Gastroenteritis and your toddler

Expert advice on coping with a tummy bug, and when to seek help.

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The majority of tummy bugs – or gastroenteritis – your toddler will get are caused by viruses. Two to three days after coming into contact with the virus, usually from someone else with the illness, your toddler may become unwell. 

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Your toddler may have symptoms similar to a cold, with a mild temperature (under 38ºC), before he starts vomiting and then has diarrhoea (although these symptoms can occur in a different order). This usually settles after one to three days.   

A number of tummy bugs are caused by bacteria, which may need to be treated with antibiotics. If your toddler has a bacterial tummy bug, he’s more likely to have a high temperature and there may be mucus or blood in his diarrhoea. In these cases, you need to see your GP.

What can I do to help my toddler?

It’s best to try to prevent your toddler getting the bug in the first place. Breastfeeding helps prevent gastroenteritis, and also means you don’t have to worry about the rigorous hygiene of bottle preparation. Also, get your toddler used to washing and drying his hands after using the toilet and before meals.

When someone in the family has a tummy bug, be even more careful with washing hands, surfaces and any soft furnishings involved!

While your toddler’s unwell, limit his contact with others, and keep him out of nursery for 48 hours after the last bout of diarrhoea or vomiting.

How do I treat gastroenteritis?

Treating gastroenteritis involves keeping your toddler hydrated.

While he’s ill, he may become intolerant to milk so avoid dairy products (other than breast milk) while he’s vomiting. Oral rehydration solutions, such as Dioralyte, are available at chemists and are good at maintaining hydration. If you’re breastfeeding, continue doing so.
You can also give your child food if he hasn’t gone off eating, but avoid dairy, fatty or spicy foods.

There’s also evidence that probiotics, or ‘friendly bacteria’, may reduce the duration of diarrhoea. Anti-diarrhoea or anti-sickness tablets aren’t usually used for children, but if you catch the bug, talk to your pharmacist, who may suggest you take these as long as you’re not pregnant or breastfeeding.

Mum’s story

“It was a week before he was back to normal”

“My 8 month old had been irritable all day. I put him to bed at 7pm, and an hour later he started vomiting, which continued every 20 minutes. Then he had diarrhoea.  I called NHS Direct who told me to call out a doctor, but I couldn’t get through to the service, so we went to A&E.  I had to give him water for 24 hours, then dilute his formula milk for the next 24 hours. The sickness lasted about 48 hours, but it was a good week before he was back to his usual self.”

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Sarah, 29, mum to Ethan, now 13 months

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