What You Need To Know About Gastro In Kids

Gastro. A word no parent wants to hear, however a word that often arises
throughout the parenting journey. 

Gastro is short for gastroenteritis - a very common illness that affects the digestive system, most commonly caused by a virus. Vomiting and diarrhoea are the much dreaded, and most common symptoms. Much of the worry around gastro is how easily it spreads from person to person. The main concern for our little ones is the risk of dehydration associated with diarrhoea and/or vomiting. Little bodies have less to fall back on to prevent dehydration, when compared to adults. 

Gastro signs & symptoms:

  • Generalised unwell feeling
  • Decreased appetite for food or drink 
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhoea (watery)
  • Nausea 
  • Fever 
  • Abdominal pain/cramps
  • Dehydration 

*It is important to note that a baby under six months can easily become
dehydrated, and needs to have a GP consult if they have any signs of gastro. 

When should we see a doctor?

  • If your child is vomiting, has diarrhoea, and is not drinking 
  • Has 8-10 watery poos, or 2-3 large poos per day
  • If diarrhoea has not improved after 10 days 
  • If vomiting is ongoing, and it does not appear that your little one is keeping any fluids down 
  • Fewer wet nappies or not going to the toilet as frequently as normal (dark yellow or brown wee)
  • Lightheaded or dizzy
  • Dry lips and mouth
  • Bad stomach pain 
  • Any blood in poo
  • Any green vomit 
  • If you are worried for any other reason 
  • If your child is showing signs of severe dehydration, and cannot keep any fluids down they may need to present to hospital and have assistance in receiving fluids.
How is gastro spread? 

As gastro is highly infectious, it can spread very quickly and easily (which is
daunting to hear as parents). Gastro spreads when a person comes in contact with infected particles of vomit or poo of an infected person including;

  • Person-to-person (shaking hands with someone who has the virus on their hands) 
  • Contaminated objects
  • Contaminated food or drink 
  • Infection can also spread in the air through vomit. 

How can we prevent gastro?

The good news is we can put some actions in place to try and prevent gastro
spreading! Frequently hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and drying them, is our best defence against gastro. Specifically:

  • After using the toilet
  • After changing your little ones nappy
  • Before preparing or eating food 
  • Alcohol based hand sanitiser is not as effective against gastro*. Therefore, it is best and most effective to wash hands with soap and water. 
  • Cleaning high touch surfaces regularly 
  • Washing clothing and bedding on a high heat cycle
  • Cleaning toys 

What can we do when our little ones have gastro?

Offer plenty of clear fluids, anything your child will drink is precious in maintaining their hydration. This may be water, juice or oral rehydration solution available from a pharmacy. Small amounts frequently is the aim, and gives the best chance of keeping our little ones well hydrated.

For breastfed babies over six months: continue to offer breastfeeds more frequently than usual and after vomits.

For formula fed babies over six months: For the first 12 hours, give oral rehydration solution or water in bottles, and following this give regular formula bottles in smaller amounts, more frequently**. Remember, a baby less than six months needs to be seen by a doctor if they have gastro.

Stay at home and rest. It is important for your little one to not attend childcare or school for 48 hours after symptoms cease to minimise the spread. 

What about probiotics?

We are often asked about the use of probiotics for a gastro infection. Whilst the research remains an area of ongoing interest, there has been some findings of interest. When pharmaceutical-grade probiotics are taken with an oral rehydration solution the following have been found***

  • The duration of the course of diarrhoea may be reduced 
  • A decrease in the risk of long lasting diarrhoea 
  • A reduction in the frequency of diarrhoea 

Can my child have dairy after a bout of gastro?

Children may become sensitive to dairy following a gastro infection. If this is the case for your little one, it is appropriate to reduce dairy in the diet for up to three weeks following gastro, however if symptoms remain beyond this, visit a GP for input.

As always, information on this website is for educational purposes only. Please consult your GP for information specific to your child.

** https://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/gastroenteritis_gastro/  
*** https://www.racgp.org.au/clinical-resources/clinical-guidelines/handi/handi-

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