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Gastroenteritis – A dance of nausea and vomiting

Updated: Dec 16, 2019

As a parent, I'm sure you have to deal with poopy diapers often. But when your child is ill with the "stomach flu", that is when changing poopy diapers become a sport! This common and anxiety-provoking illness is so often seen in our clinic that I thought perhaps having a write-up on it would be good for parents. Just to get a grasp of this annoying and smelly problem.

Gastroenteritis (gastro) is a bowel infection, usually caused by a virus. It can cause runny, watery poo and sometimes vomiting. It may also be called “ Stomach Flu” or "Stomach Bug".

What causes gastroenteritis?

A virus usually causes gastro. Common viruses are rotavirus and adenovirus but there are many others. Because there are many viruses that cause it, your child can get gastro more than once.

Sometimes bacteria and parasites can cause gastro but this is much less common. This can cause blood in the poo.

Gastroenteritis often also causes fever.

Antibiotics are usually not needed except for certain types of infections in young infants and in people with immune problems.

How do children catch the gastroenteritis virus?

A child can catch the virus when they:

-touch something which has been in contact with the diarrhoea or vomit of a person with the infection, and they put their hand in their mouth.

The virus is easily spread in homes, daycare, kindergartens and schools.

How long does gastroenteritis usually last?

The vomiting may settle quickly but the diarrhoea often lasts for up to 10 days. This doesn't matter as long as your child is drinking well and seems to be improving.

What puts my child at risk of getting gastroenteritis?

Gastro affects all age groups, but is more common, and can be worse, in babies and young children. If your child has not been vaccinated with the Rotavirus vaccine, there is also an increased risk of getting severe rotavirus gastroenteritis.

What are the signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis?

The most common symptoms are:

-feeling sick (nausea)

-diarrhoea (runny, watery poo)


Sometimes a child with gastro will also have:

-a fever

-tummy pains

How can I care for my child with gastroenteritis at home?

If your child is over 6 months old and has mild gastro and is not dehydrated, you can care for them at home.

The main treatment is to keep giving your child fluids. Whichever fluids your child is having, the important thing is to:

-offer small amounts of fluid often rather than giving large amounts

-keep offering your child fluids even if they are vomiting

Types of fluids:

-if you are breastfeeding, continue to feed on demand - you may need to feed more frequently and take extra fluid yourself

-if your child is on formula, continue to give them formula feeds

-if your child is over 1 year, you may give them cow's milk

You may also give your child the following drinks as long as they are not dehydrated. You must dilute the drinks with water as they contain too much sugar (which can make the diarrhoea worse).

-cordial – make up to normal drinking strength then add 5 parts of water to 1 part of cordial

-soup – add 5 parts of water to 1 part of soup

-fruit juice – add 5 parts of water to 1 part of juice

Your doctor may recommend electrolyte solutions such as Gastrolyte or Pedialyte if your child is dehydrated. You can buy these from your doctor - follow the instructions on the packet.

What drinks should I avoid giving my child with gastroenteritis?

Do not give infants or children with diarrhoea:

-UNDILUTED soft drinks, fruit juices, Ribena, sports drinks (such as 100 Plus

or Gatorade) -these contain too much sugar and can make your child's diarrhoea worse

-coffee and tea - these can make your child dehydrated

*If your child is bloated and diarrhea gets worse whenever he/she drinks milk products, they may have a temporary condition call lactose intolerance, at which point your doctor may suggest your child take lactose-free beverages for a short period of time.

Should I keep giving my child their normal food if they have gastroenteritis?

-You can offer your child food if they are hungry, even if diarrhoea continues.

-Continuing to feed your child can speed up recovery and can reduce the length of time your child has diarrhoea.

-Your child may refuse food at first – this is not a problem as long as they take fluids.

-Starchy simple foods are best – try and offer foods such as bread or toast, porridge, rice, potatoes, plain biscuits. (But this may be different in different individuals; some respond better with intake of lean proteins. Key thing - try)

What foods should I avoid giving my child with gastroenteritis?

Do not give your child fatty or sugary foods such as:

-takeaways (dapau oily foods), fries, sweets, cakes, chocolate, ice cream, cream, coconut cream

Will my child need any medicines for gastroenteritis?

Your doctor may occasionally prescribe a medicine for vomiting. Follow your doctor's instructions.

Sometimes probiotics or zinc supplements may help.

You cannot treat viral gastro with antibiotics. The body will clear out the virus on its own without treatment.

What can I do for my baby's sore bottom from diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea can cause a rash at the bum. After each bowel motion wash and dry your child's bottom well and then put on a protective cream or ointment (such as zinc and castor oil cream or Vaseline).

How can I tell if my child is dehydrated from vomiting and diarrhoea?

Dehydration is the loss of fluid, due to vomiting and diarrhoea. The younger the child, the easier it is for them to become dehydrated.

Watch for signs of dehydration:

-dry mouth and tongue

-sunken eyes

-cold hands and feet

-unusual sleepiness or lack of energy

-fewer wet nappies or not passing as much urine as usual

If your child has any of these signs, you need to take them to see a doctor urgently.

When should I seek help for my child with gastroenteritis?

You should see your doctor urgently if:

-your child has vomiting and/or diarrhoea and is less than 6 months old – babies can become dehydrated and unwell quickly

-your child is drowsy and difficult to rouse

-your child has a lot of diarrhoea (8 to 10 watery motions in 1 day)

-there is blood or mucus in your child's poo

-vomiting is increasing or your child cannot keep fluids down

-your child starts vomiting green fluid (bile)

-your child develops severe stomach pains

-your child shows signs of dehydration

-you are concerned for any other reason

You should see your doctor if:

-your child's diarrhoea continues for more than 10 days

How can I help prevent the spread of gastroenteritis?

Gastro spreads very easily to others. There are ways to help prevent spreading the disease:

Thorough handwashing

Handwashing is especially important after going to the toilet, after nappy changing and before handling food. Encourage your child to wash and dry their hands after using the toilet.

Cleaning toilet and bathroom areas

It is a good idea to thoroughly clean your toilet and bathroom areas as these places have accumulation of germs.

Washing dirty clothes

Wash your child's dirty clothing, in hot water preferably, and rinse separately from the rest of the family laundry.

Avoiding sharing food and drinks

Make sure your child doesn't share food or drinks with anyone else.

Keep them away from others

Keep your child away from friends and other children until vomiting and diarrhoea have stopped. Children with diarrhoea must stay away from daycare, kindergarten and school until there has been no diarrhoea/vomiting for 24-48 hours.


Please vaccinate your children against Rotavirus vaccine, one of the few vaccine-preventable causes of gastroenteritis.

Key points to remember about gastroenteritis:

-gastroenteritis is a bowel infection causing loose poo (diarrhea), and sometimes


-children need to drink plenty of fluids if they have gastro

-give small amounts of fluid often

-gastro can cause dehydration, especially in babies and young children

-watch for signs of dehydration (such as dry lips, fewer wet nappies, sunken eyes, unusual sleepiness) and take your child to see a doctor urgently if you suspect it

-if your baby is less than 6 months old and has vomiting and/or diarrhoea you should see a doctor urgently - babies can become dehydrated and unwell quickly

-vaccinate your child

"With good health, our children can shine brighter"

-Bright Star Baby & Child Clinic

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