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Dr Anna Maw
Consultant pediatrician at Cambridge University NHS Trust in the UK. A child doctor specializing in brain development and neurology. She has three children.
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Fever and illness

Baby diarrhoea and vomiting (D&V)

Diarrhoea and vomiting (also known as gastroenteritis) in babies is relatively common and is caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Here's what to do if your baby is affected. Gastroenteritis is very rare when a baby is exclusively breastfed but breastfed babies poos can be runny and explosive but this is normal as long as baby is well.
Video Tutorial
In Short
Vomiting and diarrhoea are very common in children under the age of five.

If your baby is vomiting AND has a fever, seek medical advice quickly. This could suggest an underlying infection or, more rarely, meningitis.

If the vomiting or diarrhoea goes on for more than a day, your baby may be at risk of dehydration. Familiarise yourself with the symptoms of dehydration (below), and if they occur, take your baby to your doctor straight away.

All about tummy bugs – and when it’s more serious

Gastroenteritis is usually caused by a virus, the most common of which is rotavirus. Most children in the UK under the age of five will get rotavirus but once you’ve had it, you usually become immune to it, although unfortunately there are lots of other bugs that can make your child sick. Some children are ill for 24 hours and make a speedy recovery, or in more serious cases, the illness can last for a few days. Although it’s unpleasant for your baby and upsetting for you as a parent, it’s not usually serious, and the biggest risk to your child’s health is that they become dehydrated. Breastfed babies are less prone to tummy bugs than those who are formula-fed because of the risk of bacteria developing on bottles and teats that haven’t been cleaned properly.

If your baby is vomiting and has a fever, seek medical advice quickly. This could suggest an underlying infection or meningitis.

Is my baby dehydrated?

If the vomiting or diarrhoea goes on for more than a day, then your baby may be at risk of dehydration.

This might be the case if she:

  • Produces fewer wet nappies a day than normal
  • Has six or more diarrhoea-y nappies in 24 hours (contact your doctor)
  • Vomits three times or more in 24 hours (contact your doctor)
  • Is not producing tears when crying
  • Appears to have a dry mouth or tongue
  • Seems listless and floppy
  • Seems lethargic or irritable
  • Has loose, pale or mottled skin
  • Has lost her appetite
  • Has a sunken fontanelle (the soft spot on the top of her head – this is an extreme symptom)
  • Has sunken eyes (this is an extreme symptom)
  • Is just ‘not herself’
  • Has cold hands and feet.

If you notice any of these symptoms, see your doctor quickly so you can get your baby assessed and treated.

Don’t spread the bugs

Vomiting and diarrhoea bugs are easily spread – make sure you wash your hands frequently and wash all clothes and bedding at 60 degrees.

Keep toilets clean and wash towels frequently (at least 60 degrees).

If you bottle feed your baby, make sure all equipment is properly sterilised. Boil submerged in water for at least 10 minutes if you don’t have a steam steriliser.

Keep your baby away from nursery and baby activities for 48 hours after recovery and don’t take your baby into a swimming pool for two weeks after the last bout of diarrhoea.

As of July 2013 in the UK, an oral vaccine for rotavirus has been available to protect babies from this potentially nasty infection.
What if my baby is vomiting or has diarrhoea and has a fever?

It’s particularly important if your baby is vomiting and has a fever that you seek medical advice quickly. This could suggest an underlying ear, chest or urinary infection or, in severe cases, meningitis.

How can I keep my baby hydrated?

Offer your baby frequent breastfeeds or bottle feeds. Diarrhoea is actually easier to combat because you can continue to give your baby fluids to drink.

If your doctor recommends it, you can buy oral rehydration fluids or salts which help replace all the electrolytes lost during vomiting and diarrhoea. These are available from your local pharmacy or on prescription. Only do this under the advice of your doctor.

Share the knowledge
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.