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Gastroenteritis in small children: what to do

Gastroenteritis is a common and often nonthreatening (benign) viral infection which causes liquid bowel movements (stools), vomiting, nausea and is sometimes accompanied by fever. The main risk is dehydration, which can happen quickly in small children.

How to prevent dehydration  It is important that your child remains well hydrated, and that the mineral salts lost by vomiting and/or diarrhoea are replaced. The best way of doing this is by making your child drink an oral rehydration solution such as Dioralyte. This solution contains water, sugar and salts and delivers optimal rehydration in young children. It is prepared by diluting 1 sachet in 200 ml of cold water, which you can keep in the fridge for up to 24 hours.

A few important points to remember…  Offer this drink to your child throughout the day (there is no maximum limit) as long as he/she has diarrhoea and/or vomiting in addition to usual meals. Your child should have access to his/her drink all the time.

At night. If your child goes to the toilet or vomits you should use the opportunity to make him drink. If he does not wake up, you should regularly check that he has not had any bowel movements or vomited.

It is common for a child to go to the toilet after drinking a rehydration solution. This is perfectly normal and is nothing to worry about.

What if your child refuses to drink? Usually, he/she will not be thirsty because he/she is not dehydrated. If his/her general demeanour is good you should continue to offer the drink regularly and he/she will drink when thirsty.

If he/she vomits give him/her the rehydration drink cold from the fridge and in small quantities: 10 to 20 ml every 5 to 10 minutes. He/she will tolerate it better.

How to Feed Your Child During Gastroenteritis

Your child’s appetite will often be less during gastroenteritis but he/she should continue to eat
Do not force him/her to eat but offer regular food, in smaller quantities
Fresh and sweet foods such as yoghurt and compote are best and can be given generously
Try “constipating” foods such as apples, bananas, quinces, rice, pasta, potatoes, but no food should be fully excluded
You can continue to give milk and dairy products

When to consult urgently?


There is a behaviour change: your child is limp or is no longer interested in his/her environment
Pallor gastroenteritis. Your child is pale/white
He/she breathes quickly
Has dark circles under his/her eyes
Lacks saliva and has a dry mouth
Your child refuses to drink despite diarrhoea or repeated vomiting
Vomiting with each drink of rehydration solution
Has a dry nappy

Finally, always remember…

Watch for fever, bowel movements (stools)and vomiting as well as their appearance
Monitor your child's demeanour and signs of dehydration
Frequent hand washing prevents contamination!