What it feels like: Cramping and uncomfortable bloating are the usual symptoms.
What's going on: If your child has gone for two or more days without pooping, you can reasonably assume that constipation is causing her stomachache. In fact, constipation causes almost half of all acute abdominal pain in kids, according to a recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics. But even if she does go to the bathroom regularly, she could still be constipated. "Some kids will tell you they have a bowel movement every day, but they're not eliminating everything from their colon properly," says Dan Thomas, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. Gas is produced when food (especially sugar) is broken down by bacteria in the large intestine. This is a normal process, but some kids develop more gas than others. If your child is lactose intolerant, eating dairy products will cause painful gas.
What to do: Make sure your child is getting enough fiber and fluid, and watch the "white" foods. "Eating a lot of bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, milk, cheese, apples, and bananas can cause constipation," says pediatrician Laura Jana, MD, coauthor of Food Fights. Whole-grain cereals and pear juice can help ease the symptoms, but check with your pediatrician to see whether your child may also need an over-the-counter stool softener like mineral oil, MiraLax, or GlycoLax. (Don't give your child an adult laxative.) For gas, try to pinpoint the particular foods that cause it, such as beans, carbonated drinks, and fruit drinks. Reading the picture book It Hurts When I Poop! by Howard J. Bennett, MD, can help explain the situation to your child.