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.

60 thoughts on “How to Survive a Throwing Up Toddler

  1. Hahaha it’s 4:50am and I am snuggled beside my 2.5 year old daughter in her bed, beach towels for sheets, as hers (including the mattress cover) are in the washing machine – should I have waited to wash the mattress cover and just slapped another set of sheets on the bed? I am hiding under a blanket so the glow from my phone doesn’t disturb her, but I am too nervous she will be sick again if I leave (already sick twice, but I caught the 2nd completely in the garbage!).

    Your post was spot on and perfectly humourous, thank you!

  2. lol i started reading this at around 3:40 am. Luckily my little brother (almost 2) isn’t sick to his stomach. but we have a bug going around so i want to be prepared! i honestly had know idea what the protocol for throwing up toddlers was (stick them in the tub? catch it with your hands??) so thank you!

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  4. Thank you for this blog – love the advice as I sit with 2 toddlers with norovirus. A suggestion – We use a digital forehead thermometer– works very well for my 2 toddlers- they sit still for it and like to see the colors (red for fever, green for OK) , the number readout has been accurate, too.

  5. Oh Thank You for this blog! It’s almost midnight and I’ve just experienced my first vomit nightmare with my 2 year old. Everything online talks about prevention and dehydration. I literally needed to know how to catch the flying vomit and whether to put her back in her bed or tuck her in tight with me. This is exactly what I needed to read as I hunker down to fight the pukefest.

  6. Normally I don’t read post on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very forced
    me to check out and do it! Your writing taste has been amazed
    me. Thank you, quite great article.

  7. 🙂 My daughter just turned two, and spent the night of her birthday party throwing up every hour. At first we thought she just ate too much junk, but then remembered that one of her besties had the tummy bug a few days ago and drew the connection. After 2.5 days of her not keeping more than a few ounces of pedialyte down, we took her to the doctor and got some zofran. Doc told me to give it to her every 6-8 hours for 24 hours. Here it is almost 11 o’clock, 6 hours from her last dose, and I’m googling if I should wake my child up to give her this medicine. Came across your article, and thought it brilliant. I’ll definitely keep a big bowl or bucket handy for the next time.

    Also, our pediatrician recommended the ear thermometer for toddlers. I bought one today and it is SO fast and easy. It gives a very accurate reading. A little on the pricey side, but totally worth it.

    Thanks for this blog. It’s perfect.

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