When gastro strikes: 12 helpful tips for treating kids with gastro

Posted in Health & Safety Advice and tagged .

sick girl with tummy ache
Have children, expect gastro. It’s part of the territory. Although some children are lucky enough to never encounter the vomiting bug, most will (and usually more than once).

There are ways to protect your children from gastro (proper hand washing, for example), but what happens when gastro strikes? And what happens when your entire household is affected? How can you make the situation less awful for everyone when you are knee deep in dirty towels and spew buckets?

Here are 12 helpful tips to see you through a bout of gastro.

1. Count down (and get the coffee pot ready)

Clocksicle black wall clock

Finding the positives in such a yucky situation is hard, but just remember, gastro doesn’t last forever. It will all be over soon.

Most of the time, the vomiting is a 24 hour (at most) thing. Diarrhoea and fever can last a little longer. Yes, it can be awful having to witness your child spew over and over again (especially if you are vomiting as well), but you’ve been through worse, right? Labour comes to mind…

2. Create a designated spew zone

child gastro

When the entire household is sick, you can expect a lot of clean-up later on. So contain the area. Place old sheets and towels on the lounge or on a mattress on the floor (we use a camping mattress that comes out for such spewy occasions). That way you can keep the mess away from their cosy beds (and carpeted bedrooms) and they can still remain comfortable (in between the trips to the toilet, of course). Even better, use a waterproof bed and any accidents won’t soak through to the couch cushions or mattress underneath.

3. Buckets for everyone!

Scrunch Bucket

If you have more than one sick at the same time, then give each child their own bucket so they don’t have to share. After each use, place the contents into the toilet and wash the bucket with soapy hot water.

Place an extra bucket in the washroom as well, just in case.

4. Help them understand

Gastro can be scary, especially for a child. The hot and cold sweats, the loss of control, the painful retching – often this can lead to panic in your child, especially as they may be unsure what is happening. Be there to offer reassurance, to promise them that it will be over soon, to keep them calm and to cuddle them afterwards.

Explain what gastro is (a yucky bug that needs to leave your tummy) and what they can expect (how long it will last, etc). A good book to help explain why we get sick is Germs Make Me Sick. Another cute one is A Sick Day For Amos McGee.

5. Feed them fluids

tips for child with gastro

While your child probably won’t want to drink when sick, it is important to offer them around 150-200ml of fluid for every big vomit or episode of diarrhoea. If your little one is refusing to drink out of a cup, try a spoon or a syringe.

6.  But choose beverages carefully

Glass for water and gastrolite

There are varying opinions on the best foods and drinks to give your child when sick. The general consensus among medical professionals is to stick to premade (not homemade) oral rehydration solutions such as Gastrolyte, HYDRAlyte or Pedialyte. Other drinks – lemonade, sports drinks and undiluted juice – are not recommended for rehydration, but do check with your family doctor if you’re concerned.

The Royal Children’s Hospital has useful information for parents about rehydration during and after a bout of gastro.

7. Freeze for later

Cooking with kids homemade lemonade icy pole

As soon as your little one starts to vomit, make a bee line to the kitchen and make some homemade ice blocks – try diluted cordial or diluted apple juice – for when they are ready to drink something. Icy poles tend to be more appealing and easier to stomach. You can also buy ready-to-freeze options from the chemist.

8. Avoid medications

No red circle

While it might seem like a good idea to give your child medication to help stop the vomiting, this isn’t recommended by medical professionals.

9. Use your supernatural powers of comforting

mother comforting sick child

There may not be any medicine that can alleviate the awfulness of gastro, but there is something better – you. Now is the time to bring out those special mummy moves! Cuddle your child, rock them, sing to them, rub their back – do what works for your child to reassure them that everything is going to be okay.

10. Offer food when ready


It’s perfectly understandable that your child is probably not going to want to eat when everything comes back up again. And it’s perfectly okay to let your child take a break from eating, as long as he or she doesn’t go longer than 24 hours.

If your child is hungry and asking for food, give them food. There are no ‘rules’ on what to feed them but many children will prefer something bland such as toast, steamed rice, plain crackers or potato. Many parents avoid dairy for a couple of days, but this depends on your child.

11. Be aware of the dangers

tips to help sick child

In most cases, gastro will go away without medical assistance. But vomiting can also be a sign of something else. According to the Royal Children’s Hospital, if your child has any of the following symptoms, they should be seen by a doctor:

  • severe abdominal pain
  • severe diarrhoea, or any diarrhoea lasting longer than 10 days
  • blood in stool
  • very unwell appearance
  • bilious (green) vomit
  • if your child is under six months

12. Disinfect

Isocol Rubbing Alcohol

The aftermath of gastro isn’t pretty. You probably have quite a mess on your hands, including loads and loads of washing. While washing, make sure you also disinfect – take to every surface, handle, button and remote in the house with Glen 20 or another disinfectant.

Your house will be left with a slight bleachy smell, yes. But it’s better than the smell of throw up!

Now that you’ve got gastro licked, take a look at our article about how to deal with pint-sized colds and snuffles.

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