How to Stop a Child from Vomiting in 6 Steps

Food poisoning, infections, and motion sickness can all cause vomiting. Read more about the causes, and learn the right treatment to stop the vomiting.

While it is no fun for anyone, most children throw up, at least from time to time. Vomiting is a common childhood ailment, one which usually occurs without warning. But while the causes of vomiting varies—childhood tummy troubles may be brought on by tummy "bugs," infections, and motion sickness, to name a few—relief is possible. There are a few things you can do ease your child's woes and treat vomiting.

Here's everything you need to know about throwing up or vomiting.

What Is Vomiting?

Vomiting occurs when the contents of the stomach are rapidly or forcefully regurgitated or emptied through the mouth. This takes place through a sudden contraction of the stomach muscles.

What Causes Vomiting?

For infants, regurgitation during and between meals is normal, but if your child is regurgitating several times a day, he may not be gaining enough weight. If you suspect that your infant is regurgitating too often or is in pain when regurgitating, consult a doctor. The regurgitation can lead to reflux esophagitis, a condition where the stomach acid irritates the esophagus (the tube connecting the mouth with the stomach) and requires medical treatment. Another serious cause of vomiting in infants is pyloric stenosis, which leads to forceful, projectile vomiting in infants under 2 months old. This is caused by a blockage or narrowing in the opening between the stomach and the intestines. Without treatment, the blockage can lead to severe dehydration and weight loss. This is a very serious emergency condition. If you suspect that your child has pyloric stenosis, contact your doctor immediately, as treatment usually involves surgery.

Children who suddenly start vomiting usually have gastroenteritis, an infection of the stomach and intestines by a virus or bacteria. Viral infections tend to be milder and may be associated with respiratory symptoms (sore throat, congestion, or earache), but bacterial infections are usually more severe and can result in diarrhea that contains blood. Diarrhea that occurs during or after traveling to a foreign country is often caused by bacteria. Besides diarrhea, children with gastroenteritis may also have a fever. Most cases of gastroenteritis do not require any specific treatment and the child will get better after a few days.

mother holding sick child

Other causes of vomiting include:

  • Motion sickness, a common cause of vomiting in children
  • Infections of the lungs, ears, urinary tract, stomach, and intestine
  • Appendicitis, which can also lead to stomach pains and a fever
  • Ingestion of poisonous substances.
  • Head injury (indicates a concussion or a brain hemorrhage)
  • Migraine headache
  • Brain tumor (in rare cases) or other brain problems

What Is the Best Treatment for Vomiting?

  • Make sure that your child is drinking enough fluids, especially if they also have diarrhea. This is essential to prevent dehydration and to replace the fluids, salts, and calories your child loses when vomiting. Start giving your child fluids even if they are nauseated. If your child has just vomited, wait 30 to 60 minutes before giving fluids and then start with small amounts.
  • Avoid giving your child solid food for the first 24 hours after the vomiting starts. Instead, give them clear fluid in small, frequent doses (every 5 minutes) by spoon or bottle. You can also have your child suck on ice cubes or cold, wet washcloths. Older children can sip their drinks through a straw. If your child can keep fluids down, gradually increase the amount you give to him.
  • Children who are being breastfed should continue to receive breast milk, but your child should be fed more often than normal (every one to two hours) and be given smaller doses (5 to 10 minutes at a time). The mother can also pump and give the baby milk by spoon, cup, or bottle. Infants who have been on a formula can continue having a regular, full-strength formula.
  • In addition to breast milk and formula, give your infant one of several specially prepared oral rehydration solutions, such as Pedialyte, Ricelyte, or Kao Lectrolyte. These oral rehydration solutions help to replace the fluids and salts that are lost through vomiting. Older children can be given frozen ice pops made from these solutions. If your child is over 6 months and does not like the taste of unflavored Pedialyte, you can add half a teaspoonful of apple juice to each dose.
  • Older children can drink fluids in addition to oral rehydration solutions. Children with diarrhea should avoid fruit juices and soft drinks because they have high sugar content that can make the diarrhea worse. If your child is vomiting but doesn't have diarrhea, they can try taking small sips of a clear fruit juice or water.
  • If your child has been able to take in fluids without vomiting after the first eight hours, gradually reintroduce solid foods. For younger children, start with bland foods such as applesauce, mashed bananas, or infant cereal. Older children (over 1 year old) can be given crackers, toast, mixed grains, soups, mashed potatoes, or white bread. A normal diet can usually be continued about 24 hours after the vomiting has stopped.

Call 911 or the doctor immediately if your child:

  • Is showing signs of dehydration such as listlessness, lethargy, dry lips or mouth, or lack of urination (four to six hours in a baby; more than six hours in an older child). Be aware that young children, especially infants less than 6 months old, will become dehydrated more quickly. Dehydrated infants under 1 year old will have a sunken fontanel, the soft spot on top of the head.
  • Is less than 1 month old and vomits after every attempt to feed. Frequent, forceful vomiting in an infant under 3 months may be a sign of pyloric stenosis.
  • Is vomiting and has severe stomach pains or is complaining of a headache. Your child may have meningitis if he has a fever and is vomiting, especially if he does not have diarrhea. Other danger signs of meningitis include a stiff neck and skin rashes.
  • Is vomiting after a head injury. This may indicate that your child has a concussion or a brain hemorrhage.
  • Vomits blood or a substance that looks like coffee granules, which is a sign that there is blood in the stomach.
  • Vomits green (bile-colored) substances and has severe abdominal pain. Your child may have a blockage in his intestines.
  • Has an abdomen that feels hard and that is tight and tender between episodes of vomiting.
  • Has a dramatic change in her mental status; that is, she seems extremely tired or out of it. This may be a sign of an infection in the brain or spinal cord.
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