Diet for Vomiting and Diarrhea (Child)

Vomiting and diarrhea are common in children. A child can quickly lose too much fluid and become dehydrated. This is the loss of too much water and minerals from the body. This can be serious and even life-threatening. When this occurs, body fluids must be replaced. This is done by giving small amounts of liquids often.

If your child shows signs of dehydration, the doctor may tell you to use an oral rehydration solution. Oral rehydration solution can replace lost minerals called electrolytes. Oral rehydration solution can be used in addition to breast or bottle feedings. Oral rehydration solution may also reduce vomiting and diarrhea. You can buy oral rehydration solution at grocery stores and drug stores without a prescription. 

In cases of severe dehydration or vomiting, a child may need to go to a hospital to have intravenous (IV) fluids.

Giving liquids and food

If using oral rehydration solution:

  • Follow your doctor’s instructions when giving the solution to your child.

  • Use only prepared, purchased oral rehydration solution made for this purpose. Don't make your own solution. This is very important because the homemade solutions and sports drinks may not contain the amounts or ingredients necessary to stop dehydration.

  • If vomiting or diarrhea gets better after 2 to 3 hours, you can stop oral rehydration solution. You can then restart other clear liquids.

For solid foods:

  • Follow the diet your doctor advises.

  • If desired and tolerated, your child may eat regular food.

  • If your child is an infant and you are breastfeeding, continue to do so unless your healthcare provider directs you stop. If you are feeding formula to your infant, you may try a special oral rehydration solution in small amounts frequently for a few hours. When the vomiting improves, you may restart the formula.

  • If unable to eat regular food, your child can drink clear liquids such as water, or suck on ice cubes. Do not give high-sugar fluids such as juice or soda.

  • If clear liquids are tolerated, slowly increase the amount. Alternate these fluids with oral rehydration solution as your doctor advises.

  • Your child can start a regular diet 12 to 24 hours after diarrhea or vomiting has stopped. Continue to give plenty of clear liquids.

  • You can resume your child's normal diet over time as he or she feels better. Don’t force your child to eat, especially if he or she is having stomach pain or cramping. Don’t feed your child large amounts at a time, even if he or she is hungry. This can make your child feel worse. You can give your child more food over time if he or she can tolerate it. Foods you can give include cereal, mashed potatoes, applesauce, mashed bananas, crackers, dry toast, rice, oatmeal, bread, noodles, pretzels, soups with rice or noodles, and cooked vegetables. As your child improves, you may try lean meats and yogurt.

  • 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 healthcare provider for the results as instructed.

Call 911

Call 911 if your child has any of these symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Confusion

  • Extreme drowsiness or trouble walking

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • 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 in vomit or stool

  • Reduced oral intake

  • Dark urine or no urine for 4 to 6 hours in infants and young children, or 6 for 8 hours in older children, no tears when crying, sunken eyes, or dry mouth

  • Fussiness or crying that cannot be soothed

  • Unusual drowsiness

  • New rash

  • Diarrhea lasts more than 1 week on antibiotics

  • A child 2 years or older has a fever for more than 3 days

  • A child of any age has repeated fevers above 104°F (40°C)

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