A Busy Mom's Complete Stomach Bug Survival Guide

It's always the middle of the night. Usually, right before you actually allow yourself to fall asleep after staying up way too late trying to steal some "me” time after the kids have gone to bed. 

Someone vomits.

There are plenty of articles online about various stomach bugs and all the viruses that cause gastroenteritis. Chances are, if your home is being plagued with digestive distress (sometimes from both ends), you’ve already played Dr. Google and scoured the internet for answers and possible solutions. Unfortunately, you will most likely have learned that there’s not much we can do once we’ve been exposed, and for the most part, it will just have to run its course. 

Therefore, these are the things we will not be discussing today:
  • What is the stomach flu? (Spoiler alert: it’s not the flu at all.)
  • What causes gastroenteritis? (it’s gross, that’s all you need to know.)
  • How to prevent gastroenteritis? (... Wash your hands a lot and pray.)
  • How to treat gastroenteritis? (Basically, stay hydrated and slowly reintroduce solids.)
  • When should you be concerned? (This could be an entire post on its own; please never hesitate to call your child’s doctor if you have any questions or concerns! Nothing is too small or too silly when it comes to your child’s health and well-being.)

However, that doesn’t mean there’s absolutely nothing you can do to make this icky time a little bit less icky for everyone involved. It all comes down to knowing what you can do before, during, and after a stomach bug to make your and your family’s lives a tad easier.

The Ultimate Stomach Bug Supply List:

Some of these things can be purchased ahead of time; others will probably require a quick order after the bug hits. It’s a good list to have on hand so you can be prepared either way!

Hydration

Water (or ice cubes) is the bare minimum here. Still, ideally, you will have some other options, such as Pedialyte or a sports drink like Gatorade or Powerade, that will also replace electrolytes and vital minerals lost through dehydration. I am a big fan of popsicles, especially the Pedialyte or Powerade brand ones with those extra electrolytes and minerals. 

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Bland Foods

Crackers are the go-to choice for a reason. Saltines, club crackers, or Ritz are all great options, but my kids like Graham crackers. They add a nice “sweet” variety to the salty selection if any of your little ones lean more toward having a sweet tooth and you are struggling to get them to eat. Other “safe” foods include:

  • Banana slices.
  • Applesauce pouches (less messy than cups!).
  • Plain or lightly buttered toast.
  • White rice.

Yogurt can provide some essential probiotics to help get your system back on track as well once you start to reach the end of your illness.

Thermometer and Fever-reducing Medicine as Needed

It’s unlikely our children will want you to stick anything in their mouths if they’re feeling nauseous, so a forehead thermometer is preferable here if possible. Also, keep in mind that ibuprofen (Motrin/Advil) can be rough on an empty stomach (and dangerous for babies under six months), so I favor acetaminophen (Tylenol) during stomach bugs. Anti-nausea medicine is usually unnecessary for children with a stomach virus. Vomiting is a protective action your body uses to clear the infection, so it is best to let it run its course and continue to rehydrate afterward.

Baby Wipes

While toilet paper or a paper towel can do the trick, I have found baby wipes to be the ultimate option during a stomach bug for quick clean-up of faces and hands. This is not meant to replace proper handwashing but can serve as a quick option immediately following vomiting to provide relief and minimize mess. The cool moisture can also be relieving as body temperatures fluctuate, and each child can easily have their own personal pack of baby wipes beside them to use as needed. My own mother always gave us damp washcloths for our foreheads, and that can certainly work, too! 

Lidded Cups with Straws

Take-n-toss sippy cups work great for kids as they are cheap and can be tossed if you can’t bring yourself to sanitize and reuse them after the havoc has ended. Straws can make hydration easier if children are feeling weak and too unstable to lift a cup without spilling. A thermos or insulated tumbler can be a great option for storing ice cubes as well if you are trying to rehydrate when tummies aren't quite ready for straight liquid yet. 

Buckets/Trash Cans

Ideally, everyone makes it to the toilet, but with small children, that isn’t always a realistic goal. Especially if everyone is sick at once. A large bowl can suffice for catching vomit, but it can be shallow and wide and is not always designed in a way that sufficiently contains the contents. 

The best hack I’ve found is to save gallon ice cream buckets. Keeping a clean stack in the laundry room means that when a stomach bug rears its head, everyone in the family gets a deep bucket with a handle to carry around with them until everything has run its course. Just be sure to show kids how to carefully empty their bucket into the toilet (or trash, if it has baby wipes/paper towels inside) and rinse it in the sink or bathtub. You’ll thank me when you aren’t tip-toeing around half-filled vomit buckets precariously perched around sick and sleeping children. You can easily wash and sanitize them for reuse after the bug or retire them and start saving for a fresh batch. (They also sell disposable vomit bags like you get on an airplane or in the hospital if that is more your speed!)

Chuck Pads

When you deliver a baby in the hospital, they will place these big blue absorbent pads under you on the bed to absorb any leaking blood/fluids after birth. When I discovered you could buy these independently right off Amazon, they were an answer to my potty-training-mother's heart. What I didn’t realize was how handy they would come when it came time for stomach bugs as well. They have disposable versions (similar to puppy pee pads) as well as reusable ones that can be rinsed and washed in your washing machine. 

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Old Towels

In addition to having fresh towels ready for anyone who wants/needs a shower, layering is your friend. If your little one misses a vomit bucket, you do not want to have to worry about scrubbing the carpet, removing couch cushion covers, or fully stripping the bed. Having a modest collection of towels or small blankets layered beneath your child when resting can make it easy to whisk off the top layer for washing if there’s a mishap. (If you’ve saved any newborn receiving blankets, those can also work great here!)

Things to Do at the First Sign of a Bug:

Time is of the essence! As soon as someone gets sick, I can usually assume the rest are about to follow, and I waste no time getting everything in order. 

Clear a Path to the Bathroom

This may be relatively self-explanatory, but life happens, and the floor gets cluttered. Save yourself the stress of tripping or, worse, a child actively vomiting while tripping, and clear the path. 

Clean the Toilet (and the Rest of the Bathroom)

No one likes a dirty bathroom. When you’re feeling at your lowest, you may not care much about the state of the toilet, but you may also be surprised at how comforting it can be to have a clean environment when you’re feeling so yucky. And a stinky toilet does not do much to help an already upset stomach.

Catch-up on Laundry

It’s easy to fall behind on laundry, but once a stomach bug starts, that laundry will begin piling up faster than you can imagine. If you have some warning, try to get as much done ahead of time (especially towels!) so the laundry room and hampers can be as clear as possible to receive new loads as needed.

Place a Grocery Order

Stomach bugs are vicious and do not promise to spare you just because you are a parent with little ones to take care of. Even if you are feeling healthy, place a grocery order for any necessities as soon as possible. Ideally, you should avoid going inside the grocery store or being around anyone face-to-face, as you are usually contagious before you’ve even begun showing symptoms. (And you can be a carrier even if you never show symptoms!) Instead, opt for a no-contact pick-up or door delivery. 

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Remember:

If there’s ever a time I feel the epitome of “woe is me” as a parent, it’s when my entire family is fighting a stomach bug. It can be helpful to keep a few things in mind to stay in perspective.

Reinforce the Handwashing Policy

While it might be too late for your family for this particular virus, this can serve as a great reminder for everyone to be diligent about their handwashing. Make it a habit to wash your hands not only after the restroom and before you eat but every time you come home. Teach proper handwashing techniques, and be sure to provide a good supply of soap and clean towels. Some viruses like norovirus can survive most hand sanitizers, so soapy water is your best bet. And when you’re washing contaminated laundry, opt for a round of high heat in the dryer as well.

Keep Your Eyes on the Light at the End of the Tunnel

Vomiting typically will not last more than 24 hours in a child. (There are exceptions.) One of the FEW benefits of a stomach virus is that while they tend to hit hard they also tend to go relatively fast. Every moment you all feel terrible is one moment closer to feeling healthy again. 

Keep It in Perspective

It can be alarming to see your child so sick, but keep in mind that children tend to vomit more than adults. This may be due to a stronger gag reflex or the fact that their immune systems are less experienced. Don’t be worried if your child is throwing up significantly more than you are. Chances are their body is just working hard to get everything out of their system so they can feel better again.

Take It Slow

Once everyone starts turning a corner, it can be tempting to jump back into things, but give yourself (and your kids) time! Start liquids slowly and solids even more slowly to avoid a resurgence of vomit. Viruses that cause stomach bugs can potentially be contagious for days to WEEKs after symptoms disappear. (Especially through stool) so be thoughtful of who you spend time around, be sure everyone is practicing good hygiene, and don’t rush to send them back to school if they are still queasy. 

Give Yourself Grace

Even a few stray vomit particles are enough to spread illness, so while you can do your best, it isn’t your fault or unsurprising if someone else falls ill. Your family being sick does not by any means poorly reflect on you as a person or a parent. Even the healthiest, cleanest families are human and can fall victim to viruses. Instead, give yourself permission to slow down and recover. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether that be asking a coworker to cover for you or a friend to pick up a grocery order if you need it. 

 

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