Posted: Jun 26, 2012 8:00 AM
Stomach aches are a common complaint among children. There are a multitude of reasons, and getting to the bottom of it can be downright painful at times. Here are a few of the most common reasons your child may complain of belly pain and a couple of not so common ones.

First up… constipation

Constipation is by far the most common reason I see a child for either ongoing abdominal pain and/or acute abdominal pain. Stretching of the intestines and trapped gas can be quite painful in these children.

It's marked by infrequent bowel movements (often less than three times per week), difficulty passing stool, and/or hard/dry/large bowel movements. Though, don't be fooled, even children who pass daily stools can suffer from constipation.

The best remedies for this situation are upping your child's intake of fiber and liquids. Water is your child's best friend as is whole grains and fruits. The p juices such as pear and prune juice work wonders too. Also, make sure your child is getting his 60 minutes of daily physical activity to keep things moving along.

Gastroenteritis (aka the stomach flu)

Typically, you'll know when your child's abdominal pain is due to one of the viruses causing the stomach flu. Fever, vomiting, and/or diarrhea coincide with this type of belly pain. The most important thing to know about gastroenteritis is to closely monitor your child's hydration status. Offer small and frequent amounts of clear liquids throughout the course of her illness and be aware of the signs of dehydration such as no or little tears, decreased urine output, and a marked decrease in her activity level.

Lactose intolerance

Crampy abdominal pain, gas and diarrhea, 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming any dairy products are the hallmarks of lactose intolerance. Children with this make too little of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to properly digest lactose (the main sugar found in milk and milk products). Children typically do well once the condition is recognized and dairy is limited.

Using lactose-free milk and consuming calcium-rich foods such as broccoli and fortified orange juice will help compensate for the much needed vitamin D and calcium in your child's diet.


This represents a medical emergency and is most common in children ages 11-20. It's characterized by a sudden onset of belly pain, often starting around the belly button and then progressing to the right lower side of your child's stomach. Loss of appetite, nausea and/or vomiting and fever may accompany this type of abdominal pain.

Your child's belly may be exquisitely tender to touch. If you think your child may have appendicitis, seek immediate medical attention as surgery is necessary to remove the appendix before it ruptures.


Although rare, this type of abdominal pain occurring most often in children less than 2 years old is a medical emergency. Infants and toddlers with this condition will often start crying/screaming intensely while drawing their legs up to their chest. This may go on intermittently for quite some time and will have periods of rest where they appear to be completely normal.

The culprit is a portion of bowel that telescopes within itself causing obstruction, pain, inflammation and swelling in that area. Currant jelly stools (mucus and blood) is another sign of this condition. Thankfully, once suspected a barium enema is both diagnostic and curative.

Dr. Mom's bottom line^ A little detective work is often needed to get to the bottom of your child's abdominal pain. In addition to the above conditions: food allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, abdominal migraines, urinary tract infections and celiac disease are other causes of tummy aches in children. Work closely with your child's pediatrician to solve your child's tummy trouble once and for all.

More on your child's digestive health

How to eat like a caveman
Eat a rainbow every day
Help for babies and parents in the throes of colic