Let’s talk about one of our absolutely favorite things about being a parent. Something that makes childless people totally jealous, makes you cry tears of joy, inspires the angels to sing, and brings that rhetorical unicorn to continue defecating glorious sparkling rainbows all over your home.
Your child comes to you. They have that look in their eyes- the look of true love and need for you. You open your arms to accept them and “GAHHHHGKSJHDJHERUIGTGSJGJAJSHJFDH*#$^&#^$@%#@^#&@”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
The stomach runneth over. You look down at the coating on your shirt. The puddle collecting in your lap. The smell invading your brain.
No? Not your favorite? Well that’s a bummer because ‘tis the season!
Anyway, a common misconception is that this is a “stomach flu”. Actually it’s not the flu at all. Influenza is characterized by sudden onset fever, chills and body aches, runny nose, cough, etc. Gastroenteritis is the inflammation of the stomach and intestine, causing nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, low grade fevers, aches, and general ickiness. It’s definitely no fun.
So what can you do when you or your little one is lucky enough to contract this? Honestly, the less you do, the better. The first thing people worry about it dehydration, which is a valid concern, but it really only becomes a danger when the vomiting or diarrhea becomes excessive (think more than once per hour and continuing this way for a long period of time). The stomach is purging because it is irritated, so you want to give it a rest. Resist the urge to give your child fluid after they vomit. It will continue the cycle and prolong the misery. Let them rest and once they’ve been vomit free for more than an hour or two, allow a few SIPS of water or electrolyte drink. No drinking full glasses no matter how hard they beg! Once they’ve been vomit free for longer than that, they can nibble on crackers or something bland. If they throw up again, start back at square one with nothing by mouth again. Sometimes this lasts for just the day, sometimes a few. Avoid giving sugary drinks like Gatorade and juice since it can irritate the stomach more. You don’t need to follow the BRAT diet- typically once kids aren’t throwing up anymore they can resume normal eating patterns but do avoid fatty, fried, or spicy foods. Avoid dairy as much as possible during this time, most irritated stomachs cannot tolerate lactose. Breastfeeding is always ok! If you are nursing, encourage them to breastfeed as much as they want. Resist the urge to give medications. Ibuprofen can irritate the stomach and any kind of anti-emetic and anti-diarrheal is preventing the purging of the virus from the system. Just let it ride- the best medicine is rest and love.
Typically a stomach virus doesn’t require a visit to the pediatrician. Viruses are not treated with antibiotics. However, if your child is showing signs of dehydration (dry skin, dark urine or not urinating, crying without tears, sunken soft spot in infants, listlessness, or high fever) then they should be seen. Rotavirus and norovirus can cause severe dehydration, so if your child shows any of these symptoms or is vomiting/having diarrhea uncontrollably then swift action is needed. Also if you notice red blood or dark coffee ground-looking stuff in their vomit or diarrhea, get them seen right away.
Remember to wash wash wash! Hand sanitizer is not effective in killing stomach viruses. Good ol’ soap and water is your best bet. Make your child wash their hands constantly and remember to wash yours too even if you aren’t sick! Also remember that even if they stop vomiting or having diarrhea, their stools will still be contagious for several weeks, so be vigilant with those diapers and disinfecting the bathroom/house.
Even if this isn’t your magic parenting moment, you will make it through. I have faith in you. Although may I suggest investing in a good carpet/upholstery cleaner?