Gastroenteritis (gastro) is an infection of the bowel that can cause vomiting, diarrhoea or both. Vomiting can last for a couple of days, whilst the diarrhoea can last up to 10 days in some cases.

Causes of Gastro

Gastro is caused by various germs. The most common being a bacterial or viral infection. This virus can be spread very easily. Gastro can be severe in babies and young children.

Signs and Symptoms 

  • Child or baby will have frequent large watery stools.
  • The colour of the diarrhoea may vary from green to brown.
  • Child or baby may have stomach cramps or pain.
  • Poo may have an offensive smell.
  • Child may not want to eat or drink.
  • Child may have a fever.
  • Vomiting can be persistent in the first 24- 48 hours.
  • Child or baby may want to sleep more.


A child or baby with mild gastro can be looked after at home because the main treatment is ensuring appropriate fluid intake. Give your child small sips of clear fluid such as water, gastrolyte, hydralyte icypoles, pedialyte and diluted cordial. The Royal Children’s Hospital does not recommend giving sports drinks, lucozade, undiluted lemonade and fruits juices. These may worsen the diarrhoea. Small mouthfuls of fluids should be offered every 10-15 minutes for all children with gastro.

Do not give your child medication to stop the vomiting or diarrhoea. They do not work and may be harmful.

  • Continue breastfeeding if you normally do this. Give your baby smaller feeds, more frequently, whilst also offering gastrolyte, hydralyte or cool boiled water.
  • Your child may refuse food at first. This is fine as long as they are taking clear fluids. If they become hungry give them the food that they feel like. It is now suggested that there is no need to restrict food.
  • Children and babies can get dehydrated very quickly and if this occurs they should be seen by a doctor.

Signs of dehydration in your child may be:

  • Drowsiness (not waking for feeds, sleeping longer than usual).
  • Dry lips and mouth.
  • Cold hands and feet.
  • Not passing urine.
  • Also see Dehydration. 

If your child is very dehydrated they may need to be admitted to hospital and require fluids by a nasogastric tube that goes into the nose and down into the stomach.  Fluids may also be given intravenously, which is directly into the vein.

Hydralyte (1)

You should see your doctor if:

  • Your child is not eating or drinking and is still vomiting or has diarrhoea.
  • There is blood in the poo.
  • You think your child is dehydrated.
  • Your child is vomiting frequently and does not seem to be able to keep fluids down.
  • Diarrhoea continues after 10 days.

Gastro is highly infectious

Gastro is highly infectious therefore washing your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap is essential at all times.  Take care to wash hands particularly before feeding children and changing nappies. Clean things that may be shared between children such as toys and books and do not let your children share food or drinks. Keep your child away from others while they are unwell. Do not send them to school, childcare or kinder until 24-48 hours after the last episode of vomiting and diarrhoea.

Things to remember

  • Gastro is highly contagious so keep your children away from others until they are completely well.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap.
  • Offer small sips of clear fluids.
  • Babies and children can become dehydrated quickly, see your doctor if you are concerned.

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