Vomiting babies: What to do and when to be concerned

Having a vomiting baby is not fun for you and usually scary for baby. However, not all vomiting requires a trip to the emergency room. Photo: Sean Fresse

SILVER SPRING, Md, September 23, 2012 ― Having a vomiting baby is not fun for you and usually scary for baby.They do not know what is happening to them, so add that confusion to the normal unpleasantness to complete the sick baby picture. The first time your baby throws up, you may panic, especially if your baby is very young or you have a typically healthy child. However, not all vomiting requires a trip to the emergency room.

There is also a difference between vomiting and spit-up.  Most babies spit up as newborns before their digestive track is fully capable of keeping all that milk down. Spitting-up can be separated from vomiting by the effort it takes. Spit-up is usually effortless, and comes shortly after eating. Vomiting on the other hand takes effort and your baby will be visibly in distress. Think about the last time you threw-up. It is a whole body endeavor. Sometimes you ache so much you feel like you had gotten in an ab work-out. When your baby has transitioned to solid food, spit-up usually slows until it stops altogether. In the cases of chronic spit-up or painful spit-up in young children, you should take your baby to see his doctor to rule out a more serious digestive problem.

Photo by Nate Grigg. Click to enlarge.


Once you have identified that your baby is in fact vomiting, as disgusting as it sounds, you need to examine the vomit visually. What color is it? Are there any blood streaks? Does it appear to have coffee grounds in it? How much is there? These are all important questions your doctor may have for you. Some things that require immediate medical attention and should warrant an immediate trip to the emergency room are coffee-ground-like blood in the vomit and a green color to the bile (digestive fluid), or if his abdomen is swollen and it hurts him when you apply gentle pressure. These are signs of serious digestive problems that require immediate medical attention.  If any of these signs occur you may also want to take a sample of the vomit in a baggy with you to the emergency room for doctors to test.

Not all vomiting requires attention from your doctor, but the first time your child throws-up you should consult your doctor to make sure you are not overlooking something more serious.  Access your baby’s overall condition. Look for any other symptoms that you might need to inform your doctor of, including fever, diarrhea, rash, and change in skin tone.

Mother and baby at the 3-month check-up.

As scary as it sounds, small streaks of blood in the vomit may not be serious. Tiny tears in the lining of the digestive track can form under the effort and stress of vomiting. However, it does require a trip to the pediatrician to ensure nothing more sinister is lurking. Similarly, if your child has been vomiting for more than 24-hours, cannot stop vomiting, appears to have yellowing skin or eyes, is becoming listless or is going longer than usual between wet diapers, it is time to call the doctor.

Dehydration is a major concern with sick children, especially those who are vomiting or have diarrhea. Anyone who is sick can easily become dehydrated, but it is especially easy for young children to lose too many fluids. Signs of dehydration can include reduced frequency or amount of urination, tearless crying, reduced saliva, listlessness, sunken eyes, and sunken fontanels (the soft spot on the top of infants’ heads). If you suspect dehydration, call your doctor immediately.

To prevent dehydration, try giving your baby an electrolyte replacement drink, such as Pedialyte, after vomiting or diarrhea. After baby’s stomach has been calm for a half hour, start with a teaspoon of fluid. If he can keep it down give him another teaspoon every 20-30 minutes. 

Finally, if you suspect the vomiting may be related to swallowing something poisonous, contact poison control immediately. However, the best treatment for poisoning is prevention. While keeping chemicals and cleaners in locked cabinets and out-of-reach of tiny hands is the best course to prevent accidental poisoning, all parents should keep the phone number for the poison control center easily accessible in case of an accident.

Vomitting may be a sign of a simple 24-hour virus, a bacterial infection, or a digestive issue. It is important to make sure your child gets proper medical attention for his illness, but it is not always a need for panic.  Remember, staying calm yourself will help you baby feel more at ease despite not feeling well.


Follow Brighid on Twitter at @BrighidMoret and receive updates when new columns post on Facebook. Read more about first time parenting issues in Parenting the First Time Through at The Communities at The Washington Times.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Brighid Moret

Brighid is a freelance writer and first time mother.  She holds an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University.  Find her on Facebook @Brighid Moret


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