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4 Tips for Preventing the Stomach Flu (And what to do when you get it anyhow)

Posted Jan 03 2013 1:25am

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I wish.

Crouched low over the bathtub, I laid my head against the cool wall as I switched the blowdryer to my other hand, careful to keep the hot air trained on a small, nubby, once-blue, now-damp baby blanket. “Are you done yet?” I heard my husband call over the sound of our son hiccup-crying in his arms. Crying because he’s two and can’t sleep without his precious “snuvy”. Snuvy was currently MIA, even though it was the middle of the night and the usual sleeping time for most humans (although children are notoriously flagrant breakers of that rule), because it had been puked all over. Along with everything else in a three-foot radius – it’s hard to appreciate the explosive power of projectile vomiting until you’ve seen it in all its geyser-like glory. And because our stupid dryer had broken the week before I was left rinsing out the lovey in the bathtub and drying it with my hair dryer. As I contemplated how much my life sucked at that moment, I heard the too-familiar sound of coughing, retching, and the splatter of puke on the wall, bed, floor. It was our other son, trying to top his brother’s impressive splash zone (always so competitive those two!), now also crying.

Our two boys, aged 2 and almost 1 at the time, had been puking for 4 days straight. And not just vomiting but also had so much diarrhea that when we picked up the baby out of his crib he squished, the bodily fluids oozing out of the neck and arm holes of his fire-retardant-hence-water-retaining jammies. We eventually gave up on jammies altogether. Nothing was clean despite us making near constant trips to the 24-hour laundromat down the street. There was hardly any food in the house. I was lost in a hazy sleepless cycle of barfing and cleaning. Lather, rinse, repeat – literally. It was the only time in my life where a string bikini really would have been the most practical wardrobe option. I could have dried one of those suckers in 2 minutes flat with a hair dryer. Unlike the 30 minutes or so it took for a blankey.

The whole ordeal ended up lasting over two weeks, culminating in two trips to the ER, a missed first birthday party and hours of me crawling around bleaching every surface that could be touched by a curious toddler (which was all of them) on a daily basis. Oh and did I mention my husband and I both got it too? It was norovirus. It was horrific.

I hold onto that fun little parenting memory because now every time one of our kids throws up, I take comfort in the fact that at least it’s not as bad as the Pukefest of 2004. Tonight, for instance, as I comforted a puke-covered Jelly Bean with one hand and tried to wipe vomit off the back of my neck with a wet wipe with the other hand, I actually smiled. Because at least we had a working washer and dryer and clean set of jammies to change her into. And at least she’s the only one throwing up (knock on wood). She’s now tucked soundly – for the time being – back into a clean bed. I was asleep. Now I’m awake. And thinking, naturally, about how to stay puke-free myself since I was obviously just contaminated – albeit in the most loving way possible. Something about kids makes it impossible for them to throw up alone, they must do it near – or preferably on – mom.

Everyone knows that if you get a virus or bacteria that makes you sick then you get sick, end of story, right? Yet some people seem to get sick a lot less than others despite being subjected to the same biological warfare as the rest of us. So what gives? Are there ways to keep yourself from getting the stomach flu? It turns out there are.

1. Eat your probiotics. Yogurt is full of bacteria but it’s the good kind that your stomach needs to combat the bad kind that makes it want to turn itself inside out in your toilet. The latest research shows that not only can probiotics help stop vomiting and diarrhea 1-3 days earlier but that they can also help prevent colds and improve the body’s response to the flu vaccine. Children given probiotics missed fewer days from daycare due to stomach flu than children who got a placebo (although the AAP notes that more research needs to be done and hence official recommendations can’t be made yet). To reap maximum benefits, avoid yogurts with a lot of added flavoring, colors and sugars as all of those things can exacerbate an irritated gut. Personally I like eating plain, whole yogurt (goat’s milk, these days) but some people hate it. Don’t worry, you have other fragrantly fermented options with which to fortify your stomach! Kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut are all also good. Although I don’t know many people who dislike yogurt but love kimchi. Eh, there are always the probiotic pills. They work so well for stomach upset, especially in kids, that I keep a jar in our fridge at all times.

I interrupt this highly (non) important message to tell you that I just had to take 20 minutes off to hold Jelly Bean over the garbage can while she blew chunks and then rock her back to sleep. I wish I could go back to sleep. But I have to wait for her blanket to finish drying so you’re stuck with me for another 23 minutes. Let’s see how much research I can dig up before the bell dings. Insomnia: the family game!

2. Stay hydrated inside and out. One of the reasons people get sick more in the winter is because dehydrated skin means more tiny cracks which means your body’s largest organ and best immune system defense is compromised. While you can’t change the weather you can drink extra fluids, protect your skin from cold weather and use extra lotion. Also, sadly, long, hot showers are not your friend as they dry out your skin too. On the inside, upping your fluid intake makes sure your body has all the H2o it needs to run properly.

3. Stress less. Cortisol, the “stress hormone”, works partially by suppressing your immune system. When you’re in a true crisis that’s a good thing but constant stress over time just hangs a “vacancy!” sign over the germ motel of your body. Meditate, take a walk outside, surf for craft ideas on Pinterest that you love but know you will never do which will then make you bitter about people who have so much time they can craft individual likenesses of party-goers out of fondant on top of gluten-free cupcakes. You know, whatever relaxes you.

4. Wash your stinking hands already. Part of me wonders if this stomach bug was acquired from one of Jelly Bean’s dozens of trips to public bathrooms the past few weeks. I always help her wash her hands afterward, even if she doesn’t pee, but I’m not gonna lie: after the 15th visit to the Target bathroom in one hour, I get a little rushed with the soap routine. Mom guilt… But anyhow, we’re all grown-ups! So wash your hands! A lot! Especially after using the toilet, cooking, riding public transportation or helping clean up a haz-mat spill.

And if these tips don’t work and you still get sick? Jelly Bean would like you to know that clenching your teeth and trying to hold the vomit in doesn’t work. Just makes it come out of your nose. Also a bad plan – drinking red juice, eating grapes and letting the cat lip-kiss you at dinner. And on that note, I’m going to say a prayer to the moms-can’t-get-sick saint and go to bed. Here’s hoping no one else gets this!

Do you have any suggestions for preventing the stomach flu? Seriously I’ll try anything short of voodoo. Maybe even voodoo as long as shrunken heads aren’t involved… Do you do anything special when you get it to help feel better? Have I convinced any of you to never ever have children yet?

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