My Child Vomits When Upset.

Posted by on Jul 19, 2015 in Uncategorized | No Comments
Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

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Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

Hi Annie, I have 3 kids aged 8, 6 & 2 1/2 and my child vomits when upset. On top of that we are having a lot of issues with all 3 of them but right now, my biggest issue is that I can not get my 2 1/2 year old daughter to stop breastfeeding and that’s where the vomiting comes in.
She is 30+ pounds and looks more like a 3 year old then a 2 year old, so it’s not for nutritional value, I know it’s a comfort thing like a soother or bottle (2 things she never took to either). I have tried weening her off and she starts freaking out to the point where she is throwing up and can’t breathe because she is so upset.

I don’t know how to break this habit as she will still get up in the night to nurse as well. My husband works long and odd hours so I feel this is up to me to handle.
Any tips?  Thanks, Crysta

Hi Crysta,

My Kid Vomits When UpsetThanks for writing to me and I quite understand how frustrating this is for you. Long term breastfeeding is fine as long as both parties want to do it, but it’s not much fun when one wants to stop!  It’s also something I talk about often with regard to the other services I offer but I’ll try the best I can to explain here.

Think of yourself as her de-facto soother

You have rightly inferred that your daughter does not need to breastfeed from a nutritional standpoint and you’ve also identified that she is doing this for comfort. I agree 100% but I have one more observation. She’s also using you to comfort herself so she can go back to sleep either immediately or slightly later. That means sucking on you is what allows her to relax and fall asleep. You are, as you rightly point out, her de-facto soother.

So how to stop? Right now, your daughter gets very upset to the point that she throws up and that tells me something. You see, children often throw up when they get very upset but if it becomes a pattern, it’s because the child themselves has learned that by doing it, a couple of rather interesting things happen. Let me tell you a hypothetical story about how these kind of behaviours develop with a child around the same age as yours.

How these behaviours start

A little girl of two doesn’t want to go to sleep. She cries and cries and finally at one point, she vomits because she is so upset. The first thing she discovers is that Mom or Dad rushes in looking totally freaked. They rip the covers off, and snuggle her and they feel totally horrible for having created such a nasty mess and having pushed their little girl to such an extreme reaction. In short, they feel guilty and because they feel guilty, they spend lots of time cuddling their baby girl until she feels better. The little girl for her part, feels warm and cuddled and everyone is giving her tons of attention.

The second thing she notices is that while she was going to have to sleep on her own, that demand seems now to have miraculously disappeared. Instead Mom/and or Dad are back in the room comforting her and spending lots of time fiddling about in her room, changing the covers and making it all nice and cuddly once again. Maybe they’ve even taken her back to their own bed. Still something is a little odd and the little girl quickly realizes that whatever it is she just did has changed things. Her parents look concerned which feels weird to the little girl. They don’t know whether they should put her back in her bed or in theirs. Should they let her cry or not? The worry shows on their faces and in their physical reaction.

The little girl is programmed to look for confidence and leadership so when mom places her back in the bed with trepidation and with hushed worried whispers to her partner, it’s feels horribly weird to her. It’s like they don’t know whether they want her to go to sleep. She feels their lack of confidence and it makes her scared and so she clings to them wanting more reassurance. As a result, mom and dad are likely to offer exactly that because they think that more comfort is what she’s looking for but if they do, they misread her signals.

She wants leadership

So how does this apply to your situation? Well, I only know what you’ve told me but I suspect something similar is going on. Your little girl wants comfort and so in order to stop her freaking out, you keep giving it. The trouble is, that’s not really what she wants.

So what does she want? She wants what all children want. Leadership. She wants you to be the Captain of the ship and know intrinsically where you are going. She wants you to confidently tell her what is and what is not appropriate and to follow through. To be her rock. The trouble is you are sending her the opposite signals because she is running you rather than the other way around. She determines when she eats and even wakes you up to do it. If you want to get this behaviour to go and I’m sure you do, understanding this fundamental fact is the only way out of this problem.

You need to tell her enough is enough, calmly, kindly but firmly and to stick with it. Start with the nights but prepare in advance with your husband because you won’t be getting much sleep. Make sure you can support each other and give each other rest time. Then make sure as well that your daughter is getting enough cuddles during the day (not feeding cuddles but cuddles) to compensate for having to lose them at night. Put her to bed and follow a routine. Bath, teeth, stories, cuddle, lights out and then leave. If she screams, go back every 5, 10, then 15 minutes. Stay calm. Tell her that you love her very much but it’s time for bed. Be brief. If she vomits, stay very calm. Don’t give her any attention for having done it. Clean her up quietly and gently and be sympathetic but don’t offer her any extra attention or hugs beyond the minimal. Say it’s time for bed, clean the sheets and her and put her back. Look as though you aren’t remotely bothered by her behaviour (tough I know). Follow that regime all the way through the night, being totally consistent. Remember it is night time so have a low slow voice and be boring.

During the day, don’t let her breastfeed. Cuddle and maybe read a book by all means but the moment she demands feeding and screams, turn your back and find something else to do. At the same time, try and notice the positive things she does, even if they’re momentary, like playing for a moment by herself. Notice and give her positive feedback, a high five etc. Do things with her and let her help you and offer her lots of positive attention if she does. Offer lots of water in between meals so your sure she’s hydrated. Then stick with it and be consistent. Don’t worry, she will get the message eventually.  To get more of your parenting questions answered, please visit my parenting services page. 

Best of luck,


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