Abdominal pain is a common problem that affects babies and older kids alike, and is a top reason parent’s seek medical attention. Whether caused by painful gas, food or drink reactions, junk food overload, or anxiety and stress, stomachaches occur in more than 1/3 of children and 10-15% of school-aged children will seek medical care for recurrent abdominal pain.
“My tummy hurts” is a complaint parents hear all too often. While stomach aches can be a symptom of a sickness or allergies, often they are a result of painful gas and bloating. Poor eating habits can certainly contribute to digestive discomfort as well.
Digestive health is important not only to prevent stomach upset but also to create an environment for optimal absorption of essential, proteins, vitamins minerals, and other nutrients. The best way to prevent stomach aches in kids is to implement good eating habits.
Depending on the symptoms and causes, there are several kinds of remedies—some natural, some prescribed—that can help relieve a child's abdominal discomfort.
- do do chew chew chew
- talk more and TV less
- limit liquids
- try various forms of relief
- eat foods that don’t like you
- allow binges
- skip or fudge meals
- disregard their subtle clues for help
- ignore accompanying symptoms
Most often, kids are too busy to chew, often gulping down food, which results in large food particles entering the stomach. When this occurs, a child is more susceptible to digestive upset. Encourage your kids to chew their food well before it is swallowed—about 15 times each bite is enough.
As adults, we know that eating while reading or watching television can result in overconsumption—our brains are too distracted to receive the “I’m full” signal. The same applies to kids.
Seat children at the table, turn off the TV and keep toys out of reach. Use conversation or sing songs to keep your children interested enough to stay still at the table, or help them count how many times they’ve chewed each bite. This way a child will pay closer attention to his body signals and stop before overeating. Overeating can lead to uncomfortable feelings of fullness, and painful gas and bloating.
Our stomachs produce hydrochloric acid and the enzyme pepsin, two things that are necessary in the digestive process. Hydrochloric acid stimulates the churning process that will turn food particles in the stomach into a liquid before it enters the small intestines and becomes absorbed into the bloodstream. Pepsin helps break down proteins. Drinking lots of liquid while eating can dilute both of these stomach juices and interfere with the digestive process. Limit liquids during meals, or encourage small sips.
If you are having trouble pinpointing what is causing your child’s tummy trouble, try recording what they eat in a food journal. Tracking their consumption can help in just three days. There are free journals that you can download online with a quick search of ‘gas journals for tummy problems’.
Though worrisome, most types of stomachaches are not serious and resolve quickly. When stomachaches do occur, they are several options – some natural and some prescribed – to relieve pain, depending on the cause and condition.
- Rest or massage
- Herbal teas or supplements
- Homeopathic medicines
- Simethicone gas drops
- Prescription drugs
Like adults, many children have food sensitivities and allergies, which can cause many different reactions, with stomachaches being a major one. If you know your child is intolerant of certain foods like nuts, dairy, or gluten, for example, eliminate them altogether, and find alternatives. Check labels carefully to ensure that foods were not processed in the same plants as those your child shouldn’t have. This helps to avoid cross contamination.
Left to their own devices, kids are likely to heavily snack—even binge—on unhealthy foods. From downing bags of chips, gallons of ice cream, energy drinks, and heaping helpings of candy, overloading on junk food can cause digestive upset even in adults, so imagine what it is doing to your young ones. Moderation is key with junk. If you can’t or don’t want to eliminate it entirely, limit how much and how often your children have it.
Our children today are busier than previous generations. They eat a frozen waffle walking out the door to catch a bus, they inhale bags of potato chips on their way to class, they shovel in cheese & cracker packs on the way to soccer practice. This lack of structure can leave our children:
- hungry, which can cause stomachaches
- under or overfed, which can cause stomachaches
- with indigestion, which can cause stomachaches
A poll conducted by KidsHealth revealed that kids are stressed out the most by: grades, school, and homework (36%), family (32%), and friends, peers, gossip, and teasing (21%). Modern research tells us that the brain has a direct effect on the stomach. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, and even elation — all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut. Keep an open dialogue with your child to help ensure they will tell you if anything is upsetting them. As their parent, you may actually be able to eliminate the source of the problem—at the very least, just by listening.
While stomachaches usually aren’t serious, it’s imperative that parents are mindful of their duration and any accompanying symptoms as they can indicate a more serious issue. If you suspect that your child’s abdominal pain is worsening or if other symptoms like fever, vomiting or diarrhea occur, it may be best to call your family health care provider. It’s always better to err on the side of caution.
Frightening and perplexing as it may be, most types of abdominal pain are not serious and resolve quickly, however parents should be mindful of duration and accompanying symptoms.