Prevent Dehydration with Stomach Flu: Key Tips for Parents

How to tell if your sick kiddo is getting enough fluids.

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Stomach flu, or viral gastroenteritis, has got to be one of the worst infections you can catch: stomach cramps, diarrhea, and non-stop vomiting for at least 24 to 48 hours? (Please, no.) But all that bathroom business can lead to another serious issue: dehydration.

Besides managing your child’s symptoms (and all that clean up), parents will also need to monitor their kid’s fluid intake when they’re sick with a stomach virus. The key is to make sure they’re drinking,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, a pediatrician at The Mount Sinai Hospital and chief medical editor at HealthiNation. “If they’re not eating, it’s okay.”

One option Dr. Parikh recommends is ice pops. Standard fruity freezer pops (on a stick or in a tube) do the trick, but electrolyte-replacement pops like Pedialyte can make up for the lack of food and drink your child is getting. Skip fruit juice, sodas, Jell-O, or broth, which can make diarrhea worse.

But don’t give kids free reign to start guzzling: Let them try a few licks or sips of the ice pop (or water) and see what they can tolerate. If they keep it down, then see if they can have a little more. “That’s really important because if you give too much fluid too quickly, it can cause them to throw up, and also it can make their diarrhea get worse,” says Dr. Parikh.

Of course, babies aren’t going to tell you if they’re dehydrated. One clue is urination. Infants and children should be urinating every four to six hours. If they’re going less frequently than that,  they are likely becoming dehydrated from the stomach flu.

The appearance of the pee can also be a clue. If you notice pink or orange crystals in the baby’s diaper, or the older child’s pee is a dark yellow hue, that may signal dehydration. (Learn more here about what your pee color can tell you.) Finally, cracked or chapped lips can signal a lack of fluids in the body, according to Dr. Parikh.

Call your pediatrician or primary care doctor if you notice the following signs when your child is sick with a stomach virus:

  • Your child’s heart rate rises

  • Your child seems “out of it”

  • Your child is sleeping more than usual

  • Your child is not drinking or eating at all

These are all signs that their condition may be getting worse.

As for taking care of yourself and the rest of the family, here are tips to prevent the stomach virus from spreading. P.S. Don’t bother with grape juice. Here’s why grape juice won’t ward off the stomach flu.