Gastroenteritis in Children: Care Instructions

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The digestive system


Gastroenteritis is an illness that may cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It can be caused by bacteria or a virus.

Your child should begin to feel better in 1 or 2 days. In the meantime, let your child get plenty of rest and make sure your child doesn't get dehydrated. Dehydration occurs when the body loses too much fluid.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think your child is having a problem with a medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • Give your child lots of fluids. This is very important if your child is vomiting or has diarrhea. Give your child sips of water or drinks such as Pedialyte or Infalyte. These drinks contain a mix of salt, sugar, and minerals. You can buy them at drugstores or grocery stores. Give these drinks as long as your child is throwing up or has diarrhea. Do not use them as the only source of liquids or food for more than 12 to 24 hours.
  • Watch for and treat signs of dehydration, which means the body has lost too much water. As your child becomes dehydrated, thirst increases, and their mouth or eyes may feel very dry. Your child may also lack energy and want to be held a lot. Your child may not need to urinate as often as usual.
  • Wash your hands after changing diapers and before you touch food. Have your child wash their hands after using the toilet and before eating.
  • When your child feels like eating, start with small amounts.
  • Continue to breastfeed, but try it more often and for a shorter time. Give Infalyte or a similar drink between feedings with a dropper, spoon, or bottle.
  • If your baby is formula-fed, switch to Infalyte. Give:
    • 1 tablespoon of the drink every 10 minutes for the first hour.
    • After the first hour, slowly increase how much Infalyte you offer your baby.
    • When 6 hours have passed with no vomiting, you may give your child formula again.
  • Do not give your child over-the-counter antidiarrhea or upset-stomach medicines without talking to your doctor first. Do not give Pepto-Bismol or other medicines that contain salicylates, a form of aspirin. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Make sure your child rests. Keep your child home as long as your child has a fever.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child is confused, does not know where they are, or is extremely sleepy or hard to wake up.
  • Your child has severe belly pain.
  • Your child vomits blood or what looks like coffee grounds.
  • Your child passes maroon or very bloody stools.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has new or worse belly pain.
  • Your child has a new or higher fever.
  • Your child has symptoms of dehydration, such as:
    • Dry eyes and a dry mouth.
    • Passing only a little urine.
    • Feeling thirstier than usual.
  • Your child has nausea or vomiting and can't keep medicine or fluids down.
  • Your child cannot pass stools or gas.
  • Your child has new or more blood in their stools or their stools are black and tarlike

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child has new symptoms, such as a rash, an earache, or a sore throat.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.