Hearing those plaintive words, “Mom, my belly hurts,” can stop any parent cold. As you search for the thermometer and a towel (just in case), you begin asking questions: “When did you use the bathroom last?” “Do you feel pain anywhere else?” “Do you have a test today?”
Tummy aches can be caused by a food allergy, constipation, overindulgence in sugary or fatty treats or an infection that has nothing to do with the stomach at all, such as an ear infection, strep throat or a urinary tract infection. Worries about a test or a bully or even a guilty conscience may cause tummy trouble, too.
If your child has other symptoms like vomiting, fever and diarrhea, you’re probably dealing with the stomach flu. While it’s not influenza, stomach flu (gastroenteritis) is the second most common childhood illness, after colds. Thankfully, most cases are short-lived and require no drug treatment.
Help your child through the stomach flu with rest, TLC and the following:
- Extra fluids. Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration—signs include decreased urine or urine that’s dark, dry mouth, fast heartbeat, no tears when crying and sunken eyes. Offer children under age 2 a pediatric rehydration solution and continue to nurse if you’re breastfeeding. Older kids can sip apple juice, chicken broth or sports drinks. Wait 30 to 60 minutes after vomiting before giving tiny amounts of fluid, about a teaspoon every minute.
- Bland foods. Once your child can keep liquids down for about 12 to 24 hours, offer bland foods to nibble. Start with the BRAT foods—bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. Slowly reintroduce a normal diet over the next 48 hours.