Give the child frequent drinks
Children with gastroenteritis need to take on more fluids than normal. You should therefore offer the child something to drink, ideally as soon as they develop gastroenteritis. Give the child small amounts of liquid at a time, but often. If the child drinks too much liquid in one go, they may vomit again.
You can try giving liquid using a teaspoon if the child is struggling to drink.
Avoid sweet drinks
Avoid giving the child very sweet drinks, such as squash and strong juice. Diarrhoea can worsen if the child ingests too much sugar in a short space of time. Do not give them diet drinks either. They do not contain any sugar at all, but instead contain other substances that may cause diarrhoea. Otherwise, you can give the child whatever they want to drink. The most important thing is that the child takes on fluids.
Try an ice lolly
If the child does not want to drink, you can give them an ice lolly. However, you should continue to offer the child liquids and fluid replacement. Even if the child eats the ice lolly, they still need liquids or fluid replacement.
Continue to breastfeed or bottlefeed
If you are breastfeeding or giving the child breast milk in a bottle, you should continue to do so, but more often than usual and even if the child continues to vomit. If you are breastfeeding, you can try expressing milk manually or using a pump and then giving the milk to the child on a spoon if the child does not want to take the breast.
Drop liquid into the mouth
You can also use a special plastic syringe that is used to give medicine to children. Squirt or drop fluid replacement or breast milk against the inside of the cheek, so that the liquid runs down into the throat. Avoid squirting directly against the palate, as this can make the child retch. Syringes of various sizes are available from pharmacies.
Two teaspoons of liquid every five minutes
Children that are vomiting a lot need to be given two teaspoons of liquid around every five minutes. Two teaspoons is approximately 10 millilitres, if you are using a syringe to give the liquid. Children often need more fluids than you think. A one-year-old, for example, may need more than a litre of fluids during a day.
Fluid replacement may be needed
If the child is vomiting a lot or has severe diarrhoea, it is best to give them fluid replacement, no matter how old they are. Fluid replacement contains appropriate amounts of salts and sugars, which helps to restore the body’s fluid balance.
There may be times when the child does not want to drink the fluid replacement. In this case, you can try flavouring it with a little concentrated juice.
Older children are not as vulnerable to fluid loss and dehydration as younger children. You can therefore give an older child whatever they want to drink if they don’t want the fluid replacement.
Fluid replacement for children can be bought from pharmacies. You can also mix your own fluid replacement for the child.
When vomiting stops but diarrhoea continues
It is common for the child to stop vomiting but to continue to have diarrhoea for a little longer. Babies that are breastfeeding can continue to be breastfed as before. Babies that are bottle-fed can have infant formula, rice gruel or maize gruel depending on how old they are. Start by giving small amounts at a time.
If the child is over six months old, you can try giving them carrot soup, which can help to stop diarrhoea. You can make the soup yourself by mixing carrot purée and water.
When the child wants to start eating again, it is good to give them normal food. You should ideally give the child small amounts of food at a time. It can be a good idea to avoid fruit because fruit can make the contents of the child’s bowels looser. Also avoid wholemeal gruel and fibre-rich foods until the child is feeling well again.
If vomiting returns
Monitor how the child is doing, for example if the child becomes more tired than usual, does not have the energy to play or is uninterested in their surroundings. Seek medical care if the child becomes very tired, limp and feeble.