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Teaching Topic: Gastroenteritis is a Common Condition in Infants

By Boys Town Pediatrics

Baby with stomach flu

​Next to the common cold, gastroenteritis, which is inflammation of the lining of the stomach and intestines, is the most common illness your child will develop. This illness is also called the “stomach flu” by many and should not be confused with influenza, which is primarily a respiratory illness.

Symptoms:

With gastroenteritis, your child will develop one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea

Treatment:

Rest the intestinal tract, but give enough fluids to avoid dehydration. Most victims of gastroenteritis will recover if you “rest” the intestinal tract for a few days by changing the diet to easily absorbed and digested fluids and foods. Many times the child is made sicker by being made to drink and eat the wrong foods. When adults have an upset stomach, they simply don’t eat or drink much; they rest their intestinal tract. But when their child is sick, they tend to try to force him to eat too much too soon, causing more vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain than would have occurred if they had just waited until the child began to want to eat.

Fever:

Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen according to the weight of your child (see fever sheet).

Vomiting and Diarrhea:

Advance the diet through the following stages as the child’s condition allows. If the child doesn’t tolerate the next stage, go back to the level he was doing OK on for a while.

Level 1:

Offer nothing. You may give Pedialyte or ice chips if the child has “dry heaves,” which may last about four hours.

Level 2:

Clear liquids until hungry. (Start with small amounts and increase as tolerated.) The balanced electrolyte solutions (Pedialyte) are the best and should be used for infants. For older children, ice chips and water, ½ strength Gatorade or diet decaffeinated clear sodas are OK. (Avoid fruit juice as the high sugar content can aggravate vomiting and diarrhea.)

(If the child only has diarrhea you may start here.)

Level 3:

When hungry, start “easy to digest foods.”​

  • For nursing mothers, breast milk is excellent.
  • Most formula-fed babies do fine with their current formulas, but if your child has significant, prolonged diarrhea, consider using a formula that doesn’t contain lactose (lactose-free or soy).
  • For infants taking solids and older children, starchy foods are best. Examples are rice (cereal for infants), potatoes, saltine crackers, breads and pasta.

Level 4:

Regular diet when diarrhea is improved and your child does well with the above.

Your child may need additional treatment recommended by your doctor if one of the following occurs:

  • Appears very ill or has signs of dehydration
  • Vomits more than 24 hours (12 hours if less than 6 months old)
  • Has blood in his stools
  • Has more than 10 stools per day
  • Does not urinate every 12 hours (sometimes hard to tell with absorbable diapers)
  • Has a very fast heart rate
  • Tongue and lips look dry
  • Seems very sleepy and has difficulty moving around (lethargic)
  • ​Diarrhea lasting more than two weeks