My Tummy Hurts
Stomachaches are a familiar complaint with kids. Fortunately, only a small number of them signify serious gastrointestinal problems. We asked Yinka Davies, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist and mother of two in Sacramento, CA, to explain what lies behind common tummy troubles, plus what parents can do to make them less of a pain for kids.
Parent & Child: What is the most common gastrointestinal issue that affects children?
Dr. Yinka Davies: Constipation. In general, it’s caused by a change in diet and fluid intake, a change in the normal toileting routine, or an avoidance of bowel movements because of pain. Changes in daily routine and stressful events can also play a role, as can postponing using the toilet when the urge to have a bowel movement is felt.
P&C: Are there signs of constipation parents can watch for?
Dr. Davies: Yes. The child will place his hand over the belly-button area. This pain is typically shortly after meals and many kids will describe it as someone “pushing on my stomach.”
P&C: What can parents do to prevent or alleviate it?
Dr. Davies: Encourage your child to eat more fiber, drink plenty of water, and exercise. Waiting to start juice before 6 months of age and then giving only 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice (limiting amounts to 4 to 6 ounces for younger children and 8 ounces for older children) can also help. So can establishing regular times for using the bathroom. Have your child blow up a balloon while sitting on the toilet to help engage the muscles that are needed to pass a bowel movement.
P&C: What are some other common tummy issues in children?
Dr. Davies: Functional abdominal pain. It’s usually caused by stress or hypersensitivity to normal intestinal movements and usually disappears on its own.
P&C: Can tummy pain be a sign of lactose intolerance?
Dr. Davies: Yes, but while lactose intolerance (the inability to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and milk products) is common in adults, it’s rare in children under the age of 3.
P&C: What about food allergies?
Dr. Davies: It’s possible. Food allergies affect about 7 out of 100 kids, and symptoms can include vomiting or loose stools with mucus and sometimes blood. The good news is about 85 percent of kids outgrow allergies to milk, wheat, eggs, and soy between ages 3 and 5.
P&C: What should a parent do when a child complains of stomach pain?
Dr. Davies: If the pain is mild and there are no other symptoms, encourage your child to lie down and rest, sip clear fluids or juice, or attempt to have a bowel movement. Don’t give any medications without talking to the doctor first. Call your doctor if symptoms become more severe or frequent or persist.
Susan Hayes is a freelance writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY. She is the co-author of 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child.