Gastroenteritis is a digestive tract illness. Most of the time, you can care for your sick toddler at home. Home remedies can help prevent dehydration.

toddler with gastroenteritis eating a popsicle-1Share on Pinterest
Karl Tapales/Getty Images

Gastroenteritis is a common illness that affects the digestive system. The germs that cause it transmit very easily, especially among young children.

Gastroenteritis is when the digestive tract becomes inflamed by a virus, bacteria, or another type of infection. Symptoms may include:

  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • sometimes a fever

In most cases, you can care for your toddler at home. Your toddler will likely be back to usual within a week, often sooner.

Preventing dehydration is important when your toddler loses fluids due to vomiting and diarrhea. Otherwise, your job is to keep your toddler comfortable and wait it out.

Here are some tips to care for your toddler at home.

Gastroenteritis is no fun for anyone. It’s hard when your toddler is not their normal, energetic self, and there’s no magic fix. Gastroenteritis usually has to just run its course.

There are things you can do to prevent dehydration in your toddler and keep them comfortable while they are sick, though.

Encourage them to rest

Sleep helps your toddler’s immune system keep fighting the infection. Your toddler may be more tired than usual. Let them sleep as much as they need to so their body can heal.

Give them small sips of fluids

You can offer your toddler small sips of fluid like water or diluted juice to help prevent dehydration. If your little one is still nursing, you can offer them breast milk or formula too.

Offer them fluids, like diluted apple juice and oral rehydration solution

Small sips of apple juice diluted with an equal amount of water can provide a toddler with a small amount of sugar for energy and may help prevent dehydration. This is shown to be just as effective as an oral rehydration solution, such as Pedialyte.

You can also offer an oral rehydration solution, but your toddler may prefer apple juice if it’s familiar.

Try ice pops for toddlers who won’t eat

If your toddler is refusing sips of fluids, you can try offering licks of an ice pop or freezer pop. This is another way for your toddler to get some fluids. It can help rehydrate or prevent dehydration and provide a bit of energy.

Offer them food when they are ready

If your toddler has not vomited for a few hours, you can start to offer some food. It’s OK if your toddler isn’t ready to eat. You don’t need to force them.

You may have heard of the BRAT diet. It stands for:

  • banana
  • rice
  • applesauce
  • toast

These foods are fine to offer, too, but you don’t need to stick with them only. You can offer other bland foods like crackers or dry cereal.

Monitor their temperature

Gastroenteritis sometimes causes a fever. Monitor your toddler’s temperature and treat the fever as you usually would if they are able to keep fluids down.

Other ways to keep your toddler comfortable when they have a fever are:

  • dressing them in lighter layers of clothes
  • avoiding heavy blankets
  • giving them a lukewarm bath
  • cooling them down with a damp cloth

You may not need to give them medications

Vomiting and diarrhea are the body’s way of getting rid of the germs that are causing illness. In most cases, anti-nausea meds are not needed. It’s best to just let the body do its thing.

There are exceptions to this. Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which can be dangerous. Seek medical advice if your toddler is not able to keep down any fluids and is at risk of dehydration or showing signs of dehydration (more on this below).

A healthcare professional may recommend that you give your toddler anti-nausea meds to allow them to rehydrate, but seek medical care or speak with your pediatrician first.

Notice how many wet diapers they produce

If your toddler has diarrhea and vomiting, watch for signs of dehydration. One way to monitor this is to pay attention to how often they are peeing. If they are peeing less than usual, it’s a sign they may be getting dehydrated and need medical attention.

Watch for other signs of dehydration

Along with changes in urine output, watch for other things that may indicate dehydration, like:

  • no tears when crying
  • lethargy
  • difficulty waking up your toddler from sleep
  • a faster heart rate
  • breathing more quickly than usual

If you notice any of these signs, seek medical attention immediately.

Apply ointment after diaper changes

If your toddler still wears diapers, diarrhea can quickly irritate their skin. Use an ointment after all diaper changes to help protect their skin.

Wash your hands

This is good advice for you and your toddler. The germs that cause gastroenteritis transmit easily. Handwashing can help reduce their transmission to other members of the household.

Put towels everywhere

Gastroenteritis can be messy. If you can, lay towels on the bed, couches, floor, or wherever your toddler is hanging out. This can help make cleanup a tiny bit easier.

You can usually treat gastroenteritis at home. The biggest risk is dehydration. If you notice any signs of dehydration, seek medical attention.

Signs of dehydration to watch for include:

  • lower urine output
  • lethargy
  • a lack of tears when crying
  • confusion

Other reasons to seek medical attention include:

  • your toddler is experiencing a lot of abdominal pain, or the pain is getting worse
  • your toddler has had diarrhea for more than 24 hours
  • your toddler is not able to keep anything down, even small sips of fluid
  • there is any blood or mucus in your toddler’s stool
  • you feel like something just isn’t right

What is the quickest way to get rid of a stomach bug in toddlers?

There’s no way to speed up a bout of a stomach bug like gastroenteritis. It generally needs to run its course. Resting will support your toddler’s body in healing. Keeping your toddler hydrated is important to help them recover.

How long should gastroenteritis last in toddlers?

This really depends on what actually caused the infection. Most of the time, symptoms improve within a day or two, and your toddler will be back to normal within a week.

Gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu, is a common infection caused by a virus, bacteria, or other pathogen. It’s unpleasant but usually doesn’t require medical attention.

Most of the time, you can take care of your toddler at home when they have gastroenteritis. The most important things are helping your toddler rest and giving fluids to prevent dehydration.