Digestive system problems are very common in infants and toddlers. Problems may range from vomiting, to tummy pains, to changes in the stools, to appendicitis.
Regurgitation (spitting up) frequently happens in infancy, and often means that the baby has eaten too quickly or too much. Vomiting may also have causes entirely outside the stomach and intestines. For example, urinary tract infection in infants and toddlers may show up as nausea and vomiting.
Violent vomiting — possibly to the extent that the vomit is projected across the room — might indicate a narrowing in the passage between the stomach and the small intestine. This projectile vomiting is more common in boys than in girls. Symptoms usually occur a few weeks after birth. If the episodes are indeed caused by a narrowing, the child will need surgery.
For some children, spitting up and vomiting may go on past the first 6 months, and they become habitual regurgitators. Some babies seem to enjoy the regurgitation and almost “feed” on it. They may stick their fingers in their mouth or use their tongue to bring it on. If this continues, it can cause weight loss and other health problems. In that case, you should talk to the doctor.
The cause of pain in the stomach or abdomen of a child may be very difficult to determine. It could be caused by colic, in which case a gentle massage and gas-relieving medication often help.
If the pain is around the belly button and isn’t associated with fever, diarrhea, vomiting, or other symptoms, it probably shouldn’t concern you unless it continues. However, if the pain is in another part of the abdomen or your child has other symptoms, you should definitely contact your doctor.
Babies who are given breast milk sometimes react to foods their mother eats. Foods that give adults indigestion can also give breast-fed infants a tummy ache. These foods include onions, cabbage, grapes, and citrus fruits, as well as chocolates, nuts, and other fruits, and the caffeine in coffee, tea, and some other beverages.
If you are bottle-feeding your baby, check that the hole in the nipple is the right size, so that the formula doesn’t flow out too quickly or too slowly. Babies who suck in too much air when feeding may get stomach pains.
Change in bowel movements
A breast-feeding child may have made a bowel movement every time you change the diaper, or as rarely as once a week. Either of these is normal. If your child seems contented, has no stomach pains, and gains weight well, the frequency of bowel movements is not important.
However, infants can become constipated from drinking too much cow’s milk (including cow’s milk formulas). Constipation often occurs with stomach pain and discomfort during bowel movement. The first option to consider is a change of diet. Laxatives should not be used unless you’ve consulted the doctor first.
Diarrhea is frequent, loose, watery stools. Some children have frequent bowel movements without diarrhea. The most common cause of diarrhea is stomach infection, often with a fever and vomiting. Such stomach infections should be taken seriously, because a child can become dehydrated within a short time. Signs of dehydration include
having a dry diaper for more than 8 to 10 hours, a dry tongue, and sunken eyes. A child with stomach infection should avoid cow’s milk, most juices, and foods with fiber in them. Breast-feeding can be continued. Treatment consists of sugar water, commercial preparations specific for babies’ diarrhea, or carbonated drinks. Write down how much the child is drinking, and try to keep track of approximately how much of it your child is expelling. If vomiting and diarrhea persist, and your child shows signs of dehydration, you should call the doctor.
Some children may continue to produce loose stools — stools that are very plentiful, are strong smelling, and have a fatty-looking shine. This may indicate that nutrients aren’t being absorbed well enough in the intestines. Typically, children with such stools have a noticeably protruding stomach and thin arms and legs. They should be examined by a doctor for malnutrition.
Bloody stools can be a sign of intestinal infection or a tear in the rectum. It’s possible for a doctor to locate such tears. If your child has a large amount of fresh blood in the stools, the doctor should be called immediately. If the child also has stomach pains and cries inconsolably, he or.she might have a severe twisting of the intestines. This condition is serious if it lasts for more than a few hours.
Pinworms are common in small children and toddlers. A child with pinworms may wake up during the night with an itchy bottom. Small worms emerge at night from the rectum and appear in large numbers around the rectal opening. The worms are white, about 1/2 inch long, and as thin as thread. The worms and their eggs can be found everywhere and are spread by flies. The eggs get into the child’s body through the mouth, and hatch in the intestines. Treatment to eliminate pinworms is simple — medicines are available at pharmacies. All family members should be treated.
Hernia is a condition in which part of one of the organs in the abdomen swells out through a weak point in the abdominal wall. The most common type is umbilical hernia, which may become hard and tight when the child is crying. The child doesn’t suffer and doesn’t need to receive treatment. This hernia usually heals itself within the first year of life.
Inguinal hernia is more common in boys than girls, and more common with premature than full-term babies. It appears as a bulge in the groin area or in the testicles. Such hernias get larger and harder when the child cries. If the child keeps crying and suffers pain, and the hernia does not go back into place, immediate surgery is required.
An uncomplicated hernia that doesn’t show signs of being “stuck” can be treated with a simple operation and a brief hospital stay.