Sickness in children and babies
It is normal for babies and children to vomit. In most cases, the vomiting will last no longer than one to two days and is not a sign of anything serious.
The most common cause of vomiting in both children and babies is gastroenteritis. This is an infection of the gut usually caused by a virus or bacteria. It also causes diarrhoea. Your child's immune system will usually fight off the infection after a few days.
Babies also often vomit when they swallow lots of air during feeding. However, persistent vomiting can sometimes be a sign of something more serious, including a severe infection such as meningitis.
This page outlines what to do if your child keeps vomiting and describes some of the common causes of vomiting in children and babies.
What to do
If your child vomits, you should monitor their condition carefully. Trust your instincts and call your GP immediately if you are worried.
If the cause is just a tummy bug, your child should still be feeling well enough to eat, play and be their usual self. In this case, keep feeding them as normal and offer them regular drinks.
But if they do not seem themself – for example, if they are floppy, irritable, less responsive or have lost their appetite – they may be seriously ill, so you should contact your GP immediately.
When to call your GP
You should contact your GP if:
your child has been vomiting for more than 24 hours
your child has not been able to hold down fluids for the last eight hours, or you think they are dehydrated
they are floppy, irritable, won't eat their food, or they are not their usual self
they have severe tummy pain
they have a headache and stiff neck
Signs of dehydration
Severe vomiting and diarrhoea can easily lead to dehydration, particularly in young babies. This means your child's body does not have enough water or the right balance of salts to function normally.
Children who are dehydrated often feel and look unwell. The signs of dehydration are:
a dry mouth
crying without producing tears
urinating less or not wetting many nappies
Looking after your child
The most important thing you can do if your child is vomiting is to make sure they keep drinking fluids.
If your baby is vomiting, carry on breastfeeding. If they seem dehydrated, they will need extra fluids. Ask your pharmacist whether they would recommend oral rehydration fluids for your baby.
Oral rehydration fluid is a special powder that you make into a drink. It contains sugar and salts in specific amounts to help replace the water and salts lost through vomiting and diarrhoea.
Children who are vomiting should keep taking small sips of fluid so they don't become dehydrated. They can drink water, diluted squash, diluted fruit juice or semi-skimmed milk.
However, if they also have diarrhoea, fruit juice and squash should be avoided. Again, your GP or pharmacist may recommend an oral rehydration solution for your child.
Contact your GP or practice nurse if your child is unable to hold down oral rehydration solution.
Causes of vomiting in children
There are a number of possible causes of vomiting in children, which are described below.
Gastroenteritis is an infection of the gut. It's a common cause of vomiting in children and usually lasts a few days.
Food allergies can cause vomiting in children, as well as other symptoms, such as:
a raised, red, itchy skin rash (urticaria), which can either affect just one part of the body or spread across the entire body – in some cases the skin can turn red and itchy but there is no raised rash
swelling of the face, around the eyes, lips, tongue or the roof of the mouth
Watch out for foods that may bring on vomiting and see whether your child is better after avoiding these foods.
Young children are particularly at risk of developing infections such as pneumonia or a kidney infection.
You should contact your child's GP if they are experiencing symptoms of an infection.
Appendicitis is a medical emergency and your child's appendix will need to be removed. Dial 999 to request an ambulance if you think that your child has appendicitis.
Accidentally swallowing a drug or poison can cause vomiting in children. If you think this is the case, contact your GP immediately or take your child to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department.
Causes of vomiting in babies
swallowing lots of air during feeding
gastroenteritis (an infection of the gut)
a food allergy or milk intolerance
gastro-oesophageal reflux – where stomach acid escapes back up the gullet
too big a hole in the bottle teat, which causes your baby to drink too much milk
accidentally swallowing a drug or poison
congenital pyloric stenosis – a condition that is present at birth where the passage from the stomach to the bowel has narrowed, so food is unable to pass through easily; this causes projectile vomiting
a strangulated hernia – your baby will vomit frequently and cry as if they are in a lot of pain; this should be treated as a medical emergency
a bowel condition, such as intussusception (where the bowel telescopes in on itself) – as well as vomiting, your baby will look pale, floppy and have symptoms of dehydration