Is the stomach flu making its rounds in your home? Here’s how to guard your kids against the stomach flu (and what to do if they catch it).
My eldest woke up and started off with one vomit episode. I was hoping it was just extra spit-up—you know, from the milk and the food he ate. But he did it again.. and again.
To make things worse, he followed it up with some pretty explosive diarrhea-like poop.
And I got the sinking feeling that told me, “Oh no—he has the stomach flu.”
How to help your child with the stomach flu
The stomach flu can make their rounds during certain seasons, or sometimes it just creeps up at the most random time. Either way, it can often be unforgiving, overwhelming even the most prepared and organized mom.
Maybe you can’t get your child to eat or drink anything, and worry she’ll get dehydrated. He keeps vomiting and hasn’t let up once all day. And you’re feeling frustrated with trying to contain him (and his germs) from spreading to the rest of the house and getting everyone else sick.
What can you do to help him cope with the stomach flu?
Below are the very tips I refer to when my kids get hit with the stomach flu. It’s easy to forget these best practices when they’ve been healthy the rest of the year. Hopefully these tips will serve as a helpful reminder of what to do when your child has the stomach flu:
1. Give liquids a little at a time
“I know we were supposed to do something with clear liquids… Or was it Pedialyte?” I asked my husband. I was trying to rack my brain of what to offer my toddler while he was still sick and vomiting.
Now, here’s the thing the biggest danger with the stomach flu is dehydration. The problem with this? Kids can throw up anything they eat or drink—even water. In fact, I kept offering my son water, but the more I offered, the more he vomited.
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 he will take or not.
- Give these liquids in small amounts, like one ounce or a few sips at a time.
- Offer liquids in spaced intervals, like 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 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.
Free resource: 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:
2. Treat your child like he has 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 even vomited.
This was morning sickness at its finest—and now your child knows what it feels like, too.
Not morning sickness per say, but similar stomach flu symptoms. He’s tired. Nauseous. He has no appetite. Recall how you felt during those first few months and remember that he likely 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 without turning too quickly. It’s not exactly a fun ride when you’re nauseous and toted around left and right.
And as with morning sickness, he won’t find big, heavy meals appetizing. Once he can tolerate solids, offer food a little throughout the day, like 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 and cleaning supplies. 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 a baby or toddler 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, blankets, towels and rags.
4. Stick to simple, bland food
When you can finally offer solid food (as in, it doesn’t come right back up), stick to simple, bland food. It’s tempting to want to fill your child with full meals, considering he hasn’t been eating all this time. But simple, bland food is your best bet to keep the food down, and your child to actually want to eat it.
A few ideas include:
- Pureed apples or applesauce
- Saltine crackers
And 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 article, guess who should come down with a case of the stomach flu herself? Maybe it’s 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.
So, what are the best practices for handling the stomach flu?
Start by offering small amounts of liquids over spaced intervals to keep your child hydrated while avoiding vomit. Don’t move him around too much, especially when you carry and lift him. Clean and sanitize everything he could’ve contaminated.
And finally, stick to simple, bland food once he’s ready to take solids—he might not have an appetite to take heavy or even his regular meals.
Now you’ll be more prepared to help your sick child cope, especially as you get that sinking feeling that tells you, “Oh no, it’s the stomach flu.”
Get more tips:
- 9 Ways to Keep Kids from Getting Sick at School
- What Should You Do when the Kids Are Sick? This Cheat Sheet Has You Covered
- How to Get a Sick Baby to Sleep
- Smart Ways to Cope When You’re Tired All the Time
- The #1 Reason You Can’t Get Your Child to Take Medicine
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: