It’s 1:00 in the morning.
Did you hear that?
A cry that’s equal parts confusion and panic.
It jolts you wide awake, and as you quickly make your way into your four-year-old’s bedroom, you know one thing instinctively: There will be some kind of bodily fluid waiting for you.
You finally reach her room and, taking a deep breath, roll up your sleeves, push open that door, and head straight for it. What other choice did you have? You’re a mom. It’s in your job description. (You really should demand a pay raise in the morning.)
I hope you’ve got a bottle a bleach stored under the sink. You’re going to need it.
This nightmare is just getting started.
The Battle of the Stomach Bug:
You Can Overcome
It’s the midnight-cry every mom dreads, isn’t it?
Not only does it promise you a mostly sleepless night ahead, but it also brings with it a sense of dreadful anticipation as you wonder who it will strike next.
You can’t sugarcoat the stomach bug.
Whenever it chooses to strike, you’ve likely got a few terrible days and nights ahead of you no matter how many bright sides you find. But here’s what you can do:
- You can be prepared for its strike.
- You can help keep it from spreading.
- You can beat that bug back to the microbial depths from whence it came.
Set your cap, friend. These are the tips that will help you overcome that nasty stomach bug.
Overcome the Stomach Bug:
Before it Hits
If I could write an article about how to eliminate the stomach bug from our lives or help you get rid of it entirely in three steps flat, believe me, I would.
Unfortunately, that article is filed away with a few of my other winners like “The Magical Way to End Toddler Tantrums” and “How to Go to the Bathroom Without Being Interrupted.”
At some point, you’re going to have to help your family get through the stomach bug; there is just no way around it. But don’t worry. You can ease its blow by being prepared.
Create Your Stomach Bug Survival Kit
If you’re like me, then one of the first things you do the morning after a stomach bug strike is make your husband a list of things to pick up at the store on his way home from work. (Or maybe that’s vice versa depending on who’s out-and-about, because who wants to load a vomit-dressed kid into the car and head to Walgreens?)
The problem is, sometimes I can’t wait until dinnertime for those list items.
I’ve figured some things out after a few of our own bouts with the stomach bug, and I now make sure I have a Stomach Bug Survival Kit on hand even when everyone is perfectly healthy.
Here’s what I keep in stock:
- Pedialyte: Making sure kids stay hydrated is one of the most important responses to the stomach flu. Dehydration remains one of the top reasons young kids are hospitalized. These Pedialyte powder sticks are easily stored, mix easily into water, and can last for a super long time stored in the pantry.
- Flu-Friendly Food: Chicken noodle soup and crackers are obvious staples. Just make sure to use and then restock before the expiration date.
- Extra Bedding: Don’t get caught with puke-covered sheets and no backup option. A few extra sets of sheets (both for the baby’s crib and the preschooler) might afford you some more sleep because you won’t have to rush to move a load of laundry into the dryer. QuickZip sheets are also a cleverly brilliant solution, letting you unzip the bottom sheet and replace without wrestling with sheet corners.
- Cleaning Supplies: When it comes to killing these particular germs, many household cleaners aren’t going to cut it. The CDC recommends a a solution that contains anywhere from 5 to 25 tablespoons of household bleach per gallon of water. Or, if you’d rather, just buy a pre-mixed spray and some rubber gloves.
- Baking Soda. I’ll go ahead and save you from having to Google “How to get vomit out of carpet” by just leaving this helpful article here. You’re welcome!
So, now you’re ready. All that’s left to do is wait.
Overcome the Stomach Bug:
During the Attack
The stomach bug has hit your house, so now what?
Well, you do everything you can to halt its progress.
Step One: Quarantine
You do not have to admit defeat and sit idly by just waiting for the stomach bug to take its next victim. It is possible for you to overcome this without every member of your family going down. The first thing you need to do is quarantine the infected party as best you can.
This is easy if it’s mom or dad. It’s trickier, but not impossible, if you’ve got a toddler on your hands. The kids in my house are 4, 3, and 1, and the stomach bug has never hit them all at once. *knocking furiously on wood*
Here are a few of our best containment tips:
- Try to keep your germs to a single room of the house. If your kids normally play in both the living room and the basement playroom, stick just to the living room for a few days (or whichever space is closest to a bathroom).
- Keep the sick kid away from the healthy kids. If your kids are like mine, they aren’t going to be happy to be alone in their rooms for an entire day. We usually set ours up on the couch with a few movies and the portable DVD player and then build a wall around them with these baby gates.
- If the baby or toddler is the one with the bug, talk to your older kids about steering clear. The baby might not understand the need for distance, but a preschooler will.
Step Two: Disinfect
If you feel like you’re constantly cleaning during an attack of the stomach bug, that’s probably a good thing.
According to the CDC, Norovirus is most likely the germ behind the vomiting and/or diarrhea in your house. It spreads quickly and easily and can still linger even after someone is feeling better. Luckily, you can help kill these germs with the bleach spray you already have on hand. Pull on your rubber gloves and focus on these areas:
- The bathroom. Wash down the toilet every time someone vomits or has diarrhea.
- Doorknobs. Don’t forget about this breeding ground for germs!
- Kitchen surfaces. Wipe these down a couple of times a day.
- Bedding and comfort items. Remember: Norovirus can linger. If you want to really be proactive, replace sheets and clean that snuggly lovey every day even for a few days after the bug has passed.
- The car. If you had to transport a sick kid, don’t forget to give the carseats a good wipe down.
Step Three: Wash. Hands. Often.
Here is a fun fact for you: Hand washing alone can prevent 1 in 3 diarrhea-related illnesses and 1 in 5 respiratory infections, such as a cold or the flu.
It is arguably your most important line of defense when it comes to keeping healthy kids healthy when sick ones are close by.
Step Four: Know When to Call Your Doctor
The stomach bug can be nerve wracking, especially if you’ve got a baby who is having trouble keeping liquids down or a toddler acting especially lethargic. Of course you should never hesitate to call your doctor if you have a question or concern, but the American Academy of Pediatrics does have some suggestions for when it’s necessary to involve your doctor:
- If the vomiting lasts longer than or gets worse after 24 hours.
- If you suspect dehydration. (Count wet diapers for babies/toddlers and pay attention to how often your bigger kids are going to the bathroom.)
If you haven’t already, print off our free “When to Call the Doctor” printable and stick it on the fridge for quick reference!
Step Five: Refill Your Energy Tank
Caring for sick kids in the midst of the stomach bug is going to take you to the depths of motherhood. It’s exhausting and disgusting and seemingly never-ending work when you’re in the thick of it.
So, find some ways to keep your spirits and eyes lifted, so you don’t get too discouraged or overwhelmed.
- Play some soothing music in the background.
- Give your nose a break from the vomit and bleach by lighting some freshly scented candles around your house.
- Listen to a motherhood related podcast to help remind yourself you’re not alone. (This one might be a great place to start.)
- Take a warm, bubble bath after all your kids are in bed.
- If possible, get out of the house for an hour, so you can breathe some fresh, outside air.
You know what things will help keep you going, so don’t hesitate to do them!
Overcome the Stomach Bug:
After It Passes
The stomach bug should only last 24 hours per person, but your work to overcome it should continue on a few days after (especially if you’re still trying to prevent other people from getting sick).
Avoid the Vomit Encore: Go Slow with Foods
Your child has probably existed on a diet of water or Pedialyte for the better part of a day. Once he starts to regain an appetite, go slow, or you may have a vomit encore on your hands.
Start small when it comes to reintroducing food and drink. Toast and broth-based soups are usually pretty safe places to start. Take it a little at a time, and your child should be back to a normal diet in a few days.
- Try offering 1 tablespoon of water every 15-20 minutes.
- If he keeps that down after an hour, progress to a saltine cracker or two.
- If that stays down, move towards a little chicken broth.
- Creep up the food groups, while avoiding dairy, fatty foods, and red-meat until he’s been vomit-free for 24 hours.
Keep Your Cleaning Gloves On
Remember: Stomach bugs can linger long after someone is healthy. So stay vigilant when it comes to laundry and surface disinfecting for the week following an outbreak.You won’t regret it!
The Stomach Bug:
You’ll Make It to the Other Side
Will it be disgusting? Yes.
Will it push you to your limits? Yes.
Will you get through it? YES.
Don’t let that first middle of the night cry send you into a panic. Instead, roll up your sleeves, push open the door, and remember that you are prepared for exactly this occasion.
Especially now that you have that bleach bottle waiting for you under the sink.
Have You Read These Yet?
- How to Make the Preschool Age Your Best One Yet
- An Open Letter to Exhausted Moms Everywhere
- How to Make Your Preschooler’s Screen Time Free of Mom Guilt
- 12 Ways to Engage Your Child from the Comfort of Your Couch
- How to Survive (and Actually Enjoy) the Toddler Years
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We ♥ Citations
Prevent the Spread of Norovirus. CDC.gov
Handwashing: At Home, at Play, and Out and About. CDC.gov
Surviving the Stomach Bug: Truth & Tips for Parents. HealthyChildren.org
Parents Lack Understanding of Causes, Signs, and Symptoms of Dehydration in Children. News-Medical.net
Molly is the mom of three kids under the age of four and the wife of a busy (and extremely handsome) resident doctor. Mostly though, she’s a particularly average person just trying to live each day well. She spends most of her days perfecting the messy bun, drinking all the coffee, and observing every piece of beauty she can find in the mundane. Read more about Molly in her full bio here.