A stomachache (translated in our family as “my belly hurts”) can be caused by constipation or gas. It may also be the result of a virus, stress, or bad food. The digestive system of an infant or child is not as efficient as that of an adult. So although food creates energy it also demands a certain amount to digest the food—this is known in Chinese Medicine as the digestive fire. You can think of it like an oven. In kids we often see stomach aches as the result of too much rich food, too much cold food, or too much snacking. All of these situations may challenge a child’s digestive fire—making it difficult for them to completely digest the food. As a result there is pain or “food stagnation” in the belly. There are, however, some simple techniques that can be helpful to relax the child and soothe the tummy. Warning: these techniques are so generally adored by my son that after a few stomachaches he began to employ ‘mommy, my tummy hurts’ as a way to get some extra hands-on loving attention -- after getting wise and asking, “do you really have a stomachache or do you just want me to do some tummy circles?” and getting a surprisingly candid answer, I ended up incorporating some of the easy hands-on techniques like tummy circles into our nightly routine. According to Chinese medicine, these are also great techniques for strengthening the digestive and immune systems.
Some great options to relieve the discomfort of kids stomachaches include:
- Tummy Circles: One of the most effective ways to relieve a stomachache and stimulate healthy digestive function is also one of the easiest. First have your child lie down comfortably on his back. Then with the pads of your four closed fingers or the palm of your hand, gently push while rotating your hand to make medium-sized clockwise circles around your child’s belly button. Continue in a clockwise direction 50 to 100 times, or for a few minutes.
- Ginger: You can give this to your child as candied ginger, ginger tea, or ginger ale. Ginger is so amazing that, in a pinch, I have even been known to grab take-out sushi trays simply for the ginger that invariably is included — not the most economical solution. If you have raw ginger in the house, I find this works the best — 2 half-inch slices steeped for 10 minutes. Ginger ale is also settling to some small tummies because of the bubbles, although the same carbonation can be aggravating to others. You’ll know if your child tends to be sensitive to sparkling waters or soft drinks. One caveat here on ginger: While I am a fan of ginger in almost any form available if your child has a stomachache, I am not advocating for ginger creme cookies — and i say this only because my seven year old strenuously suggests them every time. (They are definitely worth a try if no one has a stomachache…)
- Mint Tea (herbal not caffeinated) with honey – in children over 15 months – is also a very settling brew. If you have fresh mint, so much the better — a small handful ofleaves can be steeped for 3-5 minutes.
- If following a meal, your child’s stomach is upset, you can try digestive enzymes: my favorite in this situation would be the enzymes from papaya and pineapple – papain and bromelain. Alternatively, a small bowl of pineapple or papaya can soothe an unsettled tummy.
- And if things are bad…Charcoal: As activated charcoal powder, in capsule or pill form (or a capsule or 1/4 teaspoon dissolved in warm water) can help the discomfort of indigestion.
The Morning After:
You may consider simplifying their diet, the day after a stomachache. Soups provide easy nourishment to an overtaxed digestive system. Congee is another favorite with kids I have worked with (Congee is like a watery oatmeal, although it can be made with any grain in a 6:1 ratio with water -- millet, rice, oats can be placed in a crockpot overnight on low with 6 cups of water, then garnished with maple syrup, or a little fruit in the morning. The result is a natural porridge much like a home version of Cream of Wheat). Congee is a yummy breakfast and it acts like a tonic for the digestive system.
Preventative Measures and Other Considerations:
If your child is prone to experiencing stomachaches, consider adding a probiotic to their daily routine (one that includes lactobacillus acidophilus is especially good for children who are no longer breastfeeding, whereas breastfeeding children should have bifidobacterium bifidus included; probiotics especially created for children are often a safe bet).
Some probiotics include the amino acid, glutamine. Since glutamine is the main fuel used by intestinal cells, it is an excellent way to repair and reduce possible inflammation in the intestines... and a must-have after any intestinal traumas or surgeries. L-Glutamine may also be taken by itself in powdered form as directed -- usually in 250-1250mg daily doses (after surgery it may be more frequent dosing). Try this for a couple of weeks and see if it reduces the frequency of the stomachaches.
If stomachaches are a persistent issue, try starting a diet log. Watch when your child has stomachaches, and what they have eaten, if anything, prior. Patterns of food sensitivities or other valuable information may emerge. (with my son, eating dairy products in general, or waiting too long between meals followed by a hard-to-digest snack such as cashews -- a favorite -- causes uncomfortable gas pain.)
One final consideration in any tummy issue is your child’s emotional state. The stomach has more nerve endings than any other organ besides the brain. If your child is appearing stressed or going through major transition, you may consider incorporating children’s yoga, or bedtime massage into their daily routine, to soothe them and help them cope with a difficult time. You may also want to check out the section on what to do if your child is overtired or overstimulated, and establish a routine that will help to soothe their nervous system. Connection with a parent or loved one may be the absolute best way to stop a cycle of stomachaches that is emotionally or developmentally-related.
If your child is experiencing a stomachache, or abdominal pain so severe that it makes any normal activity impossible, and/or if it persists for a few hours, consult with a medical doctor. Also seek treatment immediately if pain continues to get worse, especially in the area of the belly button or right abdomen, or if it is accompanied by a fever and/or vomiting. These could be signs of appendicitis.
If your child is suffering from a stomachache, you may also want to refer to the dvd segment from Mommy's ER which demonstrates more hands-on techniques and consult the ibook sections on stomachache,constipation and diarrhea.