Vomiting in Kids: When to Take Them to the Doctor

Ever notice that kids throw up more often than adults? Some parents see their child vomit and instantly think of taking him to the doctor.

However, kids can vomit for a variety of reasons that don’t warrant a doctor’s visit. Their stomachs are simply more sensitive to physical and environmental factors, reports the National Public Radio (NPR) (Blakemore, 2018).

For instance, kids may get motion sickness during a long car ride. Or they may have a sensitivity to different foods or food textures they ate that day.

Most often, though, vomiting in children means the stomach bug, says KidsHealth from Nemours (Ben-Joseph, 2015).

Every parent should get familiar with the stomach bug and how to manage it when their child does contract the illness.

Signs That It’s the Stomach Bug

The stomach bug’s scientific name is gastroenteritis, and it occurs when children come into contact with a viral infection. Gastroenteritis can often lead to diarrhea as well (Ben-Jospeh, 2015).

If parents notice their child vomiting, Parents Magazine suggests watching for several tell-tale signs of the stomach bug. Along with vomiting, they might notice a baby getting fussy during normal happy hours.

Older children might complain of a tummy ache and refuse to eat or drink. They may also seem worn out, wanting to sleep a lot (Stoudt, 2008).

Repeated vomiting is another sign, says KidsHealth. In babies, that might mean spitting up an entire feeding multiple times within 24 hours (Ben-Joseph, 2015).

Still, there are times when vomiting doesn’t come from an illness at all. Sometimes, kids’ bodies simply respond to some other upsetting stimuli, reports NPR. Even a stubbed toe could do the trick (Blakemore, 2018).

In other words, parents don’t have to get worked up every time their child turns green.

What to Do When Your Child is Vomiting

Keeping a vomiting child hydrated is the most important concern, whether or not vomiting means the stomach bug.

Parents don’t necessarily need to bring kids to the doctor when they’re vomiting, says pediatrician Cindy Gellner, M.D., in an interview with the University of Utah.

Doctors will give advice on how to make children comfortable. But even in most cases of the stomach bug, it can be dealt with at home.

Gellner recommends giving Pedialyte to toddlers and water, ice chips or low-sugar sports drinks to older children.

The trick is to give them fluids a little at a time, she says. That way the fluids won’t fill their stomachs too much and cause more vomiting (University of Utah, 2018).

For babies, KidsHealth gives several tips to help them keep fluids down. Parents should stick with feeding in small amounts, whether their baby is breast- or formula-fed.

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Breastfeeding babies who are spitting up entire feedings should still keep breastfeeding. However, moms can increase the number of feedings and make the duration shorter. This may help ease the baby’s stomach (Ben-Joseph, 2015).

For both breastfed and formula-fed babies, parents should consult a pediatrician before making changes to the feeding schedule.

When to Get a Doctor Involved

While parents may be able to manage at home longer than they think, it’s never a bad idea to consult a pediatrician. The doctor can ease the parents’ minds and give them steps specific for their child’s illness.

However, they should pay attention to major warning signs such as dehydration.

According to Dr. Gellner, it’s time to head to the doctor if a child’s mouth becomes very dry, he cries without tears or isn’t peeing enough.

The child may also not waken easily from sleep. These are signs a child needs a doctor’s oversight, Gellner says (University of Utah, 2018).

In addition, children should see a doctor if the vomiting continues for several days or isn’t relieved by rehydration. If a child refuses fluids, that’s also cause for a doctor’s visit (Ben-Joseph, 2015).

Parents in doubt about the cause of their child’s vomiting can call ahead to the pediatrician’s office. The office can then give advice about staying home or making an appointment.