When you are a foodie person, a tummy bug is really, REALLY bad.
When I get a bad tummy (not that often, thank goodness), I struggle because I am rubbish at the not eating thing – in fact I can count on one hand the times I have lost my appetite. So having a dodgy tummy is just like an annoying fast for me, and I eat my dry toast wishing it was covered in cheese while knowing that it would be a big mistake if I did.
Turns out that as a parent, a baby with a tummy bug is no more fun. We are on our third in nine months, the first and second being when we were only just starting to wean and therefore keeping baby away from food wasn’t too much of a trial as he was only really having milk anyway. I think it was related to teething and the amount A puts in his mouth – he was going through a slipper-eating phase at the time if I remember rightly..
This time was a little different though as we are well into weaning. Just to be clear, I am well aware that there are far worse things for baby to catch than a tummy bug and I count my blessings every day that we have an otherwise beautiful and healthy baby. But I really, really HATED the last few days.
Things turned nasty on Monday when my usually puke-less baby vommed all over himself, me, and his cot when I picked him up from his morning nap. He was so shocked by this event that he screamed blue murder for half an hour…completely unlike him and pretty stressful for me.
The vomiting continued most of the day, with basically everything I tried to give him coming straight back up again. I obviously knew not to feed him anything rich, so opted for just milk during the day but it would not stay down. He wouldn’t even entertain water, so I was lumbered with giving him very small drinks of milk every hour or so to stop him getting dehydrated. I hated seeing him get so upset every time he chucked up but what choice was there?
By the evening, let’s just say that it was all going on at the other end too. As most parents will know, you go into automatic mode at this point, and I thanked the retail gods that John Lewis do multipacks of mattress protectors so I could change the cot over and over again. Thankfully he did eventually settle enough to sleep; our normally independent baby just wanted to be in our bed – dad slept on the mattress in the living room and I watched him hawk-eyed most of the night with a change of clothes and spare sheets at the ready.
Google was as helpfully unhelpful as ever with how to deal with his bug. The NHS advises that you should continue to feed baby milk as usual throughout a sickness episode. Other websites promote the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, apple sauce and toast) as soon as baby is ready to eat again. Other parents advise getting baby back onto a normal diet as quickly as possible, especially if weaning so as not to promote unhealthy habits.
If it was me with a bad tummy, I would force starvation upon myself until the bug has cleared. But here’s the thing – my baby is 9 months old. He is a slim baby (takes after his dad, NOT me!) and I worried myself stupid that starving him would mean dramatic weight loss. So the next day I opted to continue with the little and often formula feeds ( I am no longer breastfeeding) with a few breadsticks in between. This felt uncomfortable – firstly as I knew that my baby was eating far fewer calories than usual even without puking it up, and also because he naturally seemed to have no appetite and hardly ate or drank anything. Feeding your child is the most basic and satisfying thing any parent can do – it felt so dispiriting to not be able to do this.
The vomming stopped on day two but the manky nappies continued – if anything they got worse. According to NHS.com diarrhoea in babies can last for 5-7 days…..5-7 days?! There will be nothing left of him by then! What do I do for that long?! I can’t lie, there was a selfish part of me that was frankly cross that we could not enjoy mealtimes for a few days.. an activity which makes A so happy. I tried some BRAT diet food, but this did not make anything better and I was getting a bit fed up of the constant 90 degree washing cycles.
By day three I was back on Google trying to find any other options that could make the symptoms better. I came across a thing called temporary lactose intolerance, which is basically when a baby’s gut temporarily stops working properly following a bout of gastroenteritis. The lactase which is normally present isn’t as abundant, which means that lactose in milk and other dairy products is not broken down easily leading to further diarrhoea. Basically, the sh*ts has caused more of the sh*ts. The intolerance is temporary because unlike those with a permanent lactose intolerance, the gut does eventually heal and things return to normal.
Worth a go, I thought. So on day three daddy went off to buy a tin of lactose free formula milk. Turns out you can buy it in Boots, and it’s in a handy small tin so you only have enough for a few days, which is usually the time it will take for the gut to heal.
Well, thank ye lord! Looks like we found a little breakthrough. Within a day, the nappies had returned to a ‘normal’ state and he seemed a lot more settled and willing to take a whole bottle rather than refusing it half way through.
By day five, we finally have a baby who is much more himself. He still hadn’t had a proper meal so I was really happy when, tonight, he wolfed down a plate of scrambled egg like he hadn’t eaten for days. Well, to be fair he hadn’t. He has definitely got a little skinnier – I can feel he is a little less round around his tummy – but now he has more of an appetite I think he will soon catch up with where he was.
So what advice would I give parents with a gastro baby? Firstly, try not to worry about baby missing out on food as long as they are less than a year old and able to drink milk – this is the most important thing and will be as nutritionally complete as you are going to get. Secondly, try out lactose free milk to see if that alleviates symptoms – either by buying the formula or switching to lactose free if breastfeeding. Finally, do not google everything under the sun as you will just get confused. NHS Choices is enough – add in your own instinct about when you feel baby is ready to eat as chances are they will tell you. But also don’t be scared to go to your GP if you are worried about symptoms. See link here for more information.
Oh, and finally – seriously, do invest in lots of spare sheets and mattress protectors. Like a bottle of Baileys – you will rarely think about it but when you need one, my god you will be grateful.