How to Treat Stomach-Related Illnesses In Children

Stomach issues in kids are common—and usually not that serious. Here's how to treat common tummy complaints, and when to seek medical care.

child laying in bed with stomach pain
Photo: Getty

Is there anything more heartbreaking than dealing with a child who has a tummy ache or is throwing up? How about a tiny baby who is gassy and crying, or who seems to be spitting up non-stop? These types of scenarios, which are super stressful for parents, can be extremely uncomfortable for little ones, and result in a ton of sleepless nights.

We reached out to experts to help us get a better understanding of what's behind our kids' most common digestive woes, and how to help them feel better.

What Are Stomach-Related Illnesses?

Stomach-related illnesses include any concerning symptoms involving your child's digestive system. This could be related to stomach pain, gas, burping, spitting up, vomiting, or problems with your child's poop, such as loose stools, constipation, or green/bloody poops.

Most stomach problems in kids are due to infectious diseases, says Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD, pediatrician and consultant for Mom Loves Best. Some of the pathogens that cause stomach ailments in kids, such as vomiting, stomachaches, and diarrhea, include norovirus, rotavirus, and adenovirus.

Other common causes of stomach problems in kids can be linked to feeding issues, says Dr. Poinsett. For example, babies who are overfed might spit up frequently, be gassy, or have reflux. Anxiety is another common cause of stomach problems in kids, especially stomachaches, says Dr. Victoria Regan, a pediatrician with Children's Memorial Hermann Pediatrics.

How Common Are Child Stomach Problems?

Stomach issues are very common in kids, says Dr. Regan. "Almost all children will say, 'My stomach hurts,' at least once in their childhood." It is also one of the most common reasons for kids to go to the school nurse, she adds. "Fortunately, for the majority of children, it is nothing serious—often gas pain or constipation," Dr. Regan assures.

Tummy issues are one of the most frequent reasons parents take their kids to the pediatrician, says Leonel Rodriguez, MD pediatric gastroenterologist, Yale New Haven Children's Hospital. "Most children will experience some GI symptoms (like pain, nausea, vomiting) during their lives," he says. Stomach problems are also the fourth most common reason for emergency room visits among children, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

How Can You Treat Stomach Problems in Children?

Let's take a look at the most common tummy-related problems in kids and how best to treat them.


Parents can get easily distressed when their baby spits up, but the truth is, babies spit up… sometimes a lot! "Spitting up is common in babies and may be due to reflux, overfeeding, or inadequate burping," says Dr. Poinsett.

According to the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), treating spitting up isn't strictly necessary, if it's not a lot and the spitting up isn't bothering your baby. Sometimes feeding more frequently, so your baby doesn't become overfull, or positioning them upright after feedings, can help. However, if your baby's spit ups are more like projectile vomiting, or if there is any blood mixed into the spit-up, you should visit your pediatrician right away, notes the AAP.

Bloody stool

Finding blood in your baby or child's poop can definitely be scary. Thankfully, it is more common than most parents realize—and isn't always a serious issue. "It may be something as simple as constipation, with stool causing a small tear, or it could be a polyp or infection," says Dr. Regan. Still, you should always seek medical attention.

"Blood on the outside of the stool may be due to an anal fissure," says Dr. Poinsett. "Blood mixed with stool, however, may be due to a variety of issues." For this reason, you can and should speak to your child's pediatrician, as treatment options will vary depending on the cause.


Kids can get gassy for any number of reasons, including overeating, indigestion, or because of a food sensitivity they have. "Other causes of gas may be due to eating beans and inadequate digestion of lactose (sugar found in dairy products)," says Dr. Poinsett.

As for how you treat gas, it will vary—depending on the cause. Here are Dr. Poinsett's top tips for treating gas in kids:

  • General gas discomfort may be treated with simethicone (Gas X)
  • Gas due to beans and gassy vegetables may be prevented by taking alpha-galactosidase (Beano) before mealtimes
  • Gas due to inability to digest lactose can be treated with a lactase supplement (Lactaid) given at the time of a meal containing dairy

That said, you should always check with your child's pediatrician first, especially before introducing new medication.


Most causes of vomiting are due to viral stomach infections, says Dr. Regan. The majority of the time, treating a stomach virus involves supportive care at home until the virus passes. Here are Dr. Regan's pediatrician-approved tips for supporting your child through a stomach virus:

  • Make sure they stay adequately hydrated. This can be done by increasing their intake of clear, non-carbonated fluids. Note: You should only offer your child small sips of fluids if they've been vomiting or are nauseous
  • Avoid fried foods and spicy foods
  • Offer simple foods with protein, such as peanut butter on toast or crackers
  • If they are unable to keep down foods or drinks for more than 8 hours, or aren't peeing at least once every 12 hours, contact your pediatrician

Green diarrhea

According to Dr. Poinsett, green diarrhea is usually due to gastroenteritis, a stomach virus. Her tips for managing green diarrhea is to switch to a bland diet for a few days (bananas, rice, pasta, applesauce, toast, crackers), and offer fluids such as Pedialyte, broth, milk, or baby formula.

"It's okay to continue breastfeeding if your child has diarrhea," Dr. Poinsett recommends. "Seek out medical attention if your child has more than five stools in 24 hours, decreased wet diapers or urination, decreased tears, or dry mouth."

What Should You Do If Your Child Is Not Eating?

Sometimes during times of tummy upset, your child may eat very little—or nothing at all. If your child is ill, they will start eating once they feel better. If your child isn't eating much, it can be helpful to decrease the size of the meals you are offering your child, or feed them smaller, more frequent meals, says Dr. Poinsett. If your child is not able to keep any fluids down or hasn't eaten for 24 hours, it's important to be in touch with your pediatrician, she adds.

Besides illness, there are various reasons why a child may not eat, says Dr. Rodriguez, including lack of appetite; behavioral conditions, like picky eating; or medical conditions that result in decreased appetite or food intolerance. "It is recommended to seek medical assistance when simple and common interventions are not successful, poor eating is associated with significant weight loss or trouble gaining weight and/or if there are any other associated symptoms that may point towards other medical considerations," he advises.

When to Worry: Signs of Appendicitis

Most stomach-related illnesses aren't reasons to panic, says Dr. Regan. But there are a few scenarios to keep your eyes on. Some red flags would be acute tummy pain that hurts "more than ever," says Dr Regan. If this is accompanied by fever, nausea, or vomiting, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Other signs that might mean a doctor visit, according to Dr. Regan, include unexplained weight loss in your child, behavioral changes (sleeping extra or missing school), a burning sensation in the throat or stomach, blood in stool, or intermittent fevers.

It can be helpful to know the signs of appendicitis (infection of the appendix), a condition that requires emergency medical care. Signs of appendicitis include:

  • Intense pain near the belly button or low right area of the stomach
  • Fever
  • Decreased appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea, sometimes with mucus
  • A swollen stomach

If the pain in your child's belly becomes widespread and/or your child has a high fever (around 104°F), your child may have a ruptured appendix, which is a serious medical emergency.

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