Any school nurse can tell you that bellyaches are common in children, but what causes the discomfort? More often than not, these tummy issues just take a little investigating to determine a common factor that induces repeat pain.
Check out some likely sources of stomach pain, tips to ease the discomfort, and key clues that may prompt you to visit your pediatrician.
Stress & Worrying
Most of the time, your child is probably upset about something and may not know how to share that with you - whether they really have a bellyache or not. Stress and worrying can cause real upset stomachs, so try to see if pain pops up around the same set of circumstances - like getting ready for school in the morning or heading to soccer practice.
This may point you in the right direction of what is causing so much worry, and you can ease your child's anxiety once you know what is causing the stress. Make an appointment with your pediatrician if you can't pinpoint the problem.
Irregular bowel movements serve as another culprit for stomach pain. Children can have anywhere from three bowel movements a day to three each week, so it is important to familiarize yourself with your child's pattern. The size, consistency and frequency of stools will help determine if constipation is causing the discomfort. Constipation is especially common if you are introducing new foods or potty training. Try to gradually incorporate more fiber-rich foods into your child's diet, like whole wheat and fresh fruit.
It's difficult to constantly monitor what your child is eating, but making sure your child has regular eating habits is important. Overeating is a major cause of bellyaches, so encourage your child to eat slowly and to stop when full. Limiting chewing gum and carbonated drinks may be another good idea if you notice that these things cause pain for your little one. Swallowing air can cause pain and swelling in the abdomen.
Besides bringing on scary rashes and tight throats, food allergies can cause upset stomachs, too. Try to determine if pain occurs after eating certain foods. Keep the food out of your child's diet for a few days, and give it in small doses next time. Monitor your child's reaction, and if a bellyache is not far behind, talk to your pediatrician about the suspected allergy.
How to Help
So if your child complains of a bellyache, what can you do? Here are some ideas to ease the discomfort:
- Have your child rest; most symptoms will disappear within 30 minutes
- Encourage sipping clear fluids, such as broth, tea, or diluted fruit juice
- Give a foot massage or scratch your child's back to put distract from the pain
- Try to have your child pass a stool
If that doesn't work, remember these tips:
- Give small meals throughout the day instead of a big lunch and dinner.
- Have your child try rice, dry toast or crackers.
- Do not give spicy foods or drinks with caffeine or carbonation; these will make the pain worse.
- Always talk to your doctor before giving medication.
What Makes Stomach Pain "Serious?"
Dr. Wendy Wallace, a pediatrician at CHOP Care Network North Hills, offers these signs that stomach pain needs medical attention:
- Pain persists for 24 hours
- Pain is localized to one area or moves around distinctly
- Belly looks swollen or feels hard
- Fever or chills
- Refusing to eat or drink
- Blood in vomit or stool
- Skin rash with pain
Most moms can agree that complaints of stomach aches accompany times of fear or anxiety, but it is important to recognize the signs of severe pain. Remember to talk to your child's doctor about any recurring problems. By monitoring usual patterns, you will be able to better decipher a true emergency from just wanting to go to soccer practice.