The vomiting and diarrhea that come with stomach virus symptoms can turn everyday routines like eating and drinking into a battle. It might be scary to see your kid go hours and hours without keeping down a single bite of nourishment, but rest assured: This is normal.
“When a child has a stomach virus, it’s really hard to eat. You don’t have much of an appetite,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, a pediatrician at The Mount Sinai Hospital and chief medical editor at HealthiNation. “Don’t worry about the food. Focus on the drinking and making sure they stay hydrated.”
Water is an obvious choice, of course, but Dr. Parikh also recommends electrolyte-packed drinks like Pedialyte, which may help replenish the electrolytes your sick one has lost while sick. Skip high-sugar options like juices, ginger ale, or soda, which can make diarrhea worse. (Here’s a nutritionist’s take on drinking ginger ale for nausea.)
Another pediatrician’s trick? “I always tell my patients to make [electrolyte drinks] into ice pops,” says Dr. Parikh. “When they’re ice pops, they’re a little bit more flavorful and they’re a little bit more tolerable to take.” If you don’t have popsicle molds, you can hack it by freezing them in paper cups or muffin tins. You can also buy Pedialyte Freezer Pops from some drug stores.
“Just make sure that they’re taking small amounts,” says Dr. Parikh. “Do a couple sips, and if they tolerate it, then you can increase the amount.” Too much food or fluid too fast can trigger vomiting, and you want to help them keep the fluid in their body if possible. Learn more tips for preventing dehydration with the stomach virus and symptoms of dehydration to look for.
When it comes to food, don’t rush it. “It can take up to a week before they really feel back to themselves,” says Dr. Parikh. “Take the eating slowly, and give them small amounts.”
Some people use the BRAT method when feeding a child with the stomach flu: bananas, rice, applesauce, and tea/toast. These are probably more tolerable than other more savory foods for a kid with a stomach bug, so they’re a good place to start, but they won’t provide all the important nutrients your kid needs. In general, encourage fruits and vegetables, supplement with lean proteins like lentils, and limit fatty, sugary, or greasy foods (which may make nausea or diarrhea worse).
You can also use probiotic supplements for your kiddo, but steer clear of antidiarrheal meds. “Probiotics help replenish the gut with the bacteria that it’s losing in the diarrhea,” says Dr. Parikh. Find more information here about how probiotics can promote gut health.
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