If your child is vomiting (throwing up) it is usually because their body is trying to get rid of germs or other harmful substances, or simply because their tummy is too full.
Vomiting is unpleasant but normally isn't harmful. Ongoing vomiting can lead to dehydration, so ensuring your child gets enough fluids is important.
When your child is vomiting, sit them forward to prevent them from choking on the vomit. Keep a close eye on them and see your doctor straight away if you are worried.
|Call 111 for an ambulance or go to your nearest A&E department immediately if your child is vomiting and:
- has a headache, stiff neck and a rash (this could be meningitis)
- develops sudden and severe tummy pain (this could be due to ingesting something poisonous)
- are floppy, irritable or less responsive.
If your child is vomiting and you are unsure what to do, call Healthline for advice on 0800 611 116.
What causes vomiting in children?
The most common cause of vomiting in both adults and children is gastroenteritis, which is commonly known as 'gastro' or tummy bug. Other causes include food allergy, poisoning, reflux, meningitis, overeating, stress, infection or illness.
Read more about causes of vomiting including other symptoms you may notice with each of them.
Dehydration caused by vomiting
Ongoing vomiting can lead to dehydration which can be dangerous. The risk of dehydration is increased when diarrhoea and vomiting occur at the same time.
If your child is dehydrated the main sign will be little or not urine being passed (or fewer wet nappies), or urine being very dark and smelly.
Other signs include dry mouth and tongue, sunken eyes, cold hands and feet, unusual sleepiness and/or lack of energy.
Read more about dehydration.
When to see a doctor
Any baby less than 6 months old with vomiting (and/or diarrhoea) should be seen by a doctor urgently – babies become dehydrated and unwell quickly.
For older children with vomiting, see your doctor if your child has any one of the following:
- signs of dehydration such as dry mouth and tongue, sunken eyes, cold hands and feet, unusual sleepiness or lack of energy, fewer wet nappies or not passing as much urine as usual
- blood or bile (greenish fluid) in the vomit
- severe tummy pain or a swollen tummy
- skin colour and whites of the eyes turn yellow
- they have been vomiting for more than a day or two.
How to care for a child who is vomiting
Vomiting can be unsettling, and even frightening, for young children. Support your child by helping them stay calm and making sure they don't become dehydrated.
Allow your child to rest or play quietly if they feel up to it – keeping their minds busy will help distract them from their discomfort. Make sure their room is not too hot or stuffy.
If your child has stomach cramps, offer them a warm (not hot) wheat pack for their tummy.
Children can easily become dehydrated if fluid lost by vomiting is not replaced. To prevent this, make sure your child is taking in enough fluid between vomiting episodes.
|Fluids for babies
||Fluids for children
- carry on breastfeeding or giving them milk feeds as normal.
- if they are younger than 6 months of age seek advice from your doctor; babies can quickly become dehydrated.
- if your baby becomes dehydrated, they will need extra fluids. Your GP or pharmacist will advise you on the best oral rehydration solution to use.
- offer your child small, regular sips of cool fluid (1 tablespoon every 5 minutes).
- water, clear soup, or diluted fruit juice (1 part fruit juice to 5 parts water) are good options
- if your child doesn’t want to drink, offer ice to suck, use a novelty straw or try a timer to encourage them to have a small drink every 10–15 minutes.
- avoid milk or milk products and fizzy drinks and full-strength fruit juice
- if vomiting lasts more than 24 hours, an oral rehydrating solution such Gastrolyte or Pedialyte, can be used to prevent and treat dehydration.
- Try freezing the rehydration drink into iceblocks if your child doesn’t like the taste.
Your child probably won't feel like eating when they are vomiting.
- If your child is hungry let them eat small amounts. Otherwise, don’t worry about food.
- Try easily digested foods such as bananas, crackers, rice, pasta and bread.
- Avoid foods high in fibre, whole fruits (except bananas) or vegetables, spicy or fatty foods, alcohol and caffeinated drinks.
- Go back to your child’s normal diet after 24–48 hours.
Adventures in vomiting WebMD (US)
Vomiting in children and babies NHS Choices (UK)
Vomiting Ministry of Health (NZ)
Acute gastroenteritis in children BPAC NZ
There are many things which can cause vomiting in children. Some of the causes, and the other symptoms you may see with them, are described below.
Vomiting + diarrhoea + mild fever.
- More commonly called gastro or tummy bug.
- Is the most common cause of vomiting and diarrhoea in both adults and children.
- Can be caused by viruses (such as rotavirus), bacteria (such as Campylobacter or E. coli which can cause food poisoning) or parasites (such as giardia).
- Read more about gastroenteritis.
Nausea + vomiting + rash
- These symptoms can occur within minutes to hours of eating a certain food.
- Call 111 immediately if your child experiences symptoms such as shortness of breath or swelling of the mouth or throat. An extreme allergic reaction can be fatal if you don't act fast.
- Read more about food allergy.
Eating or drinking something poisonous
Accidental exposure of children under six years old to poisons is a very real problem in New Zealand. If you think your child has swallowed a poison, follow these steps:
- If they are awake, call the New Zealand National Poisons Centre on 0800 POISON (0800 764 766).
- If they are sleepy or unconscious, lie them on their side and dial 111 for an ambulance.
- Do NOT try to make your child vomit or give food or liquid until you have been given advice.
Bringing up milk after a feed.
- For babies less than 1-year-old, reflux (spitting up, spilling) is the most common cause of vomiting.
- This is a normal process that helps to relieve an uncomfortably full stomach.
- Read more about reflux.
Vomiting + high fever + piercing scream (babies) or stiff neck (older children)
- This is a potentially serious brain infection which since the development of the Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine is now rarely seen.
- See your doctor straight away if your baby is vomiting, running a fever, and irritable, or if your older child is vomiting and complains of a stiff neck or seems dizzy and confused.
- Read more about meningitis.
Other causes include:
- Eating too much – especially rich food that they do not normally eat a lot of (for example, birthday cake and other sweet or fatty foods).
- Being very worried, anxious or stressed (this is more common in older children and adults).
- Being sick with the flu or other illness.
- Having an infection, such as appendicitis.