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Vomiting,Age 3 and Younger - Topic Overview

Vomiting occurs when a child's stomach contents are forced up the esophagus and out of the mouth. Although nausea may accompany vomiting in adults and older children, children younger than age 3 are usually not able to tell you if they are having nausea. Most of the time vomiting is not serious. Home treatment will often ease your child's discomfort.

Vomiting in a baby should not be confused with spitting up. Vomiting is forceful and repeated. Spitting up may seem forceful but it usually occurs shortly after feeding, is effortless, and causes no discomfort.

A baby may spit up for no reason at all. Overfeeding, not burping your baby after feeding, intolerance to milk or formula, and exposure to tobacco smoke are other reasons why your baby may spit up.

Most vomiting in children is caused by a viral stomach illness (gastroenteritis). A child with a stomach illness also may have other symptoms, such as diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. With home treatment, the vomiting usually will stop within 12 hours. Diarrhea may last for a few days or more.

Rotavirus is a virus that can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea. Rotavirus vaccine(What is a PDF document?) helps protect against rotavirus disease.

Vomiting can also be caused by an infection in another part of the body, such as strep throat, pneumonia, or a urinary tract infection. In rare cases, vomiting can be a symptom of a serious condition, such as a blockage of the digestive tract (pyloric stenosis), an infection (meningitis) of the fluid (cerebrospinal fluid) and tissues (meninges) that surround the brain and spinal cord, or Reye syndrome.

When a toddler vomits, it is important to make sure he or she has not swallowed medicines, household liquids, or other poisons. Look around the house for empty containers and spills. There may be pills in your child's vomit, or the vomit may have an unusual appearance, color, or odor. For more information, see the topic Poisoning.

A child who falls down and forcefully hits his or her head or belly may vomit because of an injury to those areas. Check your child's body for bruises and other injuries.

Babies and children younger than 1 year old need special attention if they continue to vomit. They can quickly become dehydrated. It is important to replace lost fluids when your child is vomiting. Watch your child carefully, and pay close attention to the amount of fluid he or she is able to drink. Look for early symptoms of dehydration:

  • The mouth and eyes may be drier than usual.
  • The urine may be less than usual.
  • He or she may feel cranky, tired, or dizzy.

Also, be sure to notice the color of the vomit, and count the number of times your child vomits. If your child vomits so frequently that you can't get him or her to drink or vomits every time he or she takes a drink, the risk of dehydration is greater.

Check your child's symptoms to decide if and when your child should see a doctor.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 10, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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