Bye, Bye, Tummy Trouble
By Victoria Dolby Toews
Maybe the culprit was that fourth slice of pizza or a second scoop of rocky road, but when a child complains of a stomachache, relief becomes every parent’s goal. Any number of factors can cause digestive tumult—including rich foods, antibiotic reaction and food allergies. How do you quell the upset?
Parents know their children best. If a particular digestive complaint strikes you as unusual, don’t hesitate to consult a health care professional, especially if the tummy upset is accompanied by fever, malaise, or rash; is causing your child extreme discomfort (evidenced by crying, inability to sleep, or doubling over); or continues to be a problem for more than a day or two. You’ll be in a better position to provide relief after identifying the cause—and that’s where natural remedies may help.
When Food Bites Back
A child’s overindulgence in rich, fatty, or sugary foods can easily result in bloating and pain. The obvious solution is cutting back on such offenders. But sometimes even a seemingly healthy snack can trigger an upset stomach. Apple juice and pear juice, for example, contain a sugar (sorbitol) that can be difficult to digest—especially for children younger than 5, who may experience gas, pain and diarrhea. Ironically, many parents give their children these juices to rehydrate them after a bout of diarrhea, inadvertently triggering renewed diarrhea (Journal of Pediatrics, 2001, vol. 139, no. 2). Watch how your child reacts to high-sugar juices and eliminate them if symptoms occur.
Another cause of your child’s stomach upset, diarrhea or even vomiting could be a food allergy or sensitivity. Common food allergens include wheat (gluten), soy, dairy products, eggs, corn and citrus fruits. Eliminate potential food allergens from your child’s diet for two weeks, then reintroduce one suspect at a time, watching for negative effects. If your child seems to have severe or multiple food allergies, consider working with a naturopath to determine which foods trigger symptoms so you can construct a healthy diet for her.
Many parents are surprised to discover that a bout of the runs may be triggered by antibiotics. While antibiotics are effective against infections, they destroy friendly bacteria along with the targeted disease-causing organisms, often leading to diarrhea.
Yogurt is one traditional and convenient way to replenish beneficial intestinal tract bacteria, but different brands vary greatly in their bacteria strain and potency. Many processed yogurts contain no live bacteria, so check the label for “active cultures.” You can also provide active-culture yogurt or probiotic supplements while your child is on antibiotics; look for products designed especially for children.
Rice water is the most common world-wide remedy for diarrhea and is approved by the World Health Organization. There appears to be a chemical in rice that slows down diarrhea; rice water also replenishes electrolytes and sugars. Rice water is quite easy to make: Cook brown rice or cream of rice cereal with twice the usual amount of water, then serve the cooled, drained water or the watery cereal to the affected child.
Linda B. White, MD, and Sunny Mavor, co-authors of Kids, Herbs, and Health (Interweave Press, 1999), also recommend carob (Ceratonia siliqua) as a safe, natural remedy for diarrhea because its constituents help bind together watery stools. Mix one teaspoon of carob powder into applesauce or yogurt for your child to eat. Because carob stains easily, White and Mavor caution that all surfaces (including the child) should be covered. Also, encourage your child to drink lots of clear fluids such as water, broth or vegetable and fruit juices to stave off dehydration (but remember, skip the apple and pear juice).
Kids gravitate toward low-fiber, processed foods that cause constipation. It’s a problem that’s fairly easy to resolve. Ensure that your child drinks plenty of water and increases his intake of high-fiber foods, such as fruits, fresh vegetables and whole-grain breads and cereals. Instead of catching cartoons, have him spend more time catching a ball because physical activity promotes a well-functioning bowel.
Tried-and-true prune juice is also effective for constipation; mix one to four ounces of prune juice in a glass of cranberry juice to make the taste more kid-friendly. Psyllium (Plantago psyllium, P. ovata) seeds are also effective; they work by swelling when in contact with water, forming a gelatinous mass that keeps feces hydrated. Dissolve one tablespoon in warm water for your child to drink, and give her plenty of extra water throughout the day.
Help Medicine Go Down
Herbal teas are a great way to treat tummy aches because children often resist swallowing pills. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) tea is a popular cure-all that soothes GI turmoil. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is another top pick for relieving heartburn and gas. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) tea settles the stomach and quells nausea and diarrhea. One caution: Don’t sweeten babies’ tea with honey because it may contain a bacteria that can seriously sicken children younger than 1. For older children, however, raw honey is a great home remedy for nausea and vomiting.
While it’s unlikely that your child will skate through childhood without a few tummy troubles, there are many natural, at-home remedies that heal—and that’s bound to be a comfort to both of you.
Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH, is an Oregon-based freelance writer.