Vomiting is the body’s way of involuntarily and forcefully removing the contents of the stomach. Also known as emesis, puke, throw up, or barf, vomiting can have many different causes. It may happen one time or repeatedly.
Gastroenteritis, or the stomach flu, is a common cause of vomiting in children. It can be either viral or bacterial and may be accompanied by diarrhea and fever.
Preventing dehydration is crucial if a child is vomiting. Drinking plenty of clear liquids like water, clear juices or broths, and drinks with electrolytes will help prevent dehydration.
Have your child seen by a medical professional if they have signs of dehydration, are unable to keep down clear liquids, and/or have a continuous high fever.
Most kids experience vomiting every so often, and it usually resolves by itself. What are the best ways to manage vomit, and when should parents be concerned?
What causes children to vomit?
Sometimes a child will vomit once and then appear perfectly fine and go about their day as if nothing had happened. Children tend to be more resilient after vomiting than adults. They may be playing, stop to vomit, and then continue playing.
There are many reasons a child may vomit. It may be as simple as the child being very full of food and playing too hard, resulting in them throwing up. Other times, vomiting is linked to sickness, and the child may have nausea, a fever, and diarrhea. Some of the common causes of vomiting include:
Bacterial or viral infection of the stomach and intestines, commonly known as the stomach flu or bug. It generally also causes fever, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea and can last for one day to several days.
Food that is not cooked thoroughly or has not been refrigerated as indicated can cause similar symptoms to the stomach flu.
If a child ingests medications or other poisonous materials like household cleaning products, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting are common symptoms.
An allergy or intolerance to food may cause vomiting and can also be accompanied by an itchy throat, trouble breathing, or rash/hives on the skin.
If there is a blockage in the bowel, symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
Spinning around, being on a rollercoaster or carnival ride, and being on a rocking boat can cause nausea and vomiting. Some children also get motion sickness from being in a car.
Vomiting and abdominal pain are signs that the appendix is infected and inflamed.
What should I do when my child vomits?
Your child will inevitably throw up at some point. Kids have a harder time deciphering what is going on in their bodies and the sensations they are feeling. Adults can usually tell that they are nauseous and may vomit, but kids may not always anticipate it, and this is why they tend to vomit suddenly all over without warning. Other times, they may say that their tummy hurts or they are not hungry and refuse to eat.
If there is any warning of imminent barf, get them to the bathroom as quickly as possible, or grab a garbage can for them to throw up in. If there is no time to prepare and they vomit, then cleaning up is inevitable. Some parents may prefer to clean up the mess with paper towels to remove any chunks of food rather than using a towel that will need to be washed.
It is so much more convenient to have extra bedding readily available for instances like vomiting or bedwetting. There is nothing worse than a middle-of-the-night throw-up session that results in having to wash the sheets before your child can go back to bed.
Air freshening spray or fabric spray will help to eliminate the smell. Buying carpet spray can prevent any staining and will also assist with smell reduction.
Can my child eat and drink after vomiting?
Children who have thrown up may not even have an appetite, and it is okay for them to skip a couple of meals. They must, however, continue drinking to prevent dehydration. Clear liquids like water, clear juices or broths are the best choice. Buying liquids with electrolytes like Gatorade or Pedialyte will also help prevent dehydration.
If your child wants food after vomiting, offer them a balanced meal that is not too high in fat. In the past, the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) was recommended for children with upset stomachs and diarrhea, but the diet is thought to be too restrictive, with minimal calories and nutrients. Therefore, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) no longer recommends the BRAT diet.
When should I be concerned?
Dehydration is the biggest concern regarding vomiting. Fluids of the body are lost after throwing up, and it is important to replenish them. If a child is not able to drink fluids without throwing them all up, dehydration will likely occur, and the child should be seen by a medical professional. IV fluids may be required.
Some of the common signs of dehydration include the following:
- Darker urine.
- Pale skin.
- Dry skin and cracked lips.
- Urinating less frequently.
- Drowsiness or lethargy.
- Crying with no tears.
- Rapid breathing or heartbeat.
- Sunken eyes/dark circles under the eyes.
Children should be seen by a doctor if they are showing signs of dehydration or are unable to keep down clear liquids.
Vomiting in children is common and can happen for different reasons. It is vital to prevent dehydration and offer clear liquids as much as possible. Children may not feel like eating when they have upset stomachs, and it is okay for them to skip a few meals as long as they are drinking fluids.
Is baby spit-up the same as vomiting?
No, it is common for babies to have small amounts of spit-up after feedings. Reflux is not the same as babies that have projectile vomiting, where the majority of the stomach contents come out and may be accompanied by fever and diarrhea.
What should I give my child to eat after they throw up?
If your child is hungry and asking for food, offer something nutritious and well-rounded, like toast with scrambled eggs and a piece of fruit.
When do I need to call the doctor or take my child to the hospital?
If your child is showing signs of dehydration, has not been able to keep down fluids, and has a high fever that does not go away, your child may need medical treatment.