All parents must eventually deal with their child's dreaded--yet normal--"tummy ache," but when your toddler complains of stomach pain on a consistent basis, a greater problem might be to blame. Chronic stomach aches in toddlers often have their roots in dietary changes but may also relate to a genetic dietary condition or psychological issue.
While rare, stress-related stomach aches can occur in toddlers. Predominant fears--from thunderstorms to big dogs--can manifest as stomach pain. Check if your child's pain occurs around the same time each day or within the same set of circumstances. Pain that occurs whenever someone expresses anger could also have its roots in stress. Observe your child to determine the cause of her fear and try to ease her anxiety over it. Child and Youth Health also suggests giving her a stomach or foot massage to relieve the physical symptoms of stress.
Food Allergy and Intolerance
Food allergies cause stomach aches in addition to severe problems ranging from rashes to difficulty breathing, but the symptoms of food intolerance typically remain centered in the stomach. If you suspect your child has an allergy or intolerance, keep the suspected food out of her diet for a few days before slowly re-introducing it. If her symptoms flair up again, talk with her doctor about alternate dietary options. Most kids with food intolerance have lactose intolerance, a reaction against the sugar found in dairy products. If your toddler experiences stomach problems shortly after switching from formula to milk, she may have a problem with lactose.
Constipation occurs when your toddler experiences infrequent or difficult bowel movements. According to Marsha Kay, M.D. and Vasundhara Tolia, M.D. with the American College of Gastroenterology, children typically have anywhere from three bowel movements each day to three each week. Every child's system varies, however. If your toddler suddenly experiences a decrease in bowel movements accompanied by stomach pain, she likely has constipation. Constipation is especially common in children introduced to new foods or undergoing toilet training. Gradually introduce more fiber-rich foods, like fresh fruits and whole wheat, to your toddler's diet. If constipation persists, talk to your doctor.
Gastroesophageal reflux, a type of peptic disorder, refers to the process of bringing up stomach contents into the esophagus. Everyone experiences some reflux, but, according to Kay and Tolia, toddlers and young children experiencing abnormal reflux typically complain of stomachaches around the belly button and pain in the chest. These symptoms do not always occur immediately after eating. Alan M. Lake, M.D., with the American Academy of Family Physicians, explains that many peptic disease symptoms occur in the morning or the middle of the night. Talk to your doctor for the diagnosis and treatment of reflux, and keep your toddler away from citrus products and other acidic foods.