By Dr. Kathleen Regan, ND

What are the most common causes of tummy aches in children?

  1. Stress
  2. Sugar
  3. Dairy
  4. Gluten/Yeast/Wheat
  5. Dehydration
  6. Constipation
  7. Stomach Bug/Parasites

Many a mom ends up being told by the doctor that the stomach pain keeping their little one home from school is just ‘in their head’. This is understandable because children tend to somaticize their worries into stomach pain, musculoskeletal discomfort, and headaches. However, it can be in their head AND in their stomach. In fact, really, it is NEVER just in their heads. This is because of the important and intimate connection between the gut and the brain.

In an article on the Brain-Gut Connection , John Hopkins Medicine writes ‘If you’ve ever “gone with your gut” to make a decision or felt “butterflies in your stomach” when nervous, you’re likely getting signals from an unexpected source: your second brain.  Hidden in the walls of the digestive system, this “brain in your gut” is revolutionizing medicine’s understanding of the links between digestion, mood, health and even the way you think.’

The gut and the brain, or the ‘Enteric Nervous System’, communicate in a major way with anxiety and depression triggering stomach issues such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas and irritable bowel. AND, it can also be the other way around. This little nervous system in your gut can also trigger changes in the way you think. Your little one’s constipation or bloating can CAUSE anxiety. Further research has also found it may also affect their ability to focus and learn.

So whenever you are told that, it is just in their heads, don’t believe it completely! Of course, look into the reasons why they may be feeling stress but also consider a more holistic approach like the common causes of stomach pain listed above.


  • Want some simple steps to begin tackling tummy pain?Find creative ways to get more water into your child’s diet. Fruits & veggies contain some water. Soups are a great option. Herbal teas can be a real hit with some kids (not with others). Pack a water bottle to school. Make homemade fruit popsicles mixed half and half with water. Diluting fruit juice can go a long way to get more water in. Remember that caffeinated pop and tea are natural diuretics and will further dehydrate. Fevers burn fluids and if your child has been sick, they will need additional hydration. Diarrhea (if this is a regular issue) is also dehydrating. Sometimes, it is not a lack of intake that is the problem but rather, they are simply loosing too many fluids.
  • Increase Fibre. Many parents claim to feed their children high fibre cereals for their daily fibre intake. High fibre cereals do not provide enough fibre for adults or children. To give you an idea, All Bran Original contains 10grams of fibre per serving. This isn’t even close to enough fibre! Children aged 1-3 years old have the lowest RDI for fibre at 19grams. By the time kids reach 13, they need close to adult amounts of fibre at 25-30grams per day. Adding a fibre to a cereal can be helpful but as pointed out by The World Health Organization, consuming a minimum of 5 fruit and veggie serving (with most of that being from veggies) will help you meet that requirement more readily. With your kids, try a tasty smoothie and add greens. There are a number of websites that give great lunch box suggestions for veggies. Just google, ‘veggies’ ‘lunch box’ ‘recipes’ for ideas.
  • Reduce Sugar. Kids addicted to sugar can be tough to wean off. But remember, it is worth it! Sugar feeds our gut bacteria and can cause a lot of bacterial imbalance leading to bloating, gas, irregular bowel movements, diarrhea and many other issues (including anxiety!!!). What does this mean? No processed foods, candies, baked goods, pops, sugar-laden fruit juices. Reducing white foods like breads and pasta can also go a long way to reduce sugar since carbohydrates are basically built with sugars. Supplement with natural fruits (low sugar is best ex., berries) and diluted natural fruit juices or fruit popsicles as treats when necessary. There are many tricks.
  • Add in a probiotic. We are in an age of ‘dysbiosis’ meaning disrupted gut bacteria. The frequent use of antibiotics, exposure to antibiotics through meat consumption, sugar intake, our overly clean western world, lack of fermented foods has created a perfect storm for bacterial imbalance. If your child has significant dysbiosis, yogurt will likely not solve the problem. Commercial yogurts and snack yogurts targeted at children are high in sugar and low in natural bacterial cultures. You will need a probiotic. You can get these in powders which can be added to smoothies or naturally fermented yogurts such as kefir.
  • Try using some basic herbs that are safe in children and help with BOTH stomach discomfort and anxiety. These include basics like Lemon Balm, Chamomile, Fennel and Peppermint. These can be given through a tea, herbal formula or even a bath.

These are the first steps you can take on your own as a parent towards healing stomach pain. These tips alone can make a big difference. Remember, it will take at least 3 weeks to notice a change. The first sign will be more regular bowel movements, less gas and less bloating. You may also notice less anxiety and worry as well as more focus and attention. If you don’t see these changes – you may need to look further into food sensitivities such as milk and gluten or consider a more specific treatment for dysbiosis assessed and administered by a Naturopathic Doctor.