What Causes Stomach Aches?
Stomach aches are caused by eating too much or too little food, intestinal gas, or a mild viral infection. A child who has recurring stomach aches should always be examined by a doctor. Repeated stomach aches may result from colic, constipation, or urinary tract infection. If there are additional symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and/or blood in the child’s stools, the child may have a chronic intestinal illness such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or celiac disease. But most cases of recurring stomach aches, especially in school-aged children, are related to psychological stress or anxiety. Children who are unable to verbalize their feelings of discomfort or stress often will express their discomfort by having stomach aches or headaches.
Help your child by recording information about his stomach aches. This information will help you understand why your child has recurring stomach pain and will help your child’s doctor to make the right diagnosis. The questions below can help you chart the necessary information:
- When did the pain start?
- Did it come on suddenly or gradually?
- Where is it located?
- Is the pain constant, or does it come and go?
- Is it in the same each time or does the pain’s location change?
- Is there anything that seems to trigger the pain?
- How long does the pain last? Is there anything that makes the pain better or worse (such as food, hunger, or body position)?
- Are there other symptoms, such as fever, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, present?
- Overall, how is your child’s condition?
- Is she less active than usual?
- Has your child lost any weight?
Treatment for Stomach Aches
For general abdominal pain, let your child lie down and rest until he feels better. If your child feels nauseated or is vomiting, give him small sips of clear fluid and avoid solid foods. Learn how to provide home treatment for two common causes of stomach aches below.
Colic generally improves over time. No medicine has been shown to improve colic and there isn’t one treatment that works for all babies. Do make sure that your baby is getting enough to eat. Some infants may have a sensitivity to dairy proteins, so if you’re breastfeeding, avoid eating milk, cheese, and butter for a week, and if you’re bottle-feeding, try giving your child a soy-based formula. If your baby’s condition improves, reintroduce dairy products after 14 days and see if the colic returns. Weigh your baby periodically to make sure that he is eating enough to gain weight. To prevent your baby from swallowing air, make sure that he is in a comfortable position when breastfeeding; if you’re bottle-feeding, try different types of bottles to see which ones minimize swallowed air.
You can give your baby a massage, but do not overstimulate him, which can make him feel more unsettled. Try carrying and rocking your baby or swaddling him with a blanket and letting him lie quietly in the dark. Some babies sleep better after a warm bath or become calmer with a pacifier; others respond well to singing, music, or monotonous sounds (a washing machine or vacuum cleaner). Other infants may calm down the repetitive movements of a car ride or a swing.
A healthy diet is the key to preventing constipation. Have your child eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to get enough fiber, and give her plenty of fluids — water or juices — to drink. For constipated babies on formula, try adding 2 to 3 teaspoonfuls of prune juice or corn syrup for each 4 oz of formula. With older children, avoid meat, sugar, and milk or other dairy products because they can cause constipation. Children over 12 months old should not drink more than 16 to 24 oz of milk in 24 hours. Some children may have a sensitivity to milk, so their condition should improve after milk is eliminated from their diet. Give your child calcium-fortified soy milk to make sure she gets enough calcium.
Teach your child good toilet habits. Start toilet training as soon as your child shows the motivation for this. Use the time after meals for a trip to the toilet. Set up an area in the bathroom just for your child and use rewards as an incentive for the child. For older children, consuming prune juice and fibrous fruits (pears, apricots, and peaches) may provide relief. A warm bath can also help your child relax before using the toilet. Do not give your child pain relief medicines or laxatives if you don’t know the cause of the stomach ache, as some medicines can cause stomach pain.