8 Home Remedies for Stomach Pain in Kids
Pediatricians say belly pain is super common in kids and — good news for parents — often treatable at home.
Ask a handful of parents what they’re seeking most when it comes to medical advice for their kids, and they’ll likely tell you the same thing: home remedies for stomach pain in kids. After all, stomach pain is one of the most common complaints in kids. If you are able to effectively identify the cause of their discomfort, in many cases, there are plenty of effective ways to address your child’s stomach pain at home.
FWIW, when doctors talk about stomach pain in kids (and in general), they’re usually referring to the entire abdomen — that’s everything from the pelvis and its organs to the gut. So sometimes — especially with babies and toddlers — it can be hard to ID symptoms of stomach pain in kids. “For young kids who can't yet verbally express pain, they may show it by holding their stomach or doubling over,” says Dr. Katie Lockwood, M.D., an attending physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Primary Care, Flourtown. Showing you something hurts might also look like changes in behavior — not eating as much or being less active, she says.
If something seems off and you suspect the tummy is the root cause? Here are some top reasons for stomach pain in kids, home remedies, and — importantly — when you call your pediatrician.
Common causes of stomach pain in kids
First things first: “Stomach pain is one of those things that has a mile-long list of possibilities as to what could be causing it,” says Dr. Michael D. Patrick, Jr., M.D., an emergency medicine physician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and host of the hospital’s podcast PediaCast.
That said, those who work in pediatrics can point to common causes of stomach pain in kids. Below are many of them:
“The most common thing we see is often constipation,” says Lockwood.
Constipation simply means “too much stool in the intestines that’s not moving very well,” explains Patrick. Your child might have infrequent, hard bowel movements or loose or watery bowel movements, like diarrhea, he says. Constipation can be due to everything from diet and hydration to lifestyle (some children withhold poop when potty training) or more serious GI issues. “A lot of kids with constipation will point to their belly button as the place that they're hurting,” flags Colleen Kraft, M.D., MBA, an attending physician at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
2. Gas pain or indigestion
Indigestion(aka dyspepsia or an upset stomach) is essentially upper abdominal discomfort that your child might notice as burning, bloating, gassiness, nausea, or feeling full. This type of pain can be more non-specific, and a child may point to their belly button as a pain point, particularly if they’re not verbal, says Lockwood. Often, indigestion-related stomach pain or nausea after eating can be related to diet, says Kraft. It can be caused by something as simple as taking in excess air while drinking from a straw, or junk food, spicy food, excess citrus food, caffeine, and an overall unhealthy diet.
3. Gastrointestinal (GI) viruses
GI viruses (think: norovirus) are common in the winter and spring. “They are more acute in that they're shorter — 24 to 48 hours of stomach pain — and usually a little bit easier to detect because they're associated with a sudden onset of vomiting and diarrhea that improves relatively quickly,” explains Lockwood.
If your child has food allergies, particularly a milk allergy or lactose intolerance, they could have a stomach ache and symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, or cramps, says Kraft. These symptoms would pop up shortly after food consumption. If your child ever develops signs or symptoms of anaphylaxis (difficulty breathing, facial flushing, shock), contact emergency services immediately.
5. The flu
“Many parents don't realize that the flu often has more GI symptoms in children than it does in adults,” says Lockwood. If your child has the flu, they may have symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea, for example, she notes. “A mantra that we use in pediatrics is, ‘kids aren't little adults.’ Oftentimes, diseases look different in pediatrics than they do in adults because children's immune systems are still developing.”
Notice your child’s tummy bothers them every day before school, but it’s fine on the weekends? That’s a sign that stress could be contributing to the pain, says Kraft. The stomach and the brain are connected by signaling pathways called the gut-brain axis; sometimes, psychological issues have stomach-related symptoms, and vice versa.
Any pain on the lower right side of the belly that’s more severe can be a sign of appendicitis (when the appendix gets inflamed or infected) and requires immediate medical assistance, says Patrick.
8. Issues in other areas and organs of the abdomen
The kidneys are located in the back part of the abdomen, and the pelvis and its organs are in close proximity to the stomach, which means pelvic issues (think: urinary tract infections (UTIs), especially in young girls) can often show up as stomach-like pain. “Any belly pain that goes toward the back or is associated with urinary symptoms, we think about urinary tract infections or kidney stones,” says Lockwood.
Additionally, pancreatitis, gallbladder issues, or anything that's in your belly could potentially be behind stomach pain, says Lockwood.
9. Rare but serious issues
These rare but serious issues can all cause stomach pain in kids and require medical attention.
- Intussusception. This is when the intestine “kind of folds in on itself,” causing severe abdominal pain for babies, toddlers, or young kids, says Patrick.
- Ovarian or testicular torsion. These issues occur when the ovaries twist onto supporting tissues or a testicle rotates, twisting the cord that brings blood to the scrotum. Both can cause abdominal pain and occur in young children (not just teens and adults), says Patrick.
8 Home remedies to treat stomach pain in kids
Good news: In many instances of stomach pain in kids, home remedies can help kids feel a lot better. What you do will depend on the issue at hand, but these are some tried and true remedies that docs rely on:
1. A food journal
When it comes to stomach pain in kids, one of the first places pediatricians start is a child’s diet. “I tell my parents to start a food diary to see what their children are taking in and when they are complaining of pain,” says Kraft.
Whole grain cereals, fruits, and vegetables can help a child with constipation by bulking up stool and making it easier to pass, says Lockwood. In children over one, “prune juice is another strategy to help with constipation,” adds Patrick. It’s full of fiber and sorbitol, which helps soften stools.
3. Bland, nutritious foods
For issues like heartburn, choosing blander and more nutritious foods (skipping spicy and processed foods) can help, says Lockwood.
4. The BRAT diet
For more acute stomach pain like a GI virus, Lockwood advises trying the BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast for easy nutrition.
“There is some evidence for probiotics in the setting of acute stomach bugs,” says Lockwood. “If you've been on antibiotics for something or have a stomach bug, taking a probiotic can help.” Foods like Greek yogurt, sauerkraut, pickled veggies, or kefir are natural sources of probiotics.
Keeping your child hydrated — ensuring they are regularly wetting diapers or, in older children, that their urine is lighter in color and they are able to keep fluids down — is important, especially if a child is vomiting or has diarrhea, says Lockwood.
Staying hydrated is also a key part of fending off constipation, she says. Sips of warm water or a bit of decaffeinated tea may also help relieve constipation, adds Kraft.
Gentle massage can help relieve pain and get things moving in the case of constipation, says Kraft.
Sometimes, placing a warm compress or washcloth over your child’s tummy can help relieve pain, says Kraft. Heat helps increase blood flow and circulation, helping with pain relief.
When to seek medical treatment for your child’s stomach pain
If your child is under 1
“Any time a baby is less than 12 months old, and you think their belly is hurting, they should be seen; they can't tell you if their belly hurts or not,” explains Patrick. Infants are also at an increased risk for dehydration, adds Lockwood.
If the pain is disruptive, has lasted for several days, or is escalating
If your child says their stomach hurts but is playful, running around, eating normally, and generally acting themselves, that’s less concerning than if they’re on their bed curled up in pain.
“If the pain has lasted several days and is really interfering with your child being their normal self, you should have a medical professional take a look because there are just so many things that could be at play,” says Patrick.
If your child experiences burning when urinating
This could be a sign of an infection, such as a UTI, and definitely be a reason to see your doctor, says Lockwood.
If vomiting and diarrhea continue for more than two days OR your child can't keep down fluids
Dehydration is a serious issue and something that may require medical intervention, says Lockwood. If vomiting and diarrhea are continuing, there are medications you and your physician can consider for your child.
If stomach pain is accompanied by a fever
This could indicate an infection somewhere in the body, says Lockwood.
If your child is losing weight
Chronic abdominal issues like Crohn's disease or Inflammatory Bowel Disease can be associated with weight loss, Lockwood says.
If there is any pain in the right lower quadrant of the abdomen
This could be a sign of appendicitis, which requires immediate medical attention, says Kraft.
If home remedies aren’t working
If you’ve changed your child’s diet, allowed them to rest, or tried warm compresses with no relief, that’s a sign that something else could be at play, and you’ll want to have your doctor weigh in, says Kraft.
All in all, it’s important to remember that stomach pain in kids is super common and a top reason children wind up in the pediatrician’s office. Often, home remedies help with stomach pain in kids, but sometimes, things can be more serious. Trust your parental instincts and always bring your child in to be seen if you’re worried. Otherwise, rest assured that in many cases, simple lifestyle changes can usually help your child feel their best.
Katie Lockwood, M.D., MEd, an attending physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Primary Care, Flourtown.
Colleen Kraft, M.D., MBA, an attending physician at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.