What is commonly known as stomach flu (also known as gastroenteritis) causes discomfort due to the ensuing vomiting and diarrhoea, which are often accompanied by tummy pains and fever. More significantly – though infrequently – it can have a detrimental effect on babies and young children.

Dr Tham Lai Peng, Senior Consultant at the Children's Emergency Service, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group, said most children do not need medicine or antibiotics to treat gastroenteritis (stomach flu), although doctors may prescribe medication to relieve symptoms of vomiting or severe tummy pains. While the bug runs its course, it is important to replenish lost fluids and prevent dehydration. “There is no need to change the diet intentionally, but do give more fluids.”

If your child has diarrhoea, but is not vomiting

  • For breastfed babies, continue breastfeeding and feed more often.
  • For formula-fed babies, continue with the usual formula. If the diarrhoea lasts for more than 10 days, an option to change to a soy- or lactose-free formula may be considered.
  • Do not feed your baby with only water.
  • For every bout of loose stools, add 60 to 100ml of fluids, such as rice water, barley water or rehydration solution, to replenish lost electrolytes and sodium.
  • If a child cannot hold down any fluid at all, seek emergency care.
  • For older children, there is no need for dietary restrictions, but increase the intake of rice water, barley water or rehydration solution. Fruit juice should be diluted four times.

If your child is under three years old and vomiting, but not dehydrated

  • Give 15ml of fluid (rice water, barley water, rehydration solution, milk or diluted juice) every 15 minutes for the first three to four hours. Double the fluid volume and increase the feeding interval if your child does not vomit (i.e. 30ml/30min for one hour, then 60ml/ hour for two to three hours).
  • For breastfed babies, feed more frequently but in smaller amounts.
  • Seek medical advice if vomiting persists.

After eight hours without vomiting

  • Start milk feeds for babies and give about one to two ounces less per feed.
  • For breastfed babies, return to normal nursing.
  • For older children, offer a soft diet of porridge, bread, biscuits, soup or mashed potatoes.
  • Usually, your child can be back on solids within 24 hours after recovery from vomiting.

Read on to learn how stomach flu (gastroenteritis) can put children at risk of dehydration.

Ref: T12