The Nurse’s Throw-Up Guide

Meaghan O’Keeffe, RN, BSN, is a mother, writer and nurse. She worked at Boston Children’s Hospital for nearly a decade, in both the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the Pre-op Clinic.  She is a regular contributor to Thriving.

Meaghan_OKeeffe_1When it comes to common childhood illnesses, few wreak havoc on the entire household like the dreaded stomach bug (or viral gastroenteritis).

No parent likes it. Most siblings can’t take even the slightest thought of it. And often, the last person to get sick is the poor caretaker.

But there’s some hope. With these nurse-approved throw-up tips, you might get through this unscathed. Even if you don’t, it can be less disastrous than you might have initially imagined.

The Nurse’s Throw-Up Guide:


This is the golden rule. The more you contain, the better off everyone is. Don’t freeze while you watch the cascade happen in slow motion. Get a bowl. That should be the house motto. Get a bowl.

Clean as many surfaces as you can

The number one prevention method for spreading contact germs is hand washing. As the caregiver, your hand washing is the most important thing you can do. Stay acutely aware of what your hands are touching after you’ve touched your child. Wipe faucet handles, toilet seats and counters. Think about remote controls, cell phones and food preparation too. This can be a challenge while taking care of a sick child, but staying aware and doing the best you can is your strongest defense.

shutterstock_210625291Stay alert without overreacting

If your child seems suddenly lethargic, green, and mentions casually that her belly hurts, perk up those ears and get the bowl. But no need to raise an ear-splitting alarm. This could be nothing. Kids complain of bellyaches all the time. There’s nothing like asking your child over and over again if she’s going to throw up to make her considerably more nauseous and up the anxiety factor.

Dress the couch in layers

Layer towels underneath your little sick one. If a surprise bout comes along, or you get an unexpected mess on the other end, you can remove and wash the top layers easily and not have to buy a new couch.

Push fluids

Fluid replacement is crucial during a stomach bug when dehydration is a major concern. Encourage sips, whenever possible, of water or clear juice. Ice pops and flavored gelatin also count toward fluid intake. Symptoms of dehydration include: lack of urination, inability to produce tears when crying (especially in infants), listlessness, sunken eyes, along with a dry mouth and dry mucous membranes.

Do not go down the vomit hole

You can rise above this. Breathe through your mouth, think about flowers, sing a favorite song. Whatever you do, do not let your mind provide commentary on how things smell or look or feel.

Take recovery slowly

Your child might feel hungry as she begins to feel better and the vomiting subsides. But that little GI tract is still inflamed and irritated. Stick with bland foods that will be easy on the stomach. No mac n’cheese—no matter how much she claims full recovery. Trust me on this one. I learned the hard way.

You should call your pediatrician if:

  • Your child develops a high fever (greater than 102° F).
  • Your child appears dehydrated, lethargic, confused, or complains of feeling dizzy.
  • Vomiting lasts for more than 12-24 hours.
  • You have any questions or need reassurance. When in doubt, just ask.