Gastroenteritis in Children

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What is gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis (often called ‘gastro’) is a typical infection of the bowel that can cause vomiting, diarrhoea (runny faeces ), or both. Gastroenteritis normally settles immediately without treatment. Vomiting may last a day or two. Diarrhoea usually lasts for two to three days but can also last up to 10 days. Gastroenteritis can induce dehydration (a loss of water). Babies under 6 months of age are mostly at risk.

What usually causes gastro is a virus, which tends to spread very easily. Lesser causes of gastro include food poisoning or bacteria. Most causes of gastro are not cured by antibiotics.

What are the symptoms of gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis usually starts with vomiting and then diarrhoea follows. The motions are often frequent, loose, and watery. Your child may cry through thirst, hunger, pain or fever. They may want more sleep. Older children may sometime complain of a cramping tummy pain, while infants may have series of crying associated with cramping.


Gastroenteritis can be mild and treatment is all about fluids. Sometimes most children recover with simple treatment at home.

  • Give your child small amounts (a few sips at a time) of ‘clear fluids’ such as water often (a mouthful every 10-15 minutes). The fluids will not stop the vomiting and diarrhoea but tend to stop your child from becoming dehydrated. It is very important to give fluids, even if the diarrhoea gets worse.
  • Make sure your child gets enough rest.
  • Never give your child medication to stop the vomiting or diarrhoea. These will not work and may be harmful
  • If your child continues to vomit, continue to offer small sips of fluid. It may seem it is vomited straight back up, but some is retained and will help prevent the dehydration.

What are ‘clear fluids’?

The best clear fluids for kids are solutions such as Gastrolyte, Pedialyteor Repalyte, which normally replace water, body salts and sugar lost to vomiting and diarrhoea. Hydralyte Oral solution is an alternative. Follow instructions on the packet.

What if I am breastfeeding?

Do not stop the breastfeeding. Give your babies little feeds more often, and offer Hydralyte or Gastrolyte or cooled, boiled water between feeds if your baby is less than nine months of age.

What if my baby is bottle-fed?

  • Give your baby Hydralyteor or Gastrolyte clear fluids for the first 12–24 hours of symptoms. Always use cooled boiled water to dilute drinks for babies less than nine months of age.
  • If there is no sign of vomiting or diarrhoea after 12 hours, introduce full-strength formula in small and frequent amounts. Half-strength formula might not be helpful, and may be harmful.

Can Children eat their usual foods?

  • If your child is hungry give them the food they normally eat or something they always feel like eating. Do not force your child to eat if they are vomiting or feeling unwell. They will start to eat when they feel better.
  • Give your child normal fluids and diet in 48–72 hours, even if diarrhoea continues. This will make your child get better quicker.

Stopping the spread of gastroenteritis

  • Always make sure that you and your family wash hands very well with warm soapy water after changing nappies, cleaning up vomit, using the toilet and before eating.
  • Always wipe things that may be shared between children, such as books and toys.
  • Always keep your child away from other children while they are unwell.
  • Do not send your child to school, until 24 hours after the last vomiting and diarrhoea.
  • Do not let your children share food, drink or use the same cutlery.

Follow up

Your child may be dehydrated and need a check-up by your local doctor if they have one or more of these signs:

  • dry mouth and tongue
  • cold hands and feet
  • sunken eyes
  • lethargy (sleepiness)
  • patchy/mottled/blotchy or pale skin
  • Not drinking and still has frequent vomiting, diarrhoea or both.
  • passing little or no urine (nappies are dry or less than four wet nappies a day)




Author: Bibian Okoye

A Retired Chief Nursing Officer, PGDip IHM

8 thoughts on “Gastroenteritis in Children”

  1. Parents need an education platform such as yours to enlighten them on children’s illness. Gastroenteritis is one of the worst infections can endure and it’s heartrending to see them in such pain.

    Your information is simple to follow with the symptoms and the solutions. I trust this will reach a wider audience including Dads in the near future.

    1. Thanks Richard, am glad that you found this post very helpful. Gastroenteritis is now becoming a very common illness in children and it is our duty as parents to help them avoid contaminated food and water and always advice them to wash their hands more often

  2. Hi there

    I just have one comment for you I see that your article is saying (uncategorized) maybe just fix, I was very interested in your article due to I have two boys my self and I think you can never have enough information as a parent. Thank you for you well informed article and I look forward to reading more.

    1. Thank you for finding that out and will now make out time to look into it. I will include you in my list so that you will be getting my new posts. Thank you for liking my posts.

  3. Bibian I was unaware that Gastroenteritis could be spread so easily. I am happy I came across your article and now know exactly what to do if I or someone I know ends up with this sickness.

    From the article the most important thing seems to be to stay hydrated above all else. Thank you for the drink recommendations for ample hydration. Those products can also be used for overall hydration in other circumstances as well.

    Going to look at your other article which talks about foods to make your kid grow taller. Wish my Mom would have fed me these. 🙂

    – Jay S.

  4. Thank you Bibian for this informative article. We need more websites such as yours to enlighten people, and especially young inexperienced parents, on the illnesses that can affect our children .Gastroenteritis is a terrible illness for young ones to suffer even if , in most cases, it’s easily rectified. Are the hydrating solutions you mention in your blog safe for very little ones? Jim

    1. thanks Jim for the comment..

      Yes those solutions mentioned are the best for children suffering from Gastroenteritis because they will always become very dehydrated

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