Your child woke up and started off with one vomit episode. You’re hoping it’s just extra spit-up—you know, from the milk and the food he ate. But he does it again. And again. And he follows that up with some pretty explosive poops in his diaper. Maybe even diarrhea. It’s getting gross, and you get the sinking feeling that tells you, “Oh no—he has the stomach flu.”
How to help your child with the stomach flu
My eldest had the stomach flu back when he was a toddler. You’d think I would’ve remembered best practices from that experience.
Nope. Completely forgot everything we were supposed to do to help him along. As such, this post is for you and me. Should my kids get the stomach flu again, I won’t wonder, Wait—are we supposed to feed him solids or not?
1. Give liquids a little at a time
“I know we were supposed to do something with clear liquids… Or was it Pedialyte?”
Here’s the big thing with the stomach flu: The biggest danger is dehydration. The problem with this? Kids can throw up anything they eat or drink. Even water.
So what are you supposed to do? Here’s what I learned:
- Give liquids, preferably clear ones like water, watered-down juice or broth. But if your child takes milk or formula, that’s fine too (pretty much anything he’s willing to take is fine).
- Offer a variety of liquids to see which ones your baby will take or not.
- Limit these liquids to half an ounce to one ounce at a time.
- Offer them every five to 15 minutes.
When we give our kids huge amounts of food and liquids, they’re likely to throw it right back up. But if we give a little here and there more spaced out, their stomachs are better able to handle it.
These tips work even when your child doesn’t have the stomach flu and instead is only vomiting. I woke up to find that the same one-year-old who had the stomach flu had vomited all over his crib. Thinking he might have the virus again, I applied these lessons I learned (see, I remembered). I gave him an ounce of milk every five minutes, just so he wouldn’t throw it all up.
Thankfully he didn’t actually have the stomach flu. But giving him milk in small doses over a longer stretch of time prevented potential throw ups.
2. Treat them like they have morning sickness
Remember how you felt dizzy and nauseous from morning sickness during the first trimester? You could hardly eat anything save for a few crackers. Your favorite food—oatmeal! chicken!—were too disgusting to digest. And sometimes you vomited.
This was morning sickness at its finest. And now your little baby has it too.
Not morning sickness per say, but similar stomach flu symptoms. They’re tired. Nauseous. They have no appetite. Recall how you felt during those first few months and remember it’s likely your child feels the same.
So now is not the time to swoop him up from the floor and into your arms in lightning speed. Instead, take your time lifting him off the ground. If you carry him around the house, move slowly. It’s not exactly a fun ride when you’re nauseous and toted around quickly.
And as with morning sickness, big meals aren’t always appetizing. Assuming he can now tolerate solids, feed them a little throughout the day, maybe every hour if need be.
3. Clean and sanitize everything
The stomach flu is contagious. My eldest caught it from a Christmas party when other family members were recovering from it. Once he contracted it, my husband came down with it the next day.
This bug moves fast.
To keep yourself and your kids from contracting it as well, sanitize your home. Now is the time you can go crazy with bleach. Clean common culprits like:
- The toilet, sink and tub
- Anything you used to wash soiled clothes
- The changing table and trash can
- Kitchen counters
You may not be able to stop the bug. After all, you can’t exactly tell your baby to stop drooling or cover his mouth when he sneezes. But do your best to sanitize as much as you can.
You’ll also want to wash your hands often. For good measure, make it a rule to wash your hands each time you enter the kitchen or bathroom.
And wash anything that got soiled: crib sheets, bumpers, clothes, blankies, towels and rags.
4. Stick to simple, bland food (and don’t share utensils)
When you can finally offer solid food (aka it doesn’t come right back up), stick to simple, bland food. Pureed apples, bananas, crackers, yogurt and toast are good first choices.
With the stomach flu virus contagious, keep all utensils, bowls and finger foods clean. We usually offer food from the same bowl and hand them to our twins—we couldn’t do that with the stomach flu.
Of course, right after I wrote this post, guess who should come down with a case of the stomach flu herself? It must be retribution for my impatience with my kids when they had it. Or maybe it was the universe showing me just how wretched one can feel with the stomach flu.
Either way, I’m even more sympathetic for my kids during the times they’ve caught the stomach flu. Next time, I’ll remember these steps and not leave my husband fending for himself with a sick child.
Not sure what to do when the kids get sick? Join my newsletter and grab my Kids Are Sick Cheat Sheet! The first page include ideas on what you can do, while the second page is a blank template to fill with your own ideas. And finally, I include a dosage tracker to record the medicine you offer.
Download it below—at no cost to you:
Check out these related articles:
- 9 Ways to Keep Kids from Getting Sick at School
- On Choosing to Turn a Bad Parenting Day into a Good One
- Is Parenting the Hardest Job?
- Smart Ways to Cope When You’re Tired All the Time
- The #1 Reason You Can’t Get Your Child to Take Medicine
Have you or your kids come down with the stomach flu? What was your experience like? What was the best tip you used to help ease the discomfort? Share your tips in the comments!