Gastroenteritis! How to Look After Kids who are Struck out With Gastro


Ugh. Gastro in kids is a parenting baptism of fire like no other. From bad bellies to runny bums, here’s how to look after kids with gastroenteritis when all you really want to do is run in the opposite direction and save yourself.  

No one loves vomit or diarrhoea. So if you’re wrangling sick kids and your partner says “oh no, I don’t do vomit…” calmly reply with. “I DON’T ACCEPT THAT”. Then thrust that vom bucket in their direction.

Parenting: it’s a united front, remember. There’s no “every man for himself”, it’s survival of the fittest when gastroenteritis hits.

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What exactly is gastro?

According to Queensland Health, “Gastroenteritis, or gastro, is a common condition that causes inflammation in the stomach and intestinal tract. The most common symptoms of gastro are diarrhoea and vomiting. But infected people may also experience fever, stomach cramps, body aches and headaches.”

Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? So when it comes to kids and gastro, be on the lookout for little things like loss of appetite or unwillingness to drink, as well as the red flags – vomiting, diarrhoea and fever.

Is gastro contagious?

Like wildfire. Gastro is HIGHLY contagious. It can spreads super easily from person to person, which is often why it takes down everyone in the family. Children are more at risk of catching gastro as they are more likely to come into frequent close contact with people and surfaces. Plus we all know kids are germ magnets!

little girl in bed with thermometer

Help, my kid has gastro! How long will it last?

While the vomiting can settle quickly within the first 24-48 hours, diarrhoea can last for up to 10 days. Kids will often feel VERY flat and fatigued when they’re hit with gastro. Their bodies can take a little while to bounce back, even after the symptoms have cleared up.

How should I treat gastro?

Firstly, remain calm. Yes, we understand this is hard to do when your child is obviously unwell. But hang in there mama (and give plenty of mummy cuddles), you’ve got this.

The main treatment and objectives are to keep your kid’s fluids up. Dehydration can be VERY dangerous. So it’s super important to replace the fluids and electrolytes lost due to vomiting and diarrhoea.

Give small amounts of fluid often. Offer a cup and ask, plead or BEG them to take a few mouthfuls every 15 minutes.

Water, Gastrolyte, HYDRAlyte, Pedialyte and Repalyte are different types of oral rehydration fluid that can be used to replace fluids and body salts. And these are the best option if your child is dehydrated. They are also available as icy poles, which kids often gobble down willingly.

AVOID giving your child sugary drinks, such as sports drinks or flat lemonade, because they can make dehydration worse!

little boy drinking water

Is a doctor’s visit required?

Babies and very young kids with gastro symptoms should always be seen by a doctor. Gastro in older kids is usually something that can be treated at home, but if you’re worried talk to your GP.

No matter what age your child is, ALWAYS listen to your ‘mum gut’ or ‘mother’s intuition’. The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne recommends:

Any child with gastroenteritis should see a GP if they:

  • are vomiting and have diarrhoea, and are not drinking any fluids.
  • have A LOT of diarrhoea (eight to 10 watery poos, or two or three large poos per day) or if the diarrhoea is not improving after 10 days.
  • vomit frequently and are seemingly unable to keep any fluids down.
  • show signs of dehydration. For example, fewer wet nappies or not going to the toilet much, dark yellow or brown wee, feel lightheaded or dizzy, have dry lips and mouth.
  • have bad stomach pain and aches.
  • have any blood in their poo.
  • have green vomit.
  • are making you worried for any other reason. For peace of mind, make an appointment.

If your child is very dehydrated and cannot keep any fluids down, they may need to be admitted to hospital to have fluids via an IV drip, which will see them improve dramatically.

Should I make them eat?

I most cases, a child with gastro won’t feel like eating. As long as kids are drinking fluids, it’s ok to push food aside for a bit. However, always offer them food. Give them food that you know they usually enjoy, but take it easy, their gut might not be ready for a buffet just yet.

little boy pushing away food, bad tummy, gastro

But they can’t keep anything down!

Yep. Sometimes when dealing with gastro in kids, the stomach and brain don’t listen to each other. Give them a cuddle and offer more fluid. If fluids aren’t being kept down either, it’s time to see your GP.

Do I need to boil and disinfect everything five times, and hang it out under a full moon?

Unfortunately, kind of. Spring cleaning comes early if your family is struck down with gastro.

Be diligent in your cleaning. Use warm/hot water and detergent to clean all surfaces and objects that have been in the line of gastro fire. Anything touched, vomited on, pood on, licked etc by gastro-infected people should be cleaned, rinsed and dried properly. Don’t forget to also clean:

  • toilets
  • benches
  • showers
  • door handles
  • taps
  • bed frames
  • toys (cleaning hack: plastic toys can be washed in the dishwasher)
  • linen and towels

Personal hygiene is SUPER important to stop the spread of germs. Load up on hand soap and use paper towels to dry hands while gastro is in the house.

Kitchen Hacks Toys In Dishwasher

Is it safe to go back to school?

Most schools will have a definite rule about gastro outbreaks to help prevent wiping out the entire school community. In general, kids with gastro should be kept away from other children, school or child care until they’ve been vomiting and diarrhoea free for at least 48 hours.

And when it’s all over…

HALLELUJAH. Send those kids back to school (remind them to wash their hands often though), have a final house clean, fling open the doors and windows to air out the house and treat yourself to a well-deserved lunch OUT. You’ve bloomin’ earned it!

child washing hands to prevent spread of gastro

For more information on other bugs your kids will likely bring home from school, read all about how to treat nits and worms here.

Avatar of Lexi Klaebe

South Australian mum and self proclaimed foodie, Lexi can most days be found in the kitchen, apron tied firm and armed with a whisk or wooden spoon!

1 Comment

  1. Avatar of Mish

    I really don’t like the ‘I don’t accept that’ comment. Sorry but emetophobia exists. If you don’t know what it is you should look it up. I don’t know whether your husband has it or not but if someone says they ‘don’t do vomit’ then that could be their way of telling you they have a phobia of it.
    I have emetophobia and it’s absolutely crippling, especially with kids. I’m lucky because my husband understands my phobia and deals with the vomit in our house. I am seeking treatment but I may have it for the rest of my life if it doesn’t work.
    Don’t just brush off the ‘don’t do vomit’ comment as there could actually be something going on there.

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