Pregnancy and baby

Diarrhoea and vomiting in children

How do I deal with diarrhoea and vomiting? (12 to 30 months)

Media last reviewed: 20/01/2015

Next review due: 20/01/2017

Diarrhoea and vomiting in babies

Most babies' poo (or stool) changes in consistency from week to week, or even day to day. Breastfed babies have runny poo that doesn't smell. Formula-fed babies' poo is firmer, darker brown and smellier.

Diarrhoea is when your baby frequently has watery poo, whether they are breastfed or formula-fed. It can be caused by an infection, which may also make your baby vomit. This is called gastroenteritis (a stomach bug). It's usually caused by a virus, such as rotavirus. Stomach bugs are more common in formula-fed than breastfed babies.

Ask family members, friends or nursery workers who have a stomach bug to wash their hands frequently using liquid soap in warm running water. They also need to dry their hands.

When there's a stomach bug in the home, make sure you keep toilets clean and wash towels frequently. With formula-fed babies, make sure bottles are sterilised extremely carefully. If you are worried about your baby's diarrhoea or vomiting, call NHS 111.

Diarrhoea and vomiting is more serious in babies than older children. Babies can easily lose too much fluid from their bodies and become dehydrated. A dehydrated baby may become lethargic or irritable, have a dry mouth, and have loose, pale or mottled skin. Their eyes and fontanelle (the soft spot on the top of their head) may become sunken.

If your baby becomes dehydrated, they may not pass much urine. They may also lose their appetite and have cold hands and feet. It can be difficult to tell how much urine they're passing if they have diarrhoea.

If your baby becomes dehydrated, they will need more fluids. You can buy oral rehydration fluids from your local pharmacy or chemist, or get a prescription from your GP.

Caring for a baby who's vomiting or has diarrhoea

  • give extra fluids – give your baby oral rehydration fluids in between feeds or after each watery stool
  • do not stop giving your baby milk – give the extra fluid as an addition to milk
  • make sure everyone in your family washes their hands regularly with soap and warm water to avoid spreading the infection
  • don't share towels
  • don't take your baby swimming in a swimming pool for two weeks after the last episode of diarrhoea

Contact your GP or health visitor urgently for advice if your baby has passed six or more watery (diarrhoeal) stools in the past 24 hours, or if your baby has vomited three times or more in the past 24 hours. Get expert advice.

If your baby is unwell – less responsive, feverish, or not passing much urine – or if the vomiting has lasted more than a day, get your GP's advice straight away. 

Diarrhoea and vomiting in toddlers and older children

Some children between the ages of one and five pass frequent smelly, loose stools that may contain recognisable foods, such as carrots and peas. Usually, these children are otherwise perfectly healthy and growing normally, and no cause can be found. This type of diarrhoea is known as toddler diarrhoea.

Diarrhoea usually lasts for five to seven days, and in most children it will stop within two weeks. Vomiting often lasts for one to two days, and will stop within three days in most children.

You should ask your GP or health visitor for advice if your child is taking longer to get better, or if they get any of the symptoms of dehydration.

Otherwise, diarrhoea isn't usually a cause for concern.

Give your child plenty of clear drinks, such as water or clear broth, to replace the fluid that's been lost, but avoid fruit juice or squash, as these drinks can cause diarrhoea. Only give your child food if they want it.

Don't give your child anti-diarrhoeal drugs, unless advised to by your GP or pharmacist. Oral rehydration treatment can help.

You can help prevent infection spreading by using separate towels for your child, and reminding everyone in the family to wash their hands after using the toilet and before eating.

Your child shouldn't go back to school or childcare until at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea or vomiting.

Don't allow children to swim in swimming pools for two weeks after the last episode of diarrhoea.

Page last reviewed: 28/09/2015

Next review due: 28/09/2017


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