“Mommy, my tummy hurts”
Have you ever heard those words, asked where it hurts and watched your child point to their WHOLE tummy, plus maybe an elbow and an earlobe for good measure?
Yeah, me too. With such vague information, it can be incredibly challenging to figure out how to help them feel better, and when call a doctor if needed.
After awhile, I put together a checklist that has made the process easier for me, and today I’m going to share it with you. Please keep in mind that “Best Boo-Boo Kisser South Of Puckett’s Gas Station” is about as official as things get for me professionally. I am not a doctor, this is not medical advice, none of these statements have been evaluated by the FDA, and they are not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. As I say in my full disclaimer, I’m just a mom sharing what’s worked for my family.
Ready to dive in? Good! Before we go over the checklist, I thought you might be wondering . . .
Why not use the pink stuff?
I’m talking about the sweet, ooey-gooey liquid most of us took as children, of course. I loved the flavor of that stuff, which is why I was surprised and saddened to learn that its active ingredient is bismuth, a heavy metal.
And we’re not just talking about a little bismuth. According to this Popular Science article:
“Most modern medicines are carefully synthesized organic molecules so potent that each pill contains only a few milligrams of the active ingredient. Pepto-Bismol is a fascinating exception, both because its active ingredient is bismuth, a heavy metal commonly used in shotgun pellets, and because there is a lot of it in each dose. So much, in fact, that I was able to extract a slug of bismuth metal from a pile of pink pills.” (emphasis mine)
Ironically, bismuth is known to cause some of the very symptoms it is used to treat – constipation, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting – plus others such as seizures, depression, muscle weakness, uncontrollable flapping movements of the hands, and ringing of the ears. (source1, source 2)
While these effects are generally associated with excessive dosages, I personally wonder if there could be negative effects of ingesting heavy metals even in small amounts. Even more worrying to me is the thought that children who are drawn to the candy-like flavor of this medicine may consume more than is advised when a parent is distracted.
For those reasons, plus the fact that it’s loaded with artificial dyes and other ingredients I want to avoid, I use time honored (and research supported) home remedies when the potami have a tummy ache. Now let’s get to that checklist!
My 6-Question Stomach Ache Checklist
These questions were inspired by this wonderful article from Scholastic – I’ve matched them up with some home remedies I’ve found helpful along with a couple of additional questions.
Question #1: Does it hurt to go potty?
If so, it may be constipation. When this is the case, children sometimes complain that it hurts to go to the bathroom, or experience “Crampy pain that occurs an hour or two after a meal.” (source 1, source 2)
Remedies That May Help: Constipation Candy, Magnesium, Probiotics, Massage, Acupressure
Question #2: Do you have diarrhea?
According to the Scholastic article, “Having the runs occasionally is common in kids. But when kids pass loose stools three or more times a day, it’s most often brought on by gastroenteritis, a viral infection of the stomach and intestines (a.k.a. a stomach bug). Certain meds (like antibiotics), food poisoning, bacterial infections, and parasites from contaminated food or water also bring on the runs. ‘Diarrhea is very common,’ says Dr. Rosen. ‘If it happens a lot, it could mean food allergies or a gastrointestinal condition like celiac disease.'”
Remedies That May Help: Probiotics, Acupressure, Bentonite Clay or Activated Charcoal
Question #3: Are you tooting a lot?
This may indicate gas or bloating.
Remedies That May Help: Probiotics, Massage, Herbal Tea
Question #4: Are you feeling upset or scared?
“Vague belly pain is something a lot of kids between the ages of 2 and 8 say they have when they need attention or they’re feeling stressed, says Dr. Kligler. ‘That’s the place where they experience worry.'” (source)
Remedies That May Help: Magnesium, Massage, Acupressure, Herbal Tea
Question #5: Do you feel like you might throw up?
If the answer is yes, there are several herbal teas that have been traditionally used for nausea.
Remedies That May Help: Herbal tea.
Question #6: Do you feel any burning? Where?
When I ask this, I’m checking to see if indigestion/heartburn might be an issue. I keep following with clarifying questions until I’m sure it’s not simply a sore throat. If I think it’s indigestion, I might try a digestive tonic.
Remedies That May Help: Digestive tonic such as apple cider vinegar.
Home Remedies For Stomach Ache
May Be Helpful For: Constipation, Emotional Upset
According to Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of The Magnesium Miracle, low magnesium levels can slow down the bowels and cause constipation. Because it is not absorbed well via the digestive tract but is absorbed well through skin, many care providers suggest improving magnesium levels with epsom salt baths or magnesium oil.
Magnesium is also often referred to as the “Relaxation Mineral” and the “Ultimate Chill Pill” because of it’s ability to promote relaxation and help the body adapt to stress, which may be helpful if a stomach ache is due to emotional upset. (source 1, source 2)
May Be Helpful For: Constipation, Diarrhea, Gas/Bloating
According to Harvard Health Publications, researchers at King’s College in London reviewed 14 well constructed studies and found that probiotics reduced “‘gut transit time’ by 12.4 hours, increased the number of weekly bowel movements by 1.3, and helped soften stools, making them easier to pass.”
Several studies have also found probiotics to be helpful for infectious diarrhea / antibiotic associated diarrhea, and some studies related to IBS have concluded it is helpful for reducing gas and bloating. (source 1, source 2)
May Be Helpful For: Constipation, Emotional Upset, Gas
Kids + Love + Acupuncture has a wonderful tutorial that demonstrates the benefits of Tuina massage for helping the bowels move – plus tips on how to do it – here.
Also, here is a more general tutorial on how to massage constipated babies and children, and here is a tutorial on moving gas bubbles through the gut. Of course, massage is also helpful for soothing and calming children. I love to massage my little one’s hands or backs while we talk. (They giggle too much when I rub their feet, unfortunately.)
May Be Helpful For: Constipation, Diarrhea, Emotional Upset
A book I’m reading right now – 12 Acupressure Points For Pediatric Sleep & Wellness – has protocols for both constipation and diarrhea that may be useful.
Though acupressure and acupuncture are not often embraced by western medicine, the World Health Organization has recognized acupuncture as an effective modality for a variety of conditions, including low back pain, neck pain, sciatica, knee pain, periarthritis of the shoulder, facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders), headache, dental pain, tempromandibular (TMJ) dysfunction, rheumatoid arthritis, induction of labor, morning sickness, nausea and vomiting, postoperative pain, stroke, essential hypertension, primary hypotension, renal colic, leucopenia, adverse reactions to radiation or chemotherapy, allergic rhinitis, including hay fever, biliary colic, depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke), acute bacillary dysentery, primary dysmenorrhea, acute epigastralgia, peptic ulcer and acute and chronic gastritis. (source, emphasis mine)
Acupressure also has a long history of use as a calming technique.
Bentonite Clay And Activated Charcoal
May be helpful for: Diarrhea
If eating clay sound crazy to you, consider this: Until it was reformulated in 2003, one of the main active ingredients in the super popular OTC medication – Kaopectate – was kaolin clay. They’ve since replaced it with subsalicylate bismuth, possibly to compete more directly with the pink goo that’s so popular. (source)
But they weren’t the first to use clay in this way. A phenomenon called geophagy (eating dirt or clay) has long been practiced in many cultures around the world. In a meta-analysis published in The Quarterly Review of Biology, researchers concluded that the most likely reason for this practice is that it “protects the stomach against toxins, parasites, and pathogens.” (source)
“This clay can either bind to harmful things, like microbes, pathogens and viruses, that we are eating or can make a barrier, like a mud mask for our gut,” study researcher Sera Young of Cornell University told Live Science. (source)
In a similar way, activated charcoal is used in emergency rooms to treat certain kinds of poisonings due to it’s ability to absorb toxins. (source)
According to the Natural Medicine Journal, “Research suggests that activated charcoal may benefit people who have diarrhea. However, it is not considered standard care for nonspecific diarrhea. Studies report that activated charcoal may be effective in preventing diarrhea in people undergoing chemotherapy. Experts warn against using activated charcoal with other agents used to treat diarrhea.”
Please keep in mind that we are not talking about the charcoal you grill with, but rather a form that has processed with oxygen and either calcium chloride or zinc chloride. You can find it in health food stores or online.
May Be Helpful For: Nausea, Emotional Upset, Gas
Chamomile – According to this analysis, “Chamomile is especially helpful in dispelling gas, soothing the stomach, and relaxing the muscles that move food through the intestines.” The researchers also noted that it may have a calming, sedative effect as well.
Ginger – According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, “Children over 2 make take ginger to treat nausea, stomach cramping, and headaches. Ask your doctor to help you find the right dose.”
Peppermint – The University of Maryland Medical Center also states that “Peppermint (Mentha piperita), a popular flavoring for gum, toothpaste, and tea, is also used to soothe an upset stomach or to aid digestion. Because it has a calming and numbing effect, it has been used to treat headaches, skin irritations, anxiety associated with depression, nausea, diarrhea, menstrual cramps, and flatulence.” The article also cautions that peppermint should not be given to babies or small children.
Fennel Seeds – These seeds have been traditionally used for “various digestive problems including heartburn, intestinal gas, bloating, loss of appetite, and colic in infants.” (source)
Caraway Seed – According to WebMD, “Caraway is used for digestive problems including heartburn, bloating, gas, loss of appetite, and mild spasms of the stomach and intestines. “
Apple Cider Vinegar
May Be Helpful For: Indigestion
In The 30 Day Heartburn Solution, Craig Fear, NTP, suggests that many cases of heartburn are due to low stomach acid rather than excessive amounts. Apple cider vinegar, which raises acid levels in the stomach, has long been used as a folk remedy for indigestion. Find out more about how it is used as a digestive aid here.
Warm Compress/Hot Water Bottle
May Be Helpful For: All Types Of Tummy Ache
Warmth sometimes has a soothing, relaxing effect, so it might be worth trying.
When Should I See A Doctor?
Of course, there are times when it’s important to seek help. Here are some guidelines I found helpful:
“Some conditions, like ulcers, rarely strike kids before puberty, while others, like celiac disease (an immune system reaction to a protein in some grains), often hard-to-miss symptoms like prolonged diarrhea and weight loss. Dial your doctor if your child has any of the following symptoms:
Under six months old
• diarrhea (abnormally frequent, watery stools that may contain mucous or blood)
• extreme fussiness
• sunken fontanelle (soft spot)
• weight loss
• bloody or black stools
• abdominal pain that awakens child at night
• difficulty swallowing
• pain when urinating
• belly pain lasting longer than 24 hours
• vomiting that continues for four to six hours or longer
• vomiting dark green material
• symptoms of dehydration: decreased urination; dry skin, mouth and tongue (look for stickiness under the tongue); no tears; sunken eyes; greyish complexion; extreme drowsiness or lethargy” (source)
Want more research-backed natural remedies?
No problem, I’ve created a free ebook for you – Kitchen Apothecary: 25+ Natural Remedies Using Ingredients From Your Pantry – as a gift for signing up for my newsletter. You’ll also get updates when I post about safe essential oils for pregnant/breastfeeding mamas, exclusive gifts and coupons (I was able to give away a jar of free coconut oil to anyone who wanted it recently!), plus other goodies.