Sickness in children and babies

It is normal for babies and children to vomit. In most cases, the vomiting will last no longer than 1-2 days and is not a sign of anything serious.

Introduction

It is normal for babies and children to vomit. In most cases, the vomiting will last no longer than 1-2 days and is not a sign of anything serious.

The most common cause of vomiting in both children and babies is gastroenteritis. This is an infection of the gut usually caused by a virus or bacteria. It also causes diarrhoea. Your child's immune system will usually fight off the infection after a few days.

Babies also often vomit when they swallow lots of air during feeding. However, persistent vomiting can sometimes be a sign of something more serious. For example, a severe infection such as meningitis.

This page outlines what to do if your child keeps vomiting and describes some of the common causes of vomiting in children and babies.

If your child has a high temperature, you can also read about fever in children.

What to do

If your child vomits, you should monitor their condition carefully. Trust your instincts and call your doctor immediately if you are worried.

If the cause is just a tummy bug, your child should still be feeling well enough to eat, play and be their usual self. In this case, keep feeding them as normal and offer them regular drinks (see below).

But if they do not seem themself - for example, if they are floppy, irritable, less responsive or have lost their appetite - they may be seriously ill so you should contact your doctor immediately.

When to call your doctor

You should contact your doctor if:

  • your child has been vomiting for more than 24 hours
  • your child has not been able to hold down fluids for the last eight hours, or you think they are dehydrated (see below)
  • they are floppy, irritable, won't eat their food, or they are not their usual self
  • they have severe tummy pain
  • they have a headache and stiff neck

Signs of dehydration

Severe vomiting and diarrhoea can easily lead to dehydration, particularly in young babies. This means your child's body does not have enough water or the right balance of salts to function normally.

Children who are dehydrated often feel and look unwell. The signs of dehydration are:

  • a dry mouth
  • crying without producing tears
  • urinating less, or not wetting many nappies
  • increased thirst
  • floppiness

Read more about dehydration.

Looking after your child

The most important thing you can do if your child is vomiting is to make sure they keep drinking fluids.

If your baby is vomiting, carry on breastfeeding. If they seem dehydrated, they will need extra fluids. Ask your pharmacist whether they would recommend oral rehydration fluids for your baby.

Oral rehydration fluid is a special powder that you make into a drink. It contains sugar and salts in specific amounts to help replace the water and salts lost through vomiting and diarrhoea.

Children who are vomiting should keep taking small sips of fluid so they don't become dehydrated. They can drink water, diluted squash, diluted fruit juice or semi-skimmed milk. However, if they also have diarrhoea, then fruit juice and squash should be avoided. Again, your doctor or pharmacist may recommend an oral rehydration solution for your child.

Contact your doctor or practice nurse if your child is unable to hold down oral rehydration solution.

Causes of vomiting in children

There are a number of possible causes of vomiting in children, these are described below.

Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is an infection of the gut. It's a common cause of vomiting in children and usually lasts a few days.

Food allergy

Food allergies can cause vomiting in children, as well as other symptoms, such as:

  • a raised red itchy skin rash (urticaria), which can affect just one part of the body, or spread across the entire body – in some cases the skin can turn red and itchy but there is no raised rash
  • swelling of the face, around the eyes, lips, tongue or the roof of the mouth

Watch out for foods that may bring on the vomiting, and see whether your child is better after avoiding this food.

Serious infections

Young children are particularly at risk of developing infections such as pneumonia or a kidney infection.

You should contact your child's doctor if they are experiencing symptoms of an infection.

Appendicitis

Appendicitis is a medical emergency and your child's appendix will need to be removed. Dial 999 to request an ambulance if you think that your child has appendicitis.

Poison

Accidentally swallowing a drug or poison can cause vomiting in children. If you think this is the case, contact your doctor immediately or take your child to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department.

Causes of vomiting in babies

These include:

  • swallowing lots of air during feeding
  • gastroenteritis (an infection of the gut)
  • a food allergy](yourmd:/condition/food-allergy/intro1) or [milk intolerance
  • gastro-oesophageal reflux - where stomach acid escapes back up the gullet
  • too big a hole in the bottle teat, causing your baby to drink too much milk
  • accidentally swallowing a drug or poison
  • congenital pyloric stenosis - a condition that is present at birth where the passage from the stomach to the bowel has narrowed so that food is unable to pass through easily; this causes projectile vomiting
  • a strangulated hernia in your baby's bowel; they will vomit frequently and cry as if they are in a lot of pain and this should be treated as a medical emergency
  • a bowel condition, such as intussusception (where the bowel telescopes in on itself) - as well as vomiting, your baby will look pale, floppy and have symptoms of dehydration
Content supplied by NHS Choices