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How parents can help their kids struggling with stomach issues

Posted at 10:42 AM, Jul 17, 2023

Tummy troubles are a common childhood ailment. It can be the body's way of saying there is something wrong, either physically or emotionally.

According to a C.S. Mott Children's Hospital national poll on children's health, one in six parents say their child suffers stomach pain once a month.

Katherine Bazzana is one of those parents. She said she gets concerned about her 9-month-old son, Nicholas, trying to figure out what's wrong.

"He'll cry and nothing else will soothe him. Like food won't really soothe him. Diaper changes won't soothe him. So we're just guessing it's his stomach troubles," Bazzana said.

University of Michigan Pediatrician and co-director of the CS Mott Poll on Children's Health, Dr. Susan J. Woolford said more than 40 percent of parents have never brought the issue up with their child's doctor.

"The majority of parents are trying to work out what the pain is, because sometimes the pain can mean something very severe, but quite often it doesn't," Woolford said.

According to Woolford, common causes of belly pain include gas, constipation or indigestion. Other common causes can include food allergies, lactose intolerance, viral illness or food poisoning.

Woolford said when parents are playing detective, there are some important questions to ask.

"Is it sort of general pain or is it in one spot? And what spot is that? And then when we think about what the pain is associated with," Woolford said.

Is it associated with fever or vomit? If so, is the vomit green? Or is there blood? Those are big red flags.

"Again, if there's blood in the diarrhea, these are things that we're concerned about," Woolford said.

Other serious problems include appendicitis, hernia or irritable bowel disease.

"Parents should reach out for help when they have a question that they're not able to answer at home. So if this pain is lasting for over a day, if the pain seems to be particularly intense, or the pain is stopping their child from doing the normal activities or waking them up at night," Woolford said.

Just over 1/4 of parents point to emotional needs as the source of their child's belly pain, like anxiety, worry, need for attention, test anxiety or bullying.

Talking to your child about their concerns is the first step in helping them tackle the emotional cause of that physical pain.

Breathing exercises also help. And your pediatrician is also a good resource