By: Meghan Horn, MD, FAAP & Christine Waasdorp Hurtado, MD, FAAP
When your child is throwing up (vomiting), it's easy for them to become
dehydrated. The risk is even greater when
fever causes them to sweat more or they are also losing fluid through
diarrhea. Depending on how severe or how long the vomiting lasts, your child may lose important electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and chloride.
If your child is otherwise healthy, missing a meal or two when they're nauseous and vomiting won't hurt them. However, it's important to make sure they keep getting fluids to help avoid dehydration. Read on for tips to help keep your child hydrated at home when they're sick.
What causes vomiting?
Vomiting is a common symptom with many childhood illnesses. It happens when the abdominal muscles and diaphragm contract, while the stomach relaxes. This reflex happens when the body's "vomiting center" is triggered. This reflex is the body's way of protecting itself against toxins, being harmfully full and other gastrointestinal, neurologic, hormonal and psychiatric triggers.
What is the best way to prevent dehydration in my child?
Oral rehydration therapy is an effective and safe method for preventing dehydration at home.
For the first 24 hours or so, consider limiting solid foods and encourage them to suck or drink small amounts of fluids every few minutes over a few hours. The goal should be having them take in at least 1 ounce (30ml) per hour. Liquids help to prevent dehydration and are less likely than solid foods to trigger further vomiting.
How to give liquids
You can give your child liquid with age-appropriate bottle or cup. If your child cannot sip from a bottle or cup, try using a medicine cup, syringe or teaspoon.
What kind of fluids should I be giving my child?
6 months to 1 year:
- undiluted breast milk or formula. If not tolerated, consider a commercial rehydration solution that contains sugars and salts. Do not use water.
1 year and older:
Note: Be careful with commercial sports drinks. They replace salts, but they can also contain large amounts of sugar, which can make diarrhea worse.
When to call your pediatrician
Call your child's doctor right away if your child is too sick to drink, becomes lethargic, or shows any
signs and symptoms of dehydration. These include:
urinating less frequently (for infants, fewer than 6 wet diapers daily)
dry tongue and inside of mouth
dry eyes and fewer tears when crying
excessive sleepiness or fussiness
in babies, a sunken "soft spot" on their head
in older children, weakness dizziness when trying to stand
Why are babies & young children at greater risk of dehydration?
Young children are especially prone to dehydration. This is because their bodies are less efficient at conserving water than older children and adults. In addition, their small size means that it takes less fluid loss to lead to dehydration.
Talk with your pediatrician any time you are concerned about your child's health.
About Dr. Horn
Meghan Horn, MD, MSc, FAAP is a clinical fellow at New York Presbyterian - Weill Cornell Medicine in the department of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition. Within the American Academy of Pediatrics, she is a member of the subcommittee on patient and parent education.
About Dr. Waasdorp Hurtado
Christine Waasdorp Hurtado, MD, MSCS, FAAP is a Pediatric Gastroenterologist at Children's Hospital Colorado in Colorado Springs. She is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the North American Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition.