Adventures in Vomiting
Your child’s upset stomach may be caused by many things. Here’s how to help ease nausea and vomiting.
Vomiting: Why We Do It
In general, we vomit so we can eliminate potentially toxic stuff from our
body, whether that’s bad food or bad germs. To narrow things down to the
specific reason you or your kids are vomiting you’ll need to decipher
For example, is there fever, cough, or diarrhea along with the vomiting?
“Then it might be stomach virus,” says Scott Cohen, MD, FAAP, an attending
physician at Cedars Sinai Medical Center and a pediatrician.
When there aren’t helpful symptoms as a guide “you start looking into things
like timing,” Cohen tells WebMD. Does the vomiting happen after you eat? It
could be reflux, maybe a peptic ulcer. Did you experience nausea or vomiting
eight or more hours after a meal? It might be food poisoning.
For babies less than a year old, reflux is the most common cause of vomiting
says Leslie Young, MD, author of The Everything Parent's Guide To Childhood
Illnesses. A “benign condition…that typically improves with time,” reflux
usually goes away for most infants by about eight months.
Preventing Vomiting and Nausea
Although there’s nothing much you can do for many of the reasons behind
vomiting, you can tackle the chief culprit: gastroenteritis, which causes
inflammation in the stomach, and small and large intestines.
The viruses that cause some gastroenteritis are spread through close contact
with infected people, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC). The viruses make their way easily from person to person and can be
passed around through shared food, water, and eating utensils.
To prevent viral gastroenteritis and the vomiting that often goes with it,
the CDC suggests:
- Wash your hands often, including after you use the bathroom or change
- Use alcohol-based hand rubs when soap and water aren’t available.
- Disinfect contaminated surfaces with bleach-based cleaners.
- Be sure food is stored, cooked, prepared, and served hygienically.
Most of these precautions offer another benefit: They can help you and your
kids avoid seasonal influenza and swine flu.
Home Care for Vomiting, Nausea, and Stomach Upsets
Intestinal blockages, appendicitis, ulcers -- some dramatic problems can be
behind vomiting, nausea, or stomach upsets. So it’s important to talk with your
doctor about nausea and vomiting, says Young.
Still there are home-care tips that can help before -- and after -- you
reach your doctor:
- The most important thing is hydration, says Cohen, author of Eat, Sleep,
Poop: A Complete Common Sense Guide to Your Baby’s First Year. “After
vomiting, you want to wait 30 to 60 minutes before you put anything in the
stomach.” After the tummy has had a little time to settle, offer a teaspoon of
liquids. If that stays down, offer another teaspoon a few minutes later. “Think
small amounts frequently instead of large amounts all at once,” Cohen
- Hold off on solid foods until it’s been six hours since the last vomiting
episode. Then try bland, easily digested foods like crackers, toast, or
gelatin. Once those are tolerated, move slowly to cereals, rice, and then start
salty or high-protein, high-carbohydrate foods, but avoid spicy or fatty foods.
The experts warn that two common mistakes parents make when caring for a child
who has been vomiting is giving solids or liquids too soon, and letting the
child have as much as the child wants. Go slow.
- Avoid strong odors like perfume, smoke, and cooking smells. Stuffy rooms,
flickering lights, and driving can also trigger additional bouts of nausea and
- Antihistamines can help prevent vomiting and nausea due to motion sickness,
and antiemetic medicines may help relieve the nausea and vomiting sometimes
caused by bacteria or stomach irritation. Cohen suggests avoiding antiemetics
for treating a child’s vomiting due to viral gastroenteritis, however. “Usually
kids don't like the taste,” he says. It’s important to keep them hydrated.
- Finally, if you’re dealing with tummy pain or upset, “acetaminophen
(Tylenol) typically does not work,” Young tells WebMD. “And ibuprofen (Advil,
Motrin) can sometimes make stomach pain worse if the pain is caused by an