pale and thin, have sunken eyes, cold hands and cold feet, or are drowsy or cranky
- has blood-stained or green vomit
- has severe or persistent stomach pain with vomiting
- shows signs of being very unwell.
Projectile vomiting is when young babies throw up the contents of their stomachs with a lot of force. This can be linked to a serious condition called pyloric stenosis. If your child has projectile vomiting that happens often and doesn’t seem to be going away, you should see your doctor as soon as you can.
You know your child best, so trust your instincts if your child doesn’t seem well. Signs that your child has a serious illness that requires urgent medical attention include severe pain, drowsiness, pale or blue skin, dehydration, troubled breathing, seizures and reduced responsiveness.
Treatment for vomiting
If your child is vomiting from illnesses like gastro or food poisoning, the most important thing is to make sure your child has enough to drink. Your child also needs reassurance and comfort.
Give your child small amounts to drink often – for example, a few mouthfuls every 15 minutes. This will help to prevent dehydration.
It’s best to use an oral rehydration fluid like Gastrolyte, Hydralyte, Pedialyte or Repalyte. You can buy these fluids over the counter from a pharmacy. These products might come as premade liquid, powder or icy poles for freezing. Make sure that you make up the liquid carefully according to the instructions on the packet.
If you can’t get oral rehydration fluid, you can use diluted lemonade, cordial or fruit juice. Use 1 part lemonade or juice to 4 parts water. Full-strength lemonade, cordial or fruit juice might make the diarrhoea worse, so don’t give these to your child.
If you have a breastfed baby, keep breastfeeding but feed more often. You can give your child extra oral rehydration fluid between feeds.
If your baby is bottle fed, give them oral rehydration fluid for the first 24 hours only and then reintroduce full-strength formula in smaller, more frequent feeds. You can still offer extra oral rehydration fluids between feeds.
If your child doesn’t want to drink, try to get them drinking more by offering fluids via a syringe or spoon, or letting them suck icy poles.
You shouldn’t use over-the-counter medicines to stop vomiting in children. The side effects of these medications can be very serious. Sometimes doctors prescribe medications to stop vomiting.