My Child is Vomiting: Tummy Bugs and Kids

young girl lying on bed with tummy bug

Picture the scene: A lovely weekend away in an Airbnb cabin in the woods with friends. No tummy bugs in sight.

After a lovely Saturday afternoon in the Sible Hedingham countryside, we got the kids to bed. Maddie and Billy were sharing a double bed, and after messing about and generally having the best of times, they finally settled down to sleep around 10 pm, which was a good three hours later than their normal bedtime, but that was cool, we were on a mini-break.

Four hours later, in the dead of night at 2 am, we woke up to our son screaming. He was throwing up for the very first time. Poor Maddie (his older sister) got showered in it, much to her absolute surprise and disgust.

Little ones with tummy bugs: it’s time to co-sleep or keep them up

We changed the kids’ clothes, comforted Billy, and ripped the white now orange sheets off the bed (RIP fitted bed sheet and pillowcase). Maddie slept on the sofa with Jamie, while Billy went quickly back to sleep on the sofa bed with me. There wasn’t a bucket or anything obvious I could use for him to hand, so we laid some towels down around him on the bed and hoped for the best.

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Always keep a bucket or bowl on hand

An hour later, he woke up and vomited again. This time, I caught the sick neatly in the white (now orange) towel, narrowly avoiding the bedsheets. (RIP towel). I needed to find something more appropriate in case he was sick again, but all I could find was a frying pan in the kitchen cupboard, so that came into the bed with us, and I have to say, it caught the third round quite nicely.

For those of you enjoying a sickness bug in the comfort of your own home, having a designated plastic mixing bowl as your sick bucket is always a good shout – sometimes an outside bucket can be too big for little ones, although I have many a fond memory of my head in a red one as a child, no problems.

Some prefer to keep their children up between vomits on the first (and usually only) night they’re ill, and if you do so, keep the lights low, and cover the area with towels or sheets you can wash. If you’re basing yourselves downstairs, pop the telly on to distract them, and keep warm.

If you’re hopeful, like me, that first time will be the last time and want to at least try to get some sleep, it’s worth co-sleeping with your littlest ones if you can.

Dress the bed with an extra waterproof mattress cover and an extra fitted sheet, so you can strip back the layers as you go. Use towels, and newspapers underneath the bucket if they’re old enough to sit up on the floor to puke.

Tie your hair back. Tie their hair back. Keep a toothbrush and toothpaste handy, so you can brush their teeth after every vomit to keep their teeth clean and their mouths feeling fresh. Replace the toothbrush head once they’re better, or remember to give it a good old wash, to get rid of any tummy bug germs.

The morning after

Sunday morning came and it wasn’t the easy one Lionel had promised. I started to wonder how we would ever make the three-hour journey home… We cleared up as best we could (chunks included) packed up, and made our heartfelt apologies to both our friends and Lucy, the Airbnb owner, who was an absolute legend about it all. (Her place is here if you’d like a countryside stay near a castle! I feel like the least I can do is give her a shout-out.)

We started on the journey home but had to pull over twenty minutes in, as Billy was sick again. Quick change of clothes, and a fresh dummy and he slept all the way home after that, thank God. That evening, he threw up in Jamie’s mouth as he was carrying him up the stairs to bed, so they had a quick bath together and set up camp in the living room.

Monday morning followed with tummy ache, and more sickness, but what concerned me most was that he wasn’t bouncing back after each bout. He wasn’t speaking and hadn’t walked or used his legs. He wasn’t eating and was only drinking when we’d demand him to. All he wanted to do was lie down and sleep.

After a 111 call and a trip to A&E for the liquid challenge (and a CT scan in our case to rule out the possibility of a head injury as he’d fallen over 10 hours before he started to be sick), we ended up back at home to rest, with the all-clear, it’s just a bad bug prognosis.

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Is my child dehydrated?

Dehydration can be a real worry when your child has a tummy bug. According to the NHS, dehydration symptoms include feeling thirsty, dark yellow or strong-smelling pee, feeling dizzy or lightheaded, feeling tired, dry mouth, lips, and eyes, peeing little and fewer than 4 times a day. These things are worth keeping a close eye on, and if you’re concerned, you should call your GP or 111.

The liquid challenge

We started the liquid challenge in A&E but you can do this at home. I was told to give Billy 5ml of Dioralyte every 5 minutes, but please do ask your pharmacist if you have little ones which product is best to use.

Offering little and often liquid doses keeps them hydrated without (hopefully) causing sickness by taking in too much water at once. I can remember my own mother telling me, “Just sip it!” but being so thirsty the temptation to gulp was real.

Ice pops can also be a good idea, but I’d steer clear of these until day 2/3 because of the juice they’re usually made from.

What should my child eat when they have a tummy bug?

It’s always best to check with your doctor if you have any concerns, especially if you’re breast or bottle-feeding a baby, but for older children, when they stop vomiting – or even between vomits, chances are, they’ll be hungry. We stocked up on plain foods, Rich Tea biscuits, toast, and crackers. Bland food was on the menu. We avoided dairy and fruit juices which are thought to irritate the stomach. Again, offering little and often seemed to be the key in the first day or two of the tummy bug.

Tummy bugs and kids: how long are they contagious?

Vomiting usually stops within one or two days, but poor Billy had so bad, he was still being sick on day three. I think we counted 13 vomits in all, but this is on the more severe scale. Diarrhoea can last a little longer, with the NHS stating that it usually stops within five to seven days.

Your child is contagious for two days or 48 hours after their last bout of sickness or diarrhoea, and it’s worth remembering that germs can live on surfaces within your home for up to two weeks after they’ve recovered. Antibacterial hand gels don’t always kill tummy bug germs, so ensure you wash your hands with soap and water regularly.

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Other handy tips for dealing with sickness bugs

Calpol can be handy if they're feeling unwell, but you need to judge carefully when's best to administer this, in case they sick it back up. 

Wash all bedding, towels, and clothes on a hot wash. Clean off the chunks before you do this, (we used the shower head over the toilet) or you’ll see them waving at you as they spin round in the window of your washing machine.

Don’t share towels or flannels, Clean toilet seats, toilet handles and flush buttons, surfaces and door handles routinely, and if you’re feeling unwell, don’t prepare food for others.

Oh, and randomly, you should wait two weeks until you go swimming.

Probiotics for kids

Try your kids on a daily probiotic. I’ve had Maddie and Billy on probiotics since birth as a result of my C-section and also their dairy intolerance and reflux. In any case, I think it’s good to start early. We used Bio Gaia from Amazon when my two were babies, but now Leo and Zita at Baba West are running the show with some amazing UK probiotics and vitamins for both babies, toddlers, and kids.

Probiotics work to restore the balance of bacteria in the gut, which is especially useful after a tummy bug or antibiotics. They also support gut health and the microbiome which helps with digestion, immunity, mood, wellbeing, and even skin health.

In fact, I’m pretty sure the reason both of my kids have never had a tummy bug up until now is that they’ve been on probiotics from birth. I honestly believe they help fight against them. This has been my first child-vomit experience, and hopefully, it’ll be a long time until the next one!

Please remember to consult your GP or 111 if you’re worried about your child.

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