Top tips to identify and prevent toddler tummy troubles

After your baby’s first birthday you can start to introduce cow’s milk if you choose to, and your baby can finally just eat what the rest of the family eats. Sometimes these changes to their diet can result in tummy discomfort, which can be especially stressful for parents when their child cannot adequately communicate the circumstances and extent of their pain.

Sore tummies are common in little ones and it can be hard to identify what exactly is causing the problem, making it challenging for all involved.

According to new research by Bubs Australia, younger parents often bear the brunt of this worry, with more than half of parents aged 18-34 (55 per cent) said to have worried about their child’s digestion. Of parents aged 35-44 and 45 plus, 48 per cent and 39 per cent said they’d been anxious about troubles with their children’s tums. ^

When it comes to stomach problems, your first step therefore is to assess whether your child needs medical help. If you are at all unsure, the pain is severe and does not go away, see your GP. If there is blood in your child’s poo or vomit, take them to accident and emergency at your local hospital.

Once you’ve ruled out more serious medical issues, what can you do to identify digestive issues and prevent repeat sore tummies?

Here are three top tips to identify and prevent tummy troubles:

1. Be mindful about milk

Food is often the first thought when it comes to tummy troubles. Wind, caused by trapped gas, constipation, food intolerances or allergies, eating and drinking too much can all result in abdominal pain, as can medical causes such as gastro or appendicitis.

Less commonly blamed is milk, yet it can sometimes be the source of digestive problems. Consider the quantity of milk your child is consuming as well as the type and how they are drinking it.

Be mindful too that there are nutritional differences between milks – and some may be easier to digest. In fact, research reveals that two thirds (66 per cent) of Australian parents are unaware that goat’s milk is easier to digest than cow’s milk. ^

On a worldwide basis, more people drink goat’s milk than from any other single animal. One of the earliest domesticated animal milks, over 440 million goats globally produce an estimated 4.8 million tons of milk annually that is often consumed locally or processed into various types of cheeses. ^^

Interestingly goat’s milk, and the cheese and yoghurt made from it, were the main dairy foods in traditional Mediterranean diets, touted as being one of the healthiest diets in the world.

Goat’s milk can be easier to digest for the following reasons:

  • Compared to cow’s milk, goat’s milk has smaller fat globules that are easier for digestive enzymes to break down.
  • Goat’s milk has a greater percentage of short and medium chain fats. These are more readily used as fuel by the body.
  • It has more of the short chain carbohydrates, called oligosaccharides, which act as prebiotics to fuel the gut microbiome.
  • Goat’s milk is naturally A2. This relates to the type of beta-casein proteins found in the milk. A1 type of protein found in most cow’s milk (unless specifically labelled as having only A2 proteins) has been associated with digestive issues in some people. In kids with less developed and mature guts, this may be more of a problem. Ensuring only A2 proteins may help with some digestive problems.

For children with digestive issues, goat’s milk can offer a good alternative. It has all the protein and calcium of cow’s milk and can be easier to digest. Bear in mind that if your child has an allergy to cow’s milk, goat’s milk may be equally problematic.

2. Check out their poo

Constipation is common in kids and can easily go unnoticed, especially once your toddlers are toilet trained and going on their own. The pain will come and go, may be accompanied by cramping, bloating, nausea and/or a loss of appetite.

Passing a few hard-dry pellets might be enough for them to tell you ‘yes I’ve done a poo’ but this means they are constipated. Check out the Bristol Stool Chart online and ask your child which one their poo most looks like (it’s the easiest way to get your answer!).

The cause can be dietary, but it may also be psychological. Lots of kids don’t want to do a poo when they’re out or at childcare and so hold it in. This can become an ongoing cycle as it may be painful for the child to have a bowel motion and so they avoid it even more.

At the other end of the scale, diarrhoea can also cause tummy pain. Diarrhoea may be the result of an infection or food poisoning but can also be due to food intolerances of allergies. If the diarrhoea is accompanied by fever and/or vomiting it’s likely to be the former, whereas if the problem doesn’t go away or is a frequent problem, it’s worth checking for problem food or foods. Ask your GP for a referral to a specialised clinic for a full test and diagnosis.

3. Fill up with fibre

According to recent research, 57 per cent of Australian parents are concerned about their children’s diet and nutrition, including those who are concerned that food is less nutrient-rich than it used to be (39%). ^

If your child is frequently eating highly processed foods from a packet or from a fast-food chain, rarely eats their veggies, doesn’t like brown bread and prefers a fruit roll up to a piece of actual fruit, that sore tummy is very likely related to a lack of fibre.

Fibre is key in preventing constipation, and essential for the development and maintenance of a healthy, diverse gut microbiome. That will not only help with bowel movements, but also impacts on their immunity and has even been linked to fewer allergies and intolerances.

Ensuring the whole family is eating a diet rich in veggies, fruit, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds (allergies allowing). By delivering a diversity of fibre types to your little one’s gut you’ll go a long way towards keeping tummy troubles at bay.



This article was contributed to Newborn Baby by Dr Joanna McMillan. She has become one of Australia’s favourite and best-known nutrition and lifestyle specialists. She is a PhD qualified nutrition scientist, Accredited Practising Dietitian, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow with La Trobe University, guest lecturer at The University of Sydney and a Fellow of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine.

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