You’ve probably had it before – that nauseous feeling, followed by spending the next few days in or close to a bathroom. Even worse, perhaps you’ve had to take care of a child who becomes so weak that you constantly worry about whether you’re doing enough to help him or her.
It’s the dreaded stomach flu. Most parents feel helpless when their children have the stomach flu because they don’t know what to do. “For me, kids suffering with vomiting is about the most not-in-control I have felt as a mommy,” says Melle Randall, a New York-based mom of three. What can you do as a parent? Make sure the child is hydrated and comfortable and then let the virus take its course. “Treatment is primarily supportive and is aimed at preventing or treating dehydration,” says Dr. Rebecca Reed, a Medford, New Jersey-based pediatrician.
Vomiting and Diarrhea
Dr. Erika Siegel, a Portland, Oregon-based Naturopathic doctor focused on family medicine, recommends letting the body heal itself as much as possible. You shouldn’t try to suppress the diarrhea or the vomiting because the body needs to get all of that out as it tries to rid itself of the illness. Dr. Siegel suggests hydrating your child slowly with coconut water, Gatoraid, a Popsicle, or ice chunks. “As I tell parents all the time, I promise your child won't starve if they don't eat well for a couple of days, but they certainly can become dehydrated very quickly, especially infants,” Dr. Reed says. You should concentrate on keeping the child hydrated. Give the child small sips of fluids if they are vomiting, such as a teaspoon every few minutes, Dr. Reed recommends. You can gradually increase the amount of fluid as the child is able to tolerate it better.
Sally Kravich, a holistic nutritionist and an author based in New York and Los Angeles, suggests a healthy ginger ale that is semi-flat, chamomile tea with honey, and brown rice toast during the period of immediate upset. As symptoms ease, Sally recommends pureed roasted veggie soup with rice crackers or poached apples and pears with cinnamon and cloves, which kill bacteria. Kids might also enjoy applesauce or a smoothie with coconut water, non-acidic fruit and rice protein powder. Sally suggests probiotics, too. Bernadette Ayers, a New York-based mom of two, uses peppermint tea, or Mentha Piperita, to help ease an upset stomach. When taken without sweetener, it has calming, soothing and numbing effects, and it helps with nausea and gas, she says. “It enables my children to at least keep water down and stay hydrated.” She says it doesn’t have a pungent taste either, which makes it easy for children to drink.
Dr. Reed recommends that moms who are nursing continue to nurse their sick children because breast milk is easily digested. Breastfed children can nurse every 30 minutes for five to 10 minutes until the vomiting decreases and they can return to a regular feeding schedule. If the child has only diarrhea, he or she can eat a normal diet, Dr. Reed says. “In the past a ‘BRAT’ diet was recommended (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast), but studies now show that the more normal a diet the child eats the quicker the intestinal lining will heal.”
Signs of Dehydration
Dehydration is probably one of the top concerns of a parent when a child has a stomach virus. Melle says she watches for lethargic behavior and dry lips to identify possible dehydration. Dr. Reed says signs of mild dehydration include a slightly dry mouth and thirst. If the child has moderate dehydration, his or her eyes might appear sunken and the child might not produce tears when crying. One way to make sure you’re giving your child the right amount of fluid is to give him or her five teaspoons of fluid for every pound he or she weighs, Dr. Reed says. You know you’re doing a good job hydrating your child if the child is urinating once every four to six hours.
If the child has a fever, don’t try to reduce it unless the fever is causing headaches, preventing the child from sleeping, or if it rises above 102.5, Dr. Siegel says. If you have to reduce the fever, start by rubbing down the child with a cold, wet hand towel. Rub the towel in brisk circles over the front and back torso for about two minutes, Dr. Siegel suggests. This method often brings down the temperature by one degree usually long enough to get the child to fall asleep. Dr. Siegel says you also can use a half dose of children's Tylenol, which often works as well as the full dose in about 20 to 30 minutes. “Fever is the body's best response to drive out infection. By suppressing a fever you are suppressing the immune system’s goal of healing,” Dr. Siegel says. Dr. Reed, too, says that unless the child is uncomfortable, you don’t have to treat a fever. She emphasizes that if the child is under two months old, you should have him or her evaluated by a doctor immediately. Melle says she usually lets her children "burn off" their fevers without intervening but would take them to a doctor if the fever lasted more than four or five straight days. “I try to make sure that they get tons of rest and are cozy and comfortable.”
Sleep Sleep Sleep
“Provided the child is easily arousable and not dehydrated, then sleeping is just what the doctor ordered,” Dr. Reed says. Melle says she lets her children sleep as much as they want when they’re sick, but she wakes them up every hour or two to check on how they’re doing and give them more fluids.
Washing your hands is crucial to preventing the spread of the virus to other family members. Dr. Reed says to pay special attention to cleaning under the fingernails and around the wrists. For Melle, prevention is "relentless cleaning and relentless hand washing afterwards."
– By Jessica Braun Jessica Braun is a writer and an editor at WholesomeOne. She can be reached at jessica.braun[at]wholesomeone[dot]com.