Food Poisoning (Infant/Toddler)

Food poisoning is illness that is passed along in food. It usually occurs 1 to 24 hours after eating food that has spoiled. It is often caused by toxins from bacteria in food that hasn't been cooked or refrigerated properly. Symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. These symptoms usually last 1 to 2 days. Antibiotics are usually not needed. But they may be used for some food poisoning caused by bacteria.

The main danger from this illness is dehydration. This is the loss of too much water and minerals from the body. When this occurs, your child's body fluids must be replaced. This can be done with oral rehydration solution. You can get oral rehydration solution at pharmacies and most grocery stores.

Home care

Follow all instructions given by your child’s healthcare provider.

If giving medicines to your child:

  • Don’t give over-the-counter diarrhea medicines unless your child’s provider tells you to. These can make the illness last longer.

  • You can use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to control pain and fever. Or, you can use other medicine as prescribed.

  • Don’t give aspirin to anyone younger than age 18 who has a fever. This may cause liver damage and a life-threatening condition called Reye syndrome.

To prevent the spread of illness:

  • Remember that washing hands with soap and clean, running water or using alcohol-based sanitizer is the best way to prevent the spread of infection.

  • Wash your hands before and after caring for your sick child.

  • Clean the toilet or the diaper change area after each use. Dispose of soiled diapers in a sealed container.

  • Keep your child out of daycare until your child's provider says it's OK.

  • Teach your child to wash their hands after using the toilet and before meals. This is very important if your child is in daycare.

  • Wash your hands before and after preparing food. Keep in mind that people with diarrhea or vomiting should not prepare food for others.

  • Wash your hands and utensils after using cutting boards, countertops and knives that have been in contact with raw foods.

  • Wash and then peel fruits and vegetables.

  • Keep uncooked meats away from cooked and ready-to-eat foods.

  • Use a food thermometer when cooking. Cook poultry to at least 165°F (74°C). Cook ground meat (beef, veal, pork, lamb) to at least 160°F (71°C). Cook fresh beef, veal, lamb, and pork to at least 145°F (63°C).

  • Don’t serve raw or undercooked eggs (poached or sunny side up), poultry, meat, or unpasteurized milk or juices to your child.

Giving liquids and feeding

The main goal while treating vomiting or diarrhea is to prevent dehydration. This is done by giving your child small amounts of liquids often.

If your baby is breastfed:

  • For diarrhea: Keep breastfeeding. Feed your child more often than usual. If diarrhea is severe, give oral rehydration solution between feedings. As diarrhea decreases, stop giving oral rehydration solution and resume your normal breastfeeding schedule.

  • For vomiting: After 2 hours with no vomiting, restart breastfeeding. Spend half the usual feeding time on each breast every 1 to 2 hours. If your child vomits again, reduce feeding time to 5 minutes on 1 breast only, every 30 to 60 minutes. Switch to the other breast with each feeding. Some milk will be absorbed even when your child vomits. As vomiting stops, resume your regular breastfeeding schedule.

If your baby is bottle-fed:

  • Give small amounts of fluid at a time, especially if your child is vomiting. An ounce or 2 (30 to 60 mL) every 30 minutes may improve symptoms. Start with 1 teaspoon (5 mL) every 5 minutes and increase gradually as tolerated.

  • For diarrhea: Give full-strength formula or milk. If diarrhea is severe, give oral rehydration solution between feedings. If giving milk and the diarrhea is not getting better, stop giving milk. In some cases, milk can make diarrhea worse. Try soy or rice formula. Don't give apple juice, soda, or other sweetened drinks. Drinks with sugar can make diarrhea worse. If your child starts doing worse with food, go back to clear liquids.

  • For vomiting: After 2 hours with no vomiting, try giving regular formula or milk. If at any time the child begins to vomit again, go back to small amounts of clear liquids. Begin with small amounts and increase the amount as tolerated.

  • If your child is doing well after 24 hours, resume a regular diet and feeding schedule.

If your child is on solid food:

  • Keep in mind that liquids are more important than food right now. Give small amounts of liquids at a time, especially if the child is having stomach cramps or vomiting.

  • For diarrhea: If you're giving milk to your child and the diarrhea isn't going away, stop the milk. In some cases, milk can make diarrhea worse. If that happens, use oral rehydration solution instead. If diarrhea is severe, give oral rehydration solution between feedings. Sports drinks are not equivalent to oral rehydration solutions. They contain too much sugar and too few electrolytes.

  • For vomiting: Begin with oral rehydration solution at room temperature. Give 1 teaspoon (5 ml) every 5 minutes. Even if your child vomits, continue to give oral rehydration solution. Much of the liquid will be absorbed, despite the vomiting. After 2 hours with no vomiting, begin with small amounts of milk or formula and other fluids. Increase the amount as tolerated. Don't give your child plain water, milk, formula, or other liquids until vomiting stops. As vomiting decreases, try giving larger amounts of oral rehydration solution. Space this out with more time in between. Continue this until your child is making urine and is no longer thirsty (has no interest in drinking). After 4 hours with no vomiting, restart solid foods. After 24 hours with no vomiting, resume a normal diet.

  • You can resume your child's normal diet over time as they feels better. Don’t force your child to eat, especially if they're having stomach pain or cramping. Don’t feed your child large amounts at a time, even if they're hungry. This can make your child feel worse. You can give your child more food over time if they can tolerate it. For a baby older than age 4 months, you can give cereal, mashed potatoes, applesauce, mashed bananas, or strained carrots during this time. For children age 1 or older, you can add crackers, white bread, rice, crackers, and other complex starches, lean meats, yogurt, fruits, and vegetables. Low-fat diets are easier to digest than high-fat diets.

  • If the symptoms come back, go back to a simple diet or clear liquids.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised. If a stool sample was taken or cultures were done, call the provider for the results as instructed.

Call 911

Call 911 if your child has any of these symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Confusion

  • Extreme drowsiness or loss of consciousness

  • Trouble walking

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Chest pain

  • Stiff neck

  • Seizure

When to seek medical advice

Call your child’s healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Abdominal pain that gets worse

  • Constant lower right abdominal pain

  • Repeated vomiting after the first 2 hours on liquids

  • Occasional vomiting for more than 24 hours

  • More than 8 diarrhea stools within 8 hours

  • Continued severe diarrhea for more than 24 hours

  • Blood or black material in vomit or stool

  • Reduced oral intake

  • Dark urine or no urine for 4 to 6  hours, no tears when crying, sunken eyes, or dry mouth

  • Fussiness or crying that can't be soothed

  • Unusual drowsiness

  • New rash

  • Diarrhea lasting more than 1 week

  • Fever (see Fever and children, below)

  • Symptoms get worse or your child has new symptoms

Fever and children

Use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Don’t use a mercury thermometer. There are different kinds and uses of digital thermometers. They include:

  • Rectal. For children younger than 3 years, a rectal temperature is the most accurate.

  • Forehead (temporal). This works for children age 3 months and older. If a child under 3 months old has signs of illness, this can be used for a first pass. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Ear (tympanic). Ear temperatures are accurate after 6 months of age, but not before.

  • Armpit (axillary). This is the least reliable but may be used for a first pass to check a child of any age with signs of illness. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Mouth (oral). Don’t use a thermometer in your child’s mouth until they are at least 4 years old.

Use the rectal thermometer with care. Follow the product maker’s directions for correct use. Insert it gently. Label it and make sure it’s not used in the mouth. It may pass on germs from the stool. If you don’t feel OK using a rectal thermometer, ask the healthcare provider what type to use instead. When you talk with any healthcare provider about your child’s fever, tell them which type you used.

Below are guidelines to know if your young child has a fever. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you different numbers for your child. Follow your provider’s specific instructions.

Fever readings for a baby under 3 months old:

  • First, ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

Fever readings for a child age 3 months to 36 months (3 years):

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear: 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 101°F (38.3°C) or higher

Call the healthcare provider in these cases:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher in a child of any age

  • Fever of 100.4° (38°C) or higher in baby younger than 3 months

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2

  • Fever that lasts for 3 days in a child age 2 or older

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