Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Children with Nausea: How to Help

Now that the windows and doors are shut for the season, it's time for the children and the germs to start bouncing off the walls.

My whole crew is home from school today because of a mystery stomach ailment. It began with nausea and vomiting and ended with, well, where all digestive tract illnesses eventually end -- The (rear) End.

As a mom, it falls upon me to deal with all of life's curve balls, especially those involving unsavory bodily fluids. So, I thought this was as good a time as any to share some tips on how to deal with nauseous children.

Step One: Believe your Children
Often, your children will let you know when they are feeling sick, either by refusing food altogether, or by turning it into a plaything. Be wary when favorite foods are refused or when a child who is normally a hearty eater claims that he "feels full" after just a few bites. When I first became a mom, I would sometimes dig in my heels at this first sign of nausea, saying, "You will eat your supper, young man!" I was cured of that pretty darn quick when my oldest threw up a belly-full of broccoli at eighteen months. Not Pretty. So when your child (who normally loves broccoli) says she's just not hungry tonight, your best move might be to believe her.

Step Two: Trust Your Instincts
Being Dr. Mom starts with being sensitive to problems in the first place. If you are noticing something that tells you something is not right with your child, believe yourself. You are the expert on your child. So pay attention to the signals he is giving you. (It may even help to write down symptoms you notice -- tiredness, irritability, reluctance to eat.) Especially when your child does not yet have the words to tell you what is wrong, your observations and attentiveness may provide the key to figuring out the problem before it gets worse. So, if the warning sounds at the back of your mind, trust your instincts.

Step Three: Involve the Experts
If your house is like mine, there are parenting books laying about in more than one room. One particular book that I refer to repeatedly when my children are ill or injured is Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child by Janet Zand, Robert Rountree and Rachel Walton. It gives information on nutritional guidelines, conventional treatments, medications, and herbal/alternative therapies for a wide variety of children's illnesses. It is my most-used book and I would highly recommend it.

If you're not a book-worm, though, you have highly-trained experts on the other end of your telephone. Call your pediatrician for guidance, especially if your child is under one year old. If you do not have a pediatrician, many local hospitals and clinics have a toll-free ask-a-nurse service. They can give you guidance, even in the middle of the night.

The final expert you have in your arsenal is... of course, the Sisterhood of Moms. Your own mother, aunt, sister, or friend can give you helpful tips on how to keep your children comfortable and entertained. They can help with a supply run to the store if you need it. They can support you as you nurse your child back to health. All you need to do is ask.

And now, for the practical advice...

Don't be Afraid to Keep that Tummy Empty - One of the things that amazed me about becoming a mother was how much of my own well-being was invested in whether my child was doing things "normally". Sleeping, eating, and -ahem- eliminating were processes I was highly aware of and judging all the time. It is distressing when a child won't eat, but when nausea is involved, it is actually important. There is nothing wrong with a child having an empty tummy for a while -- even as long as a day, depending on the age of the child. So after your child has vomited, don't rush to comfort them with food. It may cause even more stomach upset.

Watch for Dehydration - One of the biggest dangers for nauseated children and/or children with diarrhea is dehydration. If you notice your child's mouth is not producing saliva or that her eyes seem sunken, if your child is not urinating or his urine is dark and infrequent, you may be noticing the signs of dehydration. I use an over-the-counter electrolyte when my children are vomiting to ensure that their bodies remain hydrated. Find what your children like best(electrolyte drinks usually don't taste very good.) Mine prefer Gerber Liqui-lytes, which are available in a powder or pre-mixed. I give them one teaspoon per hour with a medicine dropper. Once their stomachs are on the mend, I mix it into baby cereal as their first "test food". Once they can tolerate that, I move on to diluted clear juice. Be sure to avoid milk products, sugary sodas, and high-acid juices like orange juice. They can be too much for sensitive stomachs.

First Try 'First Foods' - One of the trickiest parts of doctoring a sensitive stomach is to re-introduce foods to your child. A great way to think about what you should feed a child recovering from nausea (once they are past the vomiting stage) is to think back to your baby's first foods. Mild foods like soft breads, mashed potatoes, rice cereal, applesauce, and bananas, in small servings, can help your child's stomach ease back into normal eating. A first dairy food to try is a small amount of plain yogurt, mixed into something else. To make first foods more palatable (for children older than 24 months), try mixing in a teaspoon of honey. It is a natural nausea remedy and is much easier for them to handle than anything sugary. I usually try to avoid feeding my children any kind of meat, nuts, eggs, fruits or vegetables until a full 24 hours has passed since their last bout of vomiting. Even then, I wait until I am sure their bodies will tolerate first foods with ease.

If Vomiting or Nausea Continues - Absolutely get your child to the doctor. In my experience, the worst stages of "stomach flu" or gastro-enteritis (as the doctor calls it) usually last only about 24 hours, even if the recovery may take longer. If your child has persistent vomiting or diarrhea, it could be a sign of something worse than a virus. As a mom, don't be afraid to err on the side of caution. Call your doctor with a detailed description of what is going on and how long it has been happening. Your child's health is more important than anyone's inconvenience. Don't worry that you will "bother" the doctors or nurses with your child's illness -- that's why they're there! What matters is getting your child feeling better, and no one should be a better ally in that process than your child's doctor.

Try a Little Tenderness - Whenever my children are sick, I always take extra time with them, hold them, read to them, and give them the kind of medicine only a mom can provide -- love. Never forget that you are often the glue that holds your child's world together, especially when they are young. This is the time to sit down and watch a favorite move or watch the rain or snow come down out the window. Take the opportunity to connect with your child and give them a chance to rest comfortably. In our family, we put a waterproof mattress pad and crib sheet on the cushions of our loveseat to be the "sickie bed". We drape towels over the arms and backrest and bring a large bowl right to the bed (in case of emergency) so that my son doesn't have to worry that he won't make it to the bathroom. I bring him a few favorite (washable) toys and his own pillow so that he is comfortable and happy. Sometimes, it seems like that's the best medicine of all.

Which reminds me -- I really must get back downstairs. He'll be waking up from a little nap soon, and I want to read him a story.

I hope this helps you when your own children are feeling sick. 'Tis the season, as they say.

- Midwest Mom


  1. Really great advise and tips! I hope you guys get to feeling better real soon - take care - Kellan

  2. Remeber the first time your baby spit up on you?

  3. Is this where politicians get their starts in life--kissing babies and learning the art of back slapping?

  4. Kellan,
    Good news! Everyone is back to school today. Germs begone!

    Yep. That was the turning point. It was when always cute turned into sometimes cute. (As I recall, the first time my daughter spit up on my husband, it hit him in the mouth. Ew.)

    What?!? I don't think I would have been kissing my babies yesterday! Comforting, sure, but kissing? No, no, no. ;) (Thanks for the visit, though.)

  5. We had the stomach bug make it rounds through our house the week before thanksgiving.. natures way of emptying out before the big holiday perhaps?

    Anyway this is great advice. The term 'sickie bed' makes me want to curl up and watch Golden girls while sipping gingerale.

  6. Laurie,
    I remember my parents bringing a small portable black & white tv to my room when I was sick so that I could watch Sesame Street.

    In my opinion, there is nothing that stops you in your tracks faster than stomach flu. It sure has reminded us all not to take being healthy for granted!

    Have a great weekend! -MM

  7. Very informative post. I really believe that having a good understanding of what you really want will make a change for a lifetime. Is taking motilium tablets for vomiting and nausea for children useful?


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