Digestive Health of Children

Kids can be so unpredictable when it comes to eating – they may complain about stomach pain when they are very grumpy, but may keep quiet when they really feel bad. Most children settle into a better eating pattern and the complaints about stomach aches also reduce. Some of these are true warning signs of something more serious. If the child’s distress includes vomiting, diarrhea, or something that they are not able to explain, see a pediatrician.

Pediatrician Chris Tolcher, MD, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, suggests that one should trust their gut, and no matter what the symptoms are, call a pediatrician. There are five common problems for which you should call the pediatrician immediately.


Children vomit for several reasons, including viral infections, motion sickness, food poisoning, fever, cough, overeating, over-excitement, nervousness, and anxiety. Some serious diseases can also cause vomiting, such as meningitis, appendicitis, and intestinal blockages. Along with vomiting, children may also get diarrhea, stomach pain, and a fever.

Contact a doctor if your child has vomited more than once, there is blood in the vomit, the child is under 6-years-old, and they can't keep liquids down. For kids older than 6-years-old, call a doctor if the child has vomited more than two times in one day, has blood in the vomit, or has vomited bile. Call the pediatrician if vomiting is associated with fever, diarrhea, or signs of dehydration including:

  • Decreased urination
  • Dry lips
  • Decreased energy
  • Looks unwell

Abdominal pain

Some common conditions that can result in abdominal pain include:

Many other issues can also cause abdominal pain, which may be accompanied by bloating, cramping, nausea, or general discomfort.

Some of the less common causes of abdominal pain include:

You should call a pediatrician if the pain is severe or if the pain has been going on for more than 1 week.

Constipation and diarrhea

Stress during potty training, diet lacking fiber, lack of fluids or exercise, irritable bowel syndrome, poor bowel habits, diabetes, or medications all can cause constipation in kids.

Some of the common symptoms of constipation include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Stomach cramps
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Fewer than normal bowel movements

“You should immediately call the doctor if there is blood in the stool”, says Scott Cohen, MD, pediatrician, and author of Eat, Sleep, Poop: A Common Sense Guide to Your Baby's First Year. You should also consider calling a doctor if the child is not having at least one bowel movement per day, if movements are painful, and if some stress is required to clear the bowels.

Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD)

GERD is very common in children, especially very young children.

Acid reflux is caused by many reasons including:

  • Food allergies
  • Problem with the muscle at the bottom of esophagus

Most of the times GERD resolves on its own or by avoiding trigger foods, like peppermint, chocolate, and fatty foods.

Some symptoms that could signify GERD:

  • Poor weight gain
  • Poor appetite
  • Vomiting green or yellow fluid
  • Stomach or chest pain
  • Breathing problems
  • Chronic cough
  • Crying or moodiness
  • Problems swallowing

Fussy eating habits

“Limited eating in children is also something to be careful about”, says Tolcher. This vague symptom can be a sign of many digestive problems. GERD, gastrointestinal infections, and diarrhea can cause children to be fussy and picky eaters.

You should call a doctor if the child is not gaining enough weight, if the child vomits after eating certain foods, if they have heartburn when they eat, or experience abdominal pains during or after meals.

Other digestive problems in children

Some less common abdominal issues that may lead to digestive troubles include:

Children can find it really hard to explain what they are feeling. Whatever the symptoms are, if you are worried about your child's health, do not hesitate to call the pediatrician.