How to Survive a Throwing Up Toddler

Bath #2,456,354 during the sickness. Don't forget how good a bath feels when you're down!

Despite the wealth of writing material born from surviving not one, but two (!) vomiting toddlers at once, I’d prefer not to have to experience it again. However, I have also been baptized by fire (uh, and vomit), and feel like I’ve learned a trick or two. Here’s hoping someone finds this while combing the internet at 3 AM, as I was, trying to see if there is any good way to get through this experience:

Get A Bowl, Make it Be Friends With the Vomiter

I thought possibly Smitty + Shep were too young to understand that throwing up in a bowl is way more awesome than on the carpet, or couch. They totally got it! At age two, these guys learned to let me know when they were going to throw up, and took a great amount of pride in hitting the bowl.

It began with Shep. He threw up on the floor a few times before we got organized enough to read his signs. But sure enough, if he pointed to his mouth or tummy and said, “Ouch” we had T-minus 3 seconds to get it to him. But that was usually enough. And if he was given lots of praise and reassured while getting it in the bowl, it actually seemed less traumatic.

More importantly, Smith took note. After mocking his twin brother over and over, with pantomimes of throwing up complete with wrenching sounds, it was his turn. Smith had a different warning. If he coughed, that was it. One cough, maybe two and he was ready to roll. They each knew that the plastic bowl was the place to hit, and they each started asking for the bowl when they felt it coming on.

I believe that with more hard work and practice, these two toddlers will be ready to join a fraternity by age six due to their throwing up prowess alone. That’s probably not funny. However if you’re reading this at 3 AM your “what’s funny” bar may be a bit lower so I’m leaving it.

Buy A Snow Cone/Shave Ice Machine

Years ago Anson and Roan bought some cheap snow-cone machine that takes up way way way too much space in our Brooklyn apartment’s valuable cabinet real estate. But it has proven its worth time and again during illnesses. The worst feeling in the world is that one where you cannot keep even a drop of water down, but you are so wickedly thirsty that you drink anyway. As a mom, I know that I cannot let my toddler chug down anything at all, because it dehydrates him even more when he throws it back up. But it’s also incredibly hard to ignore his begging for water.

This machine is better than a blender, because it doesn’t crunch up the ice into chunks, it literally shaves it. So just a few slivers of shaved ice, slowly melting in their mouths seems to trick the body into hanging onto it, and quenches their thirst *just* enough to feel like they are not being tortured. Once they’ve held enough shaved ice pieces down over a few hours, you can even give them a treat and pour Pedialyte over it which helps them hydrate even more. And it resembles a really crappy tasting snow cone.

I can’t seem to find a link for the machine we have (we just bought it at a CVS), but literally it wasn’t more than $20. It is awesome for the sick kiddos. And sick husband. And sick me.

Remember How You Love to Cuddle? Now Is the Time.

Smith started throwing up at around 1 AM. After enduring what I believed was the worst of it, he finally fell asleep in my arms. I wanted to put him in his bed, but was worried that he would throw up in it (again). So Anson tucked me in on the couch, sitting up, with Smitty held upright against my chest. Rocking back and forth, I sang to him for about two hours, keeping a plastic bowl in one hand, and his head secure against my body in the other. For me, (and there’s probably some science to back this up but I just cannot be bothered to Google it) I always feel less queasy if I am upright. Laying down often times causes the world to spin. I assume it’s the same for my two-year-old.

So though I would love to be in bed, asleep, from the hours of 1 AM – 3 AM, it was worth it to me to hold my little pukey boy for a few hours, affording him the time to rest while being held. If nothing else, it was a stolen few hours of extra-sweet hugging time from a baby that desperately wanted and needed his mom. I’m so down with that.

Movies Were Made for Times Like These

I don’t think this even needs to be said, but just in case: during sick times, all TV and Movie and Screen rules are thrown out the window. Essentially, if anyone is sick and conscious, a movie is being played for them. Smitty + Shep love a loop of their three favorites (The Incredibles, Monsters Inc., and various Scooby Doo episodes), but whatever works. I read to them too, if they want, but mostly a little nest on the couch, a movie, and lots of reassurance is the order of the day. Don’t even try to be that guy who doesn’t let their kids watch TV. Don’t be that guy.

Medicine Works

I know we’re a nation of over-prescribed pill-poppers, but there are a few things that really do help. Our doctor prescribed an anti-nausea medication that worked really well with Shep and sort of well with Smitty. Smith had a hard time keeping anything at all down, including the medicine (Ondansetron) so we were caught in a little bit of a catch-22 with him. Still, once we got it in him, it helped. This is especially important to me with him because he just doesn’t have a ton of weight available to lose. That kid needs to keep down everything he can. If you have a toddler who is repeatedly throwing up, get on the phone with your pediatrician and have them call it in. It helps.

Get A Good Thermometer

This is sort of a note to myself. I don’t have a good thermometer, so I rely on my intuition. I can tell if my boys have a fever or not, but I’m not great at precisely nailing their temperature. I haven’t found a good answer for toddlers. They’re too old for rectal (and frankly I just cannot do that to them when they’re already feeling awful), but they cannot handle the under-the-tongue kind either.

I’m open to suggestions on this one – anyone have a good recommend? Every time I call the pediatrician, they ask what the boys’ temperature is, and I’m always, “….heh…well…probably over 101….” I’d like to have a better answer.

Most Importantly: Remember It Will All Be Over Soon

It’s so hard to not be able to fix it when our kids are struggling. It’s tempting to feel a little distraught and overreact to what is probably a very normal and non-threatening illness. These things usually work themselves out in less than 24 hours. Remember that. If the night is seeming long and your child is having a hard time, just remember that this is something that we all go through. It is also something that strangely, kids look back upon fondly. Roan still talks about nights I’ve stayed up with him, and the action of putting a blanket over him, even in times of perfect health, is reassuring to him. Kids love to be taken care of, especially when they really need it. Trust your instincts, take a rest when you need it, and buy some bleach for cleaning. As my friend Kara texted to me, “One of the nice things about bleach is that it burns right through your sense of smell and the stench of vomit is at bay for a while.”

She’s not wrong.

Any tips from you? I have a feeling I will be revisiting this over and over and over.

50 thoughts on “How to Survive a Throwing Up Toddler

  1. When I was a kid, my mom had a thermometer that was a plastic strip that would lay across my forehead, and a colored line would move up the temp scale. It reminds me of the yellow line on the side of a battery that lets you check its charge. It was fantastic. I’m pretty sure you can get a digital thermometer that works on the forehead or underarm, too.

  2. We have a Vick’s digital thermometer with a flexible tip that registers a temperature in 8-10 seconds. It costs like 14 bucks at the drugstore. We take our little guy’s temp under his arm with that. It is so fast that even when he’s squirmy and sick and impatient, we can still get a reading. Under arm avoids the ick of rectal and the complication of under the tongue.
    I’m glad you’re all feeling better!

  3. We have Exergen Temporal Thermometer. You just run it across the forehead. We have had it for 4 years and only had to replace the batteries 1 time.

  4. I highly recommend a temporal scan thermometer. We’ve had ours for 5-6 years and I don’t think I’ve even had to replace the batteries. LOVE that I can check a sleeping sick kid’s temp without needing to wake them!!

  5. Oh, man alive!
    I can’t say, I don’t know how you do it because you detail right up there how you do it. But all the same, I’m left saying, I don’t know how you do it.

    You are a superior mother.

  6. We have a regular thermometer and an ear thermometer. I’ve never gotten the hang of the ear one, so I don’t generally use it. Both kids get their temps taken in their armpits with the regular thermometer. I’ve never had a problem with doing it that way. Glad you and the boys made it through okay. Puking has a steep, steep learning curve.

  7. Ear thermometer. And don’t pediatricians prescribe suppositories anymore? I know they’re gross – but they work. Or at least they used to. My kids are old-ish.

  8. Granted, my homeland doesn’t offer quite as wide a variety of thermometer types, but I think even if it did I’d still continue using a rectal thermometer on my three year old, since a nurse that I know told me that they give by far the most precise reading.
    So, yeah, I use a rectal meter for a three year old – just put a tiny bit of petroleum jelly on the end of it, and the whole thing is over and done with in a matter of seconds.

  9. We have the Exergen Temporal Thermometer also. Just a quick swipe across the forehead and you have the temperature. Can check it 10 times a night without disturbing a sleeping baby. And totally accurate. If I hit the button without it being against skin, it registers the temperature on my home thermostat. It doesn’t get any easier!

  10. Ondansetron (or generic Zofram) also comes in dissolving tabs, put under the tongue. It stops the nausea and neatly sidesteps the innability to keep anything down. I’m just the mother of me, but not having to worry about throwing up the pill that’s supposed to fix me is a nice piece of mind. As a mother of two sick boys, this might afford you an extra hour or two of sleep the next time! Definitely worth a call to the pediatrician to find out! Hope everybody is feeling better!

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  12. Im sitting here At 3:10 trying not to laughing. last night A was up all night and now it is her twins turn. On top of the fun late nights filled with vomit we both have job interviews tomorrow.

  13. fever bugs. they are stickers u pit on their forehead. they read for up to 48 hours so u can keep checking. can’t live w out em

  14. Thank you for this. It’s 2:30am and I am up taking care of my 3 year old who is throwing up every 30 minutes. I think my biggest concern though is, am I going to get it??!

    I laughed out loud at your crappy tasting snow cone comment. Awesome!

  15. The vomit bowl is so clever! I can’t believe I’ve never thought of that. My boy has a medical condition so throwing up is not uncommon with him, but I’ve never thought to use a bowl and make it fun. Thanks!!!

  16. Thank you so very much! This is much more useful than any other website on toddler vomiting I have found so far!

  17. Thank you. I’m trying to find the balance between quenching the thirst and not creating more vomit for my almost 3 yr old daughter. She’s not a happy patient! Thanks for some good reading and advice whilst I wait for the next go round.

  18. It’s 2:59am and my 3yr old is puking every 20 min. I can’t bring myself to lay down for fear of him getting sick … So here I am. On my phone, reading this. THANK YOU

  19. Ha! It is actually 0220, not 0300 where I’m at right now, and I am trolling the Interwebs for toddler barf-fest reassurance. Thanks!

  20. I have my 3 y.o. daughter finally resting after a rough day of barffing and of course I’m watching her sleep I’m afraid she might barf in her sleep.

  21. I am also up at 3 am with a vomiting 2 year old that started about an hour ago and has since vomited 6 or 7 times. He seems to have settled some but I was both informed and tickled by this blog at the same time. Thank you.

  22. Sitting here at 2:37 am – my 6 year old has been throwing up since around 8:30 pm…3 times…I am a nervous wreck – but at least he can tell me how he feels… Thanks for the reading :)

  23. Just came across this blog at 11.46pm, wide awake, waiting for my 2yo to projectile again. It’s constant about every half hour, with a slight temp. Urgh: And there goes round 14 (**wiping down the iPad**).

    Anyway, thanks for the reassurance. I remember when I was sick as a young child, I laid in front of the tv with a couple of old towels on the floor under an old red Bucket. Seems like it’s still a commonly used routine.

    I use a Micro Life head-scanning thermometer. Just press a button, and it takes a second to read his temperature. If the light on the screen shows green, he’s normal, but if it’s red, it indicates a temperature

  24. My 2 year-old started throwing up around 2 am. It’s 0350 now and he has stopped for now. Thanks for sharing this!

  25. Why is it always early morning? My daughter sleeps in our bed when her mom works her night shift. This morning, 2:30… dada? What ava? Blaaaaahhck all over my bald head. At least she tried to give the heads up.

  26. It’s 2:45 am, my 6 year old has puked- well I lost count. Started diarrhea at the last go around. Put an old pull up on him and told them they were diarrhea pants b/c I CANNOT handle both ends at once. He is begging for water but is so tired he passes out between pukes. Thank you for this post, it made me smile:)

  27. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I stumbled upon this at 3:15am this morning! Wow!! Nail on the head for the “I have twins, holy cow this is madness!” Will it ever end? How in the world do BOTH of them get this at the SAME TIME! :-) I always prefer they are under the weather at the same time, and we’ve been oh so very lucky and illness free for the most part. But man, am I tired! As I type this, I have a 2.5yr old on my chest (snoring, mind you…) and daddy has the other. As exhausted as I am writing this… I am cherishing this snuggle opportunity, and the reassurance that I should calm my wild “they’re dying” thoughts, and try to get some sleep. Thank you for the laugh and helpful tips in this time of need. Much appreciated!

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  29. Thank you so much 1 a.m. and my daughter is screaming mommy my belly is pukin’ I don’t wanna puke in the potty (for some reason she gets scared and panics when she’s about to puke…) but the bowl is a good idea I just have towels down on her bedside for now since that’s what my mom always gave me. Doesn’t seem like the easiest method for clean up but will work for tonight.thank you so much for this though like the others you gave me a late night laugh and some hope and reassurance that this too soon shall pass… pleasant puking

  30. For me it’s my 3 yo boy and it’s 1am. Good to know I’m not alone. Thanks.

  31. Yup. 2.53am my daughter asleep in a ring sling with a towel nearby. She’s only 13 months so bowl isn’t an option and my first experience of this. She’s been throwing up from just before 1 am :( thank you for your words!

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  34. Why is it always 3am, lol!
    Sitting out our first of the vomiting nights with my one year old. Thanks for sharing your experiences. After soiling two lots of bedding and pyjamas have taken the upright cuddles approach too, woth a bucket on stand by. glad im on the right road

  35. 3am its a universal time for our little ones to be sick. got my 6 year old girl on the couch propped up
    been going since 11pm about every 45min to an hour, and due any min. now.(3:30) i got my both my girls trained with the plastic bowl lol. either one fells like they might throw up the other one runs for a bowl then they carry it around with them like its there favorite toy. lol
    thanks for the read.

  36. Thanks for this! I have 22 month old twins and haven’t had the time to read blogs in a long long time! Nothing like a sick toddler sleeping on you to buy you some internet time!
    My little guy started at 3:30am last night… Nothing like a serious amount of vomit in a family bed – where are those clean sheets when you need them?!?! I got sick this morning… Ugh. Fortunately only one twin is sick (right now) and hubby is awesome! As you probably already know – this sort of reading helps all moms and I applaud you for taking the time to share… I know this too shall pass (just like 4 months of bedrest did) but it’s nice to know you aren’t alone sometimes!

    Cheers and thanks – from a sick mama of twins in Canada!

  37. Still completely valid two years later! It may not be 3am, but after a night of little sleep and a work day, 7pm with a sickly toddler doesn’t feel any different. Like you, I have no thermometer and just rely on my mommy instincts, I think next chance I get I’ll checkout the thermometers and those snow cone machines. Those sound great even when we’re not sick! Great suggestions and humor, and thanks for the reminder that everyone goes through this and that it will pass eventually.

  38. 03:50am in northern Ireland, reading this awaiting the next outburst from my 18 month old, sleeping in the living room, well he’s finally sleeping me not so much, thanks for this, wish he was old enough to understand the bowl method!

  39. Oh my goodness. I have to start by saying, I’m usually the most positive person, the one who has battled everything the universe can throw at a person, and have all the advice in the world to help people get through the unthinkable, and the things that feel like there’s no hope. That’s my favourite ones. To take one the seemingly hopeless situations and helping people push through, then being able to sit back and see the beautiful transformation that occurs when a person hss just went through the most traumatic experience where being strong is the only choice they had.
    Well everything I know, and have learned goes out the window when it comes to my precious angel. She’s 15 months old, and is absolutely the reason I breath.
    She’s the reason j wake up everyday.
    She’s the reason j keep going.
    She’s the reason I fight so hard everyday to be a better person and a better mom.
    And the thought of anything Happening to her absolutely shakes me to the core, and brings me to a place, and even though for just a moment, I feel myself dyinf inside, I feel myself letting go of everything I’ve held onto for so long because without her, there’s nothing there. Nothing to hold onto, nothing to live for… I’m actually suffocating like she’s the air I breath.
    And tonight, for the first time in her whole life of 15 months, she throw up. And it was rough for her. It was with force.
    And j couldn’t handle it. I mean I did what I had to. I bathed the smell away, cleaned it up, but completely broke down. Because she just got over her first and second cold ( back to back) and now this.
    She’s never been sick, so this is terrifying
    After the two times of throwing up I had to run to the pharmacy for something to settle her tummy.
    After checking her temp, which was normal, I went and got gripe water and some other supplies like pedialite, which I already had but I tried a different flavour.
    When I got back she was asleep ( and I was only maybe 15 mins ) but she woke up about a half hour later where I hurried for the gripe water that the pharmacist told me to give her, and apparently just in time. She was watering at the mouth, and you could tell she was gonna throw up again. But she took the gripe like the good girl she is, and it seemed to have worked almost instantly… Knock on wood.
    I say this because she even gagged a few times, but she didn’t throw up. She had some nice drinks of water for me, and dozed off.
    But she looks so pale, and weak… I can’t sleep. I’m terrified
    I hate this :(
    It’s my first child, can you tell?? ;)

    Anyway what I’m trying to say is, THANK YOU
    Though I’m still a mess, you have helped me have a bit of hope that this is a normal stomach flu. I really don’t think anything anyone said to me right now could take the pain away that I’m feeling unless it’s a doctor telling me she’s perfectly fine and it’s just a bug.

    You’ve helped me as much as anyone could. And more than I ever thought anyone could an hour ago.
    I hear her moving. So I’m gonna go roll over to get closer to her.
    You’re an amazing mother and a truly inspiring person. You’re exactly the kind of mother I hope to be for my baby.

    Take care and thank you again.
    From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

  40. Did you and you husband end up getting what the boys had and if so how long after did you get it???

  41. 550am here and my 3 year old has been puking on and off since 3am. Finally calming down. I’m afraid to lay him down lol. He fell asleep sitting up in my lap. That’s probably what’s keeping all the puke in.

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  43. It’s 3:50 am here in Hawaii. Just waiting for the next round! Thanks for sharing your experience, it’s always comforting to know your not alone in these struggles.

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