Fall is my favorite season but it’s also cold and flu season. As the weather gets colder and less humid, viruses thrive and transmit more easily – especially if you have little kids who don’t yet get the concept of germs! The stomach flu, in particular, has been going around our town and my toddler caught it last week.
This wasn’t our first rodeo with the stomach flu but this time I wasn’t shocked and bewildered by the sudden vomiting in the middle of the night. The first time my toddler had the stomach flu I freaked out and immediately called a doctor in our family who gave me the 411 on gastroenteritis and how to prevent dehydration.
1 Teaspoon, Every 5 Minutes for 4-6 Hours
Gastroenteritis, known as the stomach flu, is the most common cause of vomiting in children. This infection of the gut is caused by a virus or bacteria and symptoms include vomiting/diarrhea. It’s not pleasant, but will usually resolve in a few days. The most important thing when fighting off a stomach virus is staying hydrated and preventing severe dehydration.
Here’s what I do: Wait until the vomiting stops. After at least 15 minutes without any vomiting, I start giving one teaspoon of fluid (more on fluids below) every 5-15 minutes for the first 4-6 hours. Don’t make the mistake of giving your child a whole cup of water (or food) right after they throw up. Even if your thirsty baby is asking for more, don’t give in! This will only cause him/her to throw up even more and delay rehydration. Ask me how I know.
The healing amino acids in bone broth (arginine, glycine, glutamine, and choline) are wonderful for reducing inflammation and repairing the gut. Because it takes a full day or two to make bone broth, I try to always have some in the freezer. It takes time, but it’s simple to make and really is the best food for healing. This is why bone broth is my go-to in times of illness (and why you’ve heard that chicken soup is good for you when you’re sick). Here’s a great tutorial on how to make bone broth.
I give my child just one teaspoon, every five to fifteen minutes for several hours. She usually does not have trouble keeping this down. If she does throw up again, I always just start over: Wait until the vomiting stops and after 15 minutes, start giving one teaspoon, every five minutes.
I avoid questionable ingredients like the artificial flavors and colors in store-bought “oral rehydration solutions” (ORS) like Pedialyte and prefer making my own homemade versions whenever possible. ORS have a specific balance of fluids and minerals to replace those lost in bouts of vomiting and sickness. Basically, you need the right proportions of water, sugar, and salt.
Bone broth is our go-to and we’ve never needed to use an oral rehydration solution, but you can make an easy, homemade version with items you already have in your kitchen. This recipe is provided by the World Health Organization and used around the world to prevent children from losing too much liquid during bouts of diarrhea.
- 1 liter water
- 6 level teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 level teaspoon salt
Dissolve the sugar and salt in the water. Spoon feed the solution to your child, one teaspoon at a time. It’s important to follow the recipe proportions exactly because too much sugar can make diarrhea worse and too much salt is harmful as well. You can use molasses and other raw sugars instead of regular sugar. Molasses has the added benefit of containing minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Note that juices, soda, and sports drinks aren’t good for replacing gastrointestinal fluid losses because their carb content is too high and their electrolyte content too low.
Water is fine when vomiting or diarrhea aren’t severe. Sometimes water alone is not enough to properly rehydrate because the liquid passes through the digestive tract too quickly to be absorbed by the body. When you add glucose and sodium in the right proportions (like in the recipe above), the intestinal wall can more easily absorb the fluid (Source).
We know breastmilk is the perfect food for babies. It contains lactic acid bacteria (probiotics) which will help your child fight off infection and strengthen their immune system. If your older baby is no longer breastfeeding but you are still producing milk, pumped milk will still benefit them greatly during illness (or anytime).
Healing the Gut from the Stomach Flu
I also give probiotics during/after dealing with the stomach flu to stabilize good intestinal flora.
Probiotics have demonstrated efficacy in preventing and treating various medical conditions, particularly those involving the gastrointestinal tract in children…Certain probiotics have been widely used for a variety of disorders and data supports their increased use. Available literature shows a statistically significant benefit in decreasing intensity, duration and number of consultations for acute gastroenteritis caused by various infectious agents, mostly viral and parasitic-related illnesses, when specific probiotics are combined with ORS [oral rehydration solution]. (Source, emphasis mine).
I keep a few different brands of probiotics on hand including Bio-Kult, Prescript Assist, and Seeking Health ProBiota Infant Powder.
Once 4-6 hours of successful rehydration have passed without any vomiting, I offer the following foods, but very slowly, only giving a couple bites at a time.
- Yogurt (plain) is a great source of probiotics and we always have our homemade version on hand.
- Kefir is another great source of probiotics.
- Bananas are high in potassium, an electrolyte which is easily lost in the throes of vomiting and diarrhea.
- Unripe/green plantain has antidiarrheal effects.
- Applesauce contains pectin which also has antidiarrheal effects.
- Coconut water has electrolytes (potassium and magnesium) and is delicious too.
- Chicken soup with bone broth is our go-to in times of illness.
Once the stool is more solid I start introducing other foods slowly, saving high-fiber foods like raw vegetables for last. Pushing too far too quickly before the stomach is ready will just make matters worse. Serve small portions.
If vomiting returns at any point, I go back to square one: Wait until it stops, and after 15 minutes give 1 teaspoon of bone broth, every five minutes. And lots and lots of rest!
What About BRAT?
The well-know BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast) is sometimes recommended to remedy stomach troubles. BRAT foods are said to be easy on the stomach because they are low in fat and insoluble fiber . The American Academy of Pediatrics says that there’s no reason to limit nutrient intake to the BRAT diet. Getting good nutrition from diverse, healthy foods is important for healing quickly.
Cleaning Up the Mess
The first time someone in our family caught the stomach flu I got sick too (at 37 weeks pregnant!) and it was really miserable. Now, I’m extra careful to not spread the germs when I’m caring for the sick person. I take the following precautions to keep the rest of the family from catching it:
- Add a couple drops of tea tree essential oil to the laundry and disinfect the washing machine with hydrogen peroxide.
- Avoid sharing utensils, cups, napkins, towels, etc.
- Avoid touching mouth, eyes, nose
- Clean up vomit immediately
- Diffuse peppermint essential oil or a good blend like Thieves
- Be considerate of others and stay at home to avoid spreading the germs
- And, of course, good hand washing with soap and water, especially after dealing with vomit, etc.
It’ll take time for the body to get rid of the virus, but by following these tips, you can shorten illness duration (it lasts about 24 hours around here) and prevent dehydration. But be sure to seek help from your doctor if illness lasts for more than just a few days. Hang in there…this will pass soon!
Do you have any natural remedies for beating the stomach virus? Any other tips?