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Vomiting occurs when a child's stomach contents are forced up the esophagus and out of the mouth. Although nausea may accompany vomiting in adults and older children, children younger than age 3 are usually not able to tell you if they are having nausea. Most of the time vomiting is not serious. Home treatment will often ease your child's discomfort.

Vomiting in a baby should not be confused with spitting up. Vomiting is forceful and repeated. Spitting up may seem forceful but it usually occurs shortly after feeding, is effortless, and causes no discomfort.

Causes of vomiting

A baby may spit up for no reason at all. Overfeeding, not burping your baby after feeding, intolerance to milk or formula, and exposure to tobacco smoke are other reasons why your baby may spit up.

Most vomiting in children is caused by a viral stomach illness (gastroenteritis). A child with a stomach illness also may have other symptoms, such as diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. With home treatment, the vomiting usually will stop within 12 hours. Diarrhea may last for a few days or more.

Rotavirus is a virus that can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea. Rotavirus vaccine (What is a PDF document?) helps protect against rotavirus disease.

Vomiting can also be caused by an infection in another part of the body, such as strep throat, pneumonia, or a urinary tract infection. In rare cases, vomiting can be a symptom of a serious condition, such as a blockage of the digestive tract (pyloric stenosis), an infection (meningitis) of the fluid (cerebrospinal fluid) and tissues (meninges) that surround the brain and spinal cord, or Reye syndrome.

When a toddler vomits, it is important to make sure he or she has not swallowed medicines, household liquids, or other poisons. Look around the house for empty containers and spills. There may be pills in your child's vomit, or the vomit may have an unusual appearance, color, or odor. For more information, see the topic Poisoning.

A child who falls down and forcefully hits his or her head or belly may vomit because of an injury to those areas. Check your child's body for bruises and other injuries.

Treatment

Babies and children younger than 1 year old need special attention if they continue to vomit. They can quickly become dehydrated. It is important to replace lost fluids when your child is vomiting. Watch your child carefully, and pay close attention to the amount of fluid he or she is able to drink. Look for early symptoms of dehydration:

  • The mouth and eyes may be drier than usual.
  • The urine may be less than usual.
  • He or she may feel cranky, tired, or dizzy.

Also, be sure to notice the color of the vomit, and count the number of times your child vomits. If your child vomits so frequently that you can't get him or her to drink or vomits every time he or she takes a drink, the risk of dehydration is greater.

Check your child's symptoms to decide if and when your child should see a doctor.

Newborns and babies younger than 1 year of age

Don't wait until you see signs of dehydration in your baby. These signs include your baby being thirstier than usual and having less urine than usual.

  • If you breast-feed your baby, nurse him or her more often. Offer each breast to your baby for 1 to 2 minutes every 10 minutes.
  • If you use a bottle to feed your baby, increase the number of feedings to make up for lost fluids. The amount of extra fluid your baby needs depends on your baby's age and size. For example, a newborn may need as little as 1 fl oz (30 mL) at each extra feeding, while a 12-month-old baby may need as much as 3 fl oz (90 mL) at each extra feeding.
  • Ask your doctor if you need to use an oral rehydration solution (ORS) if your baby still isn't getting enough fluids from formula or the breast. The amount of ORS your baby needs depends on your baby's age and size. You can give the ORS in a dropper, spoon, or bottle.
  • If your baby has started eating cereal, you may replace lost fluids with cereal. You also may feed your baby strained bananas and mashed potatoes if your child has had these foods before.

Children ages 1 through 11

  • Make sure your child is drinking often. Frequent, small amounts work best.
  • Allow your child to drink as much fluid as he or she wants. Encourage your child to drink extra fluids or suck on flavored ice pops, such as Popsicles. Note: Do not give your child fruit juice or soda pop. Fruit juice and soda pop contain too much sugar and not enough of the essential minerals (electrolytes) that are being lost. Diet soda pop lacks calories that your child needs.
  • Cereal mixed with milk or water may also be used to replace lost fluids.
  • If your child still is not getting enough fluids, you can try an oral rehydration solution (ORS).
  • Gradually start to offer your child regular foods after 6 hours with no vomiting.
    • Offer your child solid foods if he or she was eating solids before. Offer crackers, toast, broths, mild soups, mashed potatoes, rice, and breads to your older child.
    • Avoid high-fiber foods, such as beans, and foods with a lot of sugar, such as candy or ice cream.

For older children

After talking to your child's doctor, you may give your older child an over-the-counter antinausea medicine, such as meclizine (Antivert or Bonine) or dimenhydrinate (Dramamine). Follow the package instructions carefully.

If your child also has diarrhea, try home treatment for diarrhea.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your child's doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:

  • Dehydration develops. Signs include your child being thirstier than usual and having less urine than usual.
  • Your child's vomiting returns or becomes severe.
  • Blood or yellow or green liquid (bile) is present in your child's vomit.
  • Your child's vomiting does not get better.
  • Your child's symptoms become more severe or frequent.

Babies

It is normal for babies to spit up after a feeding. Vomiting after a single feeding may happen sometimes and does not mean your baby has a problem. Repeated vomiting after feedings is more of a concern. The following tips may help your baby spit up less often. If this advice does not help, talk with your doctor.

  • Feed your baby smaller amounts at each feeding.
  • Feed your baby slowly.
  • Hold your baby during feedings.
    • Do not prop your baby's bottle.
    • Do not place your baby in an infant seat during feedings.
  • Try a new type of bottle or use a nipple with a smaller opening to reduce air intake.
  • Limit active and rough play after feedings.
  • Try putting your baby in different positions during and after feeding.
  • Burp your baby frequently during feedings.
  • Consider talking to your doctor about starting your baby on hypoallergenic formula. About 1% of babies who spit up are allergic to milk protein.
  • Do not add cereal to formula without first consulting your child's doctor.
  • Do not smoke when you are feeding your baby. Children who are exposed to tobacco smoke are more likely to develop illnesses that cause vomiting. If you smoke, quit. If you can't quit, do not smoke when you are holding or feeding your baby or when you are in the house or the car. For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
  • Consider getting your child the rotavirus vaccine. (What is a PDF document?)

Toddlers

  • Limit active and rough play after feedings.
  • Teach your children how to wash their hands well, especially if there is an illness in the house.

If you use child care, talk to the caregivers about their program or policies for sick children.

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your child's condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:

  • Did you have problems during your pregnancy or with the delivery of this child?
  • What do you think might be causing your baby's vomiting?
  • Has your child been exposed to someone with a similar illness?
  • How long has the vomiting been going on?
  • Does your child have any other symptoms, such as fever, belly pain, or diarrhea?
  • Has your child had a recent fall or injury?
  • How many times has your child vomited? How much fluid is lost each time?
  • Is your child able to hold down fluids?
  • What does the vomit look like?
    • Is there any blood or yellow or green liquid (bile) in the vomit?
    • Did you find any unusual liquids or pills in the vomit?
  • What does the vomit smell like?
  • What prescription or nonprescription medicines are in your home?
  • Did your child's symptoms start after eating at a restaurant? Has anyone else who ate there with you become ill?
  • Has your child recently eaten raw or undercooked seafood?
  • Do you think your child may have eaten any contaminated food?
  • Has your child recently visited a foreign country?
  • Has your child recently drunk water from a lake, stream, or private well?
  • Has your child had any known exposure to toxic materials, chemicals, or fumes?
  • Does your child have any health risks?
  • Abdominal Pain, Age 11 and Younger
  • Crying, Age 3 and Younger
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea, Age 11 and Younger
  • Ear Problems and Injuries, Age 11 and Younger
  • Respiratory Problems, Age 11 and Younger

By: Healthwise Staff Current as of: June 4, 2014
Medical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine

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