Usually an episode of vomiting doesn’t last for long and although it can be alarming in a young child, it is seldom a sign of serious illness.
Vomiting can cause babies and young children to become dehydrated, especially if they are also suffering from diarrhoea - and this can be dangerous.
Most babies spit up or bring up sick from time to time. This posseting, or dribbling of undigested food is normal and nothing to worry about.
It is common for babies to posset frequently in the early weeks as they adjust to feeding. However, you should seek a same day appointment with your doctor if:
Everything from car sickness to prolonged bouts of crying or coughing can trigger the vomiting reflex.
Vomiting can also be triggered by colds where the baby swallows too much mucus, or other infections, particularly ear and urine infections. Acid reflux can occur in babies and can cause posseting after feeds.
Gastroenteritis is an infection of the gut, usually caused by a virus. It often causes diarrhoea with vomiting, tummy cramps and fever which comes on suddenly. Vomiting usually only lasts for one or two days while the diarrhoea can continue for between five and seven days.
The main risk of gastroenteritis is dehydration (see below). Good hygiene habits such as washing your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after handling dirty nappies can help prevent gastroenteritis from spreading because the germs which cause it are usually passed from hand to mouth.
Rarely, vomiting can be a sign of more serious illnesses such as meningitis, other infections or a blocked gut.
Call your doctor to get medical help or take your baby to the nearest hospital A&E if your baby develops any of the following warning signs of serious illness:
This is a condition that causes persistent and forceful (projectile) vomiting within half an hour of feeding.
It affects one in 400 babies and affects boys more than girls from 3-6 weeks after birth but can occur until around four months of age.
The pylorus is the section of your baby's digestive system between the stomach and small bowel.
Pyloric stenosis occurs when the muscle in this area thickens, causing the pylorus to become narrower. As a result of this narrowing, milk can't get through to be digested.
It causes vomiting after feeds which may start with only a small amount of vomit but which will worsen and become more severe over a couple of days.
If you think your baby may have pyloric stenosis get her checked out by your doctor. Treatment involves admission to hospital where a small operation under general anaesthetic is performed to split the pylorus muscle to widen it and allow passage of feed.
Vomiting can give rise to dehydration particularly if combined with diarrhoea. Babies under six months of age are more at risk of dehydration than an older child.
If you suspect your baby is becoming dehydrated get her checked that day by your doctor.
Keep your baby hydrated as when your baby vomits she’s losing precious fluids and it is important to replace them. Try to encourage your baby to drink small amounts frequently as a small amount of fluid will be absorbed more easily from an upset stomach.
If your baby is breastfed continue to breastfeed as breast milk is better tolerated than any other fluid and antibodies in your milk will help her to fight the illness.
Your doctor may prescribe rehydration drinks to help replace lost fluid, these must be made up exactly as instructed on the sachets and nothing must be added to them as they contain exactly the right amount of sugar and salt when dissolved in water to rehydrate.
Medication to stop vomiting and diarrhoea is not given to children under the age of 12 years.
If your baby is on solids you should give her a bland diet (for example, banana, rice and toast) for 24 hours, once she has stopped vomiting. Avoid fruit juices and carbonated drinks.
After 24 hours she can return to her usual diet but you should keep giving her plenty of fluids. Don't worry if your child does not want to eat much for several days.
Fluids are much more important to her recovery and her appetite will improve in a few days.
In extreme cases, admission to hospital may be necessary to treat dehydration. Treatment involves giving rehydration fluids either by a drip or a naso-gastric tube, which goes down into the stomach through the nose.
If your child attends childcare or nursery keep her at home for 48 hours after her last episode of vomiting to prevent the spread of the virus which caused the illness.