The first time my daughter vomited, I yelled in terror and then she cried. She was two and had caught a stomach bug from her daycare. I felt like a terrible mum and said, “Oh, I’m sorry, baby — it’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK.” But it was not OK. She threw up again. I yelped again. She cried again. I was not winning this moment.
Since then, after experiencing various bouts of illnesses in our house over the years, I have come to accept the fact that kid puke happens. Sometimes, in the worst possible luck, it happens in the middle of the night. As a parent, you can’t stop it, but you can try to limit the damage. I have put together a plan of action.
(Note: This post will focus on the containment of the vomit, not cause of it. For that, consult your pediatrician.)
Prepare for the inevitable
As seasoned parents know, it is not a matter of if you will be woken up one night by a small, sad voice saying, “I don’t feel so good, Mum” — it is a matter of when. To make the ordeal less miserable for all, it’s best to do some prep work while your kid is healthy or as soon as the sniffles start coming round.
One of the best preemptive measures, in my opinion, is to make “bed sheet lasagna,” a hack that protects against all of your kid’s leaky bodily fluids.
How it works: You place a waterproof mattress cover on the child’s mattress, and then a regular sheet over it, and then another waterproof mattress cover over that, followed by another regular sheet. You can keep going until it gets too bulky. (The multiple layers are like lasagna.) When your kid throws up, just pull off the top sheet and mattress cover, and you’ll see another clean set waiting.
From there, you can start assembling what I will call a Puke Preparedness Pack, a collection of supplies to make your kid’s future vomit session more bearable. Things to include:
A barf bucket. The vessel that will — oh please, oh please — catch it all. This can be a regular plastic bucket, though parents with chronically pukey kids say that the ideal reservoir is a 10- to 12-inch stainless steel pot, which can be properly sanitised later. If you’d prefer a disposable container, I hear that old ice cream tubs also work well and that some resourceful mums and dads collect them for this exact disgusting purpose.
Or you can simply use a small trash can lined with a plastic grocery bag — just use painter’s tape to hold down the edges to prevent it from slipping mid-hurl.
A glow stick to put in the bucket. This is a brilliant hack that I first learned about on Reddit. When the lights are off, a 10-cent glow stick can help your sick kid aim.
Puppy pads. Use them to protect the carpet around your kid’s bed. You can also create a pathway of pads from the bed to the bathroom (and, of course, reuse whatever stays clean).
A hair-tie. Long hair and the stomach flu do not mix.
A few of your old T-shirts. If your kid gets sick on himself, you do not want him pulling his snug-fitting crewneck shirt over his head. Find clothing items that can slip on and off easily.
Beach towels. For toddlers, thick towels can replace their hard-to-clean comforter for the night.
Clear fluids, like diluted apple juice. For keeping your kiddo hydrated, clear fluids may be better than electrolyte solutions like Pedialyte, according to a study released in JAMA.
On Puke Night ...
If you’ve planned ahead and made bed sheet lasagna and have all your supplies on hand, your night of child sickness should go relatively smoothly. It will just be a matter of putting everything into place and then throughout the night, moving soiled sheets and towels to a contained area (like a hamper in the garage) to deal with the next day. However, if you haven’t done any prep work, don’t worry. Here’s a quick-and-dirty strategy:
1) Move the kid to the bathtub or shower to contain the vomit.
2) Grab as many towels as you can and layer them on the ground, making a small bed. (If you have a waterproof picnic blanket or table cloth, that’s great — put that down first.) The layers can be removed as needed.
3) Put your kid onto the floor bed and give them any barf bucket you can find.
From then on, comfort your kid. Rub his back. Hold his hand. Tell him you’re sad he’s not feeling well and that you’re here. You will both get through this, but there’s no denying it — this is the worst.
The day after Puke Night will be a blur of exhaustion. Hopefully, the only clean-up you’ll have to do is laundry, but if vomit happened to get on your sofa or other upholstered furniture, here’s how to deal.
Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and author of the New York Times bestselling book,My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag... And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha. Her flagship column, 'Ask a Clean Person', debuted in 2011. Here on Lifehacker, we've launched a new iteration of it, focusing on parenting and all the messes it brings.
Don’t feel guilty about turning on Finding Dory and zoning out with your kid for the rest of the afternoon. Later on, once she’s back to 100%, you might go over how to aim better next time, if she had any trouble. In this video, parents teach their kids how to throw up in a bucket (no real vomit is involved, I promise). It is a highly overlooked life skill.