Toddler Vomit Advice from a Seasoned Pro

Image Source: Casey Mullins

Hey, so what makes you qualified to talk about vomit, Casey? Your degree is in graphic design, not medicine.

Well let me tell you dear friend, I am qualified to talk about vomit because I have dealt with a lot in my lifetime. From hangovers (shame) to pregnancy (two with hyperemesis!) as well as babies to grown children, I’ve seen it (and cleaned it) all. I know there are a lot of people who are squeamish about vomit, my sister in law being one of them. For you people? I’ll spare you the tales of strawberry vomit running down my walls and the one time I was woken up with vomit to the back of the head.

Here’s the cold hard truth: if you have kids, you are going to have to deal with vomit at one time or another. The more prepared you are, the less grossed out you’ll be (well, that may be a stretch, let’s just say you’ll have an easier time cleaning it all up which helps exponentially in the vomit department.) Toddler vomit may be the worst, since they can’t tell you it’s coming, it’s comprised of real food and like hell if their first instinct is to run to a toilet or sink. Cody and I have dealt with our fare share of baby barf over the last week, once on foreign turf in the middle of the night and the other mid-day during a 3 hour road trip though nowhere. I’m pleased to say we pulled off the first clean up in under 6 minutes (bathed, clean sheets, back in bed) the second clean up took about 25 minutes, but there was a car seat, luggage and 3 degree weather to contend with.

How does one make the possibility of vomit easier on themselves? Well let me tell you.


When it comes to middle of the night vomit, nothing (and I mean NOTHING) will make your job easier than making sure you have a bed sheet sandwich. Both my girls still have bed sheet sandwiches and that will never change until they are old enough to clean up their own vomit. Curious how to make a bed sheet sandwich? Waterproof mattress pad, sheet, another waterproof mattress pad, another sheet. If vomit/pee/poop/whatever lands on that top sheet? Peel it and the first mattress pad off revealing a clean sheet and pad. Throw the dirty ones in the washer (shake out the chunks into the toilet, sorry but it’s the truth.) and you won’t be wrestling with making a bed in the wee hours of the morning.


People. I cannot even tell you how important it is to have an extra lovey if possible. Cody rolled his eyes at me when I packed an extra bunny for our most recent trip but he was singing my praises at midnight when our sick little toddler was back in bed begging for her beloved bunny. While one soothed the savage Vivi, his counterpart took a much deserved spin in the washer. When Vivi vomited in the car? It was another easy switch out from soiled to clean once she was cleaned up herself.


Baths are kind of a must when it comes to vomit. If you’re at home? Great! Plop them in the bath or at least rinse out their hair under a sink. A swig and swish of water from the faucet and they’re ready to go back to bed. If it’s the middle of the day you can do a more complete bathing job, but middle of the night? Rinse the major stuff, including hair, check their ears and do a more complete job in the morning. We actually prefer using the shower in the middle of the night. If you have assistance? While one partner washes the little one, the other can take care of the bed sheet sandwich, lay out clean clothes and make the lovey switch out.
If you’re away from a shower? Wipes are going to be your best friend.


There aren’t many worse places to deal with vomit than in the car on a road trip. We’ve dealt with it more than once and you must realize there are times when paper towels won’t do it. I once had to pull over at a really nasty hotel at 3 am and throw my oldest in the shower completely clothed because there was no other way to recover from what happened. It was so bad her car seat was thrown away, when I say I’ve dealt with some serious vomit episodes? I’m dead serious. Regardless of the situation, there are a few things you should have in your car at all times. Paper towels, plastic bags, a change of clothes, a package of wipes, spare diaper/underpants, bottled water, cash, and hand sanitizer. There aren’t many scenarios I couldn’t MacGyver myself out of with those 8 things.


My oldest has a condition called CVS or cyclic vomiting syndrome. It started when she was about 2 and will most likely affect her the rest of her life. If she doesn’t get enough rest or becomes too stressed her body basically says “ENOUGH” and shuts down for her. Unfortunately shutting down means she lies on a couch surrounded by towels and a barf bucket for about 6 hours. Feeding her anything or giving her any water just makes her vomit harder so we just wait it out. Teaching your child about barf buckets early and often will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.


When and if your child wants to eat again, start small and start with carbs. If you’ve ever cleaned up dairy vomit you’ll know why I say carbs. One of the first signs Vivi isn’t feeling tops is when her appetite tanks. Today she had a bowl of oatmeal, a bowl of farina and some crackers. Girlfriend doesn’t feel good, period, end of story. Trying to feed her broccoli or yogurt simply wouldn’t end well. She has the rest of her life to eat her greens, when she’s sick is not the time. Take it from a pregnancy vomiting veteran, carbs and water hurt the least coming back up.


So what about water? I can tell you that what I thought my babies needed compared to what they actually needed varied greatly. It only takes about a tablespoon of water an hour to keep dehydration at bay. When I tried to force water it only made things worse, another one of those “things I learned from pregnancy.” We keep little powder packets of Pedialyte on hand, Vivi doesn’t mind the stuff while Addie hated it. We’ll mix up a powder packet and keep in the fridge and dole it out as needed. Sometimes she’ll take it from a spoon, other times a sippy cup or straw. It doesn’t take much to keep them hydrated and giving them too much may just make them feel worse. Do your best, follow their cues and make sure they’re just getting a little something every hour or so.


Only you can know when to take your child to the doctor, this is where I say I am clearly not one, just a parent who has cleaned up a lot of barf. If your child is sick, try to track symptoms on a piece of paper or on your smartphone. When did they drink? What did they eat? When did they sleep? Did they have a fever? How high? When you’re in the trenches with a sick kid the days can kind of blend together leaving you a bumbling mess. The best way to help the doctor help your child is to keep track of what is actually going on.


Even if it’s not even close to nap time, offer sleep and offer it often. They won’t always take you up on it, but what I’ve learned is that when my kids are truly sick and given the opportunity to snooze they will always take it. Today Vivi slept an extra hour after I put her in my bed. Five minutes to the grocery store and she was out (we turned around and came home so she could sleep in her bed.) Many times kids want to sleep, they just have to be given the opportunity. Mine would never fall asleep in the middle of playing, but put them in their beds? Gone.


Last but not least, to make things easier on you, if there’s a chance you’re going to be dealing with vomit? Dress your kids and yourself appropriately. I went overboard with my preparations to fly back yesterday after a day of vomit. I dressed in layers and packed an extra shirt just in case. I dressed Vivi in outfits that could be easily removed without having to go over her head. I had spare clothes for her, I had extra wipes, I had wet bags to keep it all in. Thankfully all went well, but I kept that airplane barf bag right in front of me the whole time (I also didn’t allow her any dairy, sorry kid.)

Article Posted 5 years Ago

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