4 Reasons Your Kid May Feel Bloated and How to Help

Bloating isn't just for grown-ups. Here are the most common culprits for bloating in kids and how to help ease the discomfort.

There are probably plenty of bloating gripes among your friends—but the talk is likely about their own too-tight jeans, not about their kids' bellies. The fact is, children can absolutely get a distended, bloated belly, too—and all the discomfort that comes with it. They just don't have the words to tell you.

"Kids don't have the language to describe it as bloating," says Tamara Duker Freuman, R.D., an expert in digestive health and the author of the new book The Bloated Belly Whisperer. "They'll say they have a tummy ache or that their stomach hurts."

The next time your child complains of belly pain and their tummy looks puffy, consider one of these possible causes.

Your Child Is Swallowing Air

Swallowing extra air, called aerophagia, can cause a few unpleasant problems for the gastrointestinal tract. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Belching or flatulence
  • Bubbly or gurgling tummy
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Distended belly from excess air

Some kids have a nervous habit of swallowing extra air when they're anxious or worried, says Freuman. Others may simply gulp extra if they're a gum-chewer, for example.

How to help

You can help your child cope with worries by teaching them deep breathing techniques (with my younger son, who is a worrier, we use a meditation app). In the meantime, over-the-counter simethicone, the same ingredient in the gas drops you gave your child as a baby, can help them feel better, says Freuman. Note, however, that these drops are expensive and they might not always work.

Closeup of Child Holding Stomach

Your Child Is Constipated

It's a huge problem among kids but often goes unnoticed by parents, especially if kids are old enough to use the bathroom by themselves. One common trigger: Kids may withhold because they don't feel comfortable using the bathroom at school (or, for younger kids, are resisting potty training). That can lead to painful bowel movements, constipation, and a hard, bloated belly.

How to help

Freuman suggests showing your kids the Bristol Stool Chart. Sure, it will make them giggle, but it will also teach them what healthy poop looks like—and when to let you know that they're having issues. Kids with chronic constipation should be seen by a pediatrician or gastrointestinal (GI) doctor.

A few simple remedies to prevent constipation include:

  • Eating more fiber like whole grains, berries, and peas
  • Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Staying active to help food move through the intestines more efficiently
  • Sticking to an eating routine to help naturally create a bathroom schedule

Your Child Is Lactose Intolerant

The onset of lactose intolerance, an inability to properly digest the natural sugar in milk, typically occurs during childhood or adolescence. But it can be tricky to pinpoint since the symptoms—including bloating, gas, and diarrhea—may not appear until 6-10 hours after lactose is consumed. So the milk your child had at breakfast may not bother them until dinnertime, says Freuman.

The biggest culprits for lactose intolerance are dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt. But lots of processed foods also contain lactose and could be giving your child's tummy a tough time. A few foods to watch out for include:

  • Breakfast cereals
  • Prepackaged snacks
  • Hot dogs and lunch meats
  • Baked goods like pancakes, cookies, and cakes

How to help

If you suspect lactose intolerance, talk to your child's pediatrician about getting a clinical diagnosis. Most of the time, they'll suggest eliminating dairy from their diet, and then gradually adding dairy back to see if there's a change and what amount a person can tolerate. They might also conduct a hydrogen breath test; this detects hydrogen or methane in your child's breath, which indicates bacterial overgrowth in the intestines.

Your Child Has Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), like bloating, is often considered a grown-up problem. But many people with IBS had symptoms as children, says Freuman. Many kid-friendly foods are common triggers for either IBS-related constipation or diarrhea, such as milk, fruit, processed snacks, and chocolate.

Common signs of IBS in kids can include:

  • Chronic tummy aches
  • Bloating, nausea, and gas
  • Diarrhea and constipation
  • Urgency when needing to have a bowel movement
  • Incomplete bowel movements
  • Mucus in stool
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dizziness

How to help

Talk to your child's pediatrician, who should conduct an evaluation. If they're diagnosed with IBS, working with a dietitian can help you figure out diet changes that can ease symptoms. In some cases, it may be as simple as adding more fiber to your child's diet.

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