My 3-year-old sometimes complains that her tummy hurts.
With kids that age, it’s really hard to tell when they’re in a lot of pain, exaggerating a little discomfort, or making it up entirely for attention or comfort.
Plus, when my stomach hurts, I’ll often take Tums or a store brand antacid of some kind. She sees me do this and will often ask if she can have some.
So for a variety of reasons I’ve been wondering lately if it’s OK for kids and toddlers to have Tums or other antacids. They seem harmless to me, and I’ll down them like candy when I have a stomachache, but I’m not a doctor.
So I called my own pediatrician and talked to the nurse line to ask if kids can take Tums. This was their advice:
Typically, they don’t recommend Tums or antacids for kids under 6 years of age. The better approach would be to:
- Try to determine if it’s just attention or comfort-seeking behavior
- Give a placebo or multi-vitamin
- Keep an eye open for signs that they’re actually sick
- Call your doctor and/or try upset stomach medicines that are actually meant for children
Pretending to be sick for comfort or attention
I know this might come as a shock to you parents out there (sarcasm), but sometimes kids just pretend to be sick or in pain to get a little bit of attention.
A tummy ache is one of the biggest things they’ll make up or exaggerate, but headaches and mysterious coughs are some other common symptoms.
Why do kids pretend to be sick? There are a lot of reasons:
- For attention (common during major life or household changes)
- To get out of doing something they don’t want to do (go to bed, go to school)
- Imitation (If my stomach hurts, I often find that my daughter’s mysteriously starts hurting, too)
- They’re sad or cranky and can’t express it
- Hunger or they’re really full (can be confused with an upset stomach)
So how do you know if they’re really sick or just faking it?
I found a fantastic article written by a parent and pediatrician that should help (check it out here). But the bottom line is that most injuries and illnesses should have some visible or noticeable effects other than just taking your kid’s word for it.
Stomach aches, for example, often come with changes in appetite, diarrhea, or vomiting.
Headaches are a nightmare and your child probably won’t want to play or watch TV if their head really hurts.
And so on.
In most cases, there should be some other signs that your kid is telling the truth and really needs medicine or a doctor’s appointment.
Placebo medicine options for kids
If you’ve decided that your toddler is probably faking, or at least exaggerating a stomach ache, it’s good news that they’re not really sick.
But now you still have to deal with them being grumpy, sad, and complaining about their tummy!
Sometimes just a little bit of attention will fix them right up. Sometimes you need something more.
With younger kids and toddlers, you can often just give them a little placebo for comfort instead of risking the side effects of a real medicine.
For example, here’s a cool little chewable vitamin called Magic Feel Good (Amazon link). It comes in a fancy case and is designed to make kids feel like they’re getting some real medicine to make them feel better. But in reality, it’s just a harmless, tasty Vitamin C chew.
However, some experts caution against this kind of approach because it fosters a reliance on medicine instead of actually addressing the real issue (ie, treating an actual stomachache or rooting out the need for comfort).
My own doctor, for the record, was fine with giving multi-vitamins as placebo a try.
It’s best to make your own decision on this sort of thing. Personally, I might keep it in my toolbag for rare occasions when my daughter just can’t be comforted, but I wouldn’t rely on placebos night in and night out.
Signs your kid or toddler might actually have a belly ache
The other possibility here is that your toddler might actually, really be sick and have a stomachache.
The nurse I spoke to told me to keep a lookout for a couple of key things to tell if my daughter’s stomachaches are real or imagined.
- Changes in appetite
- Trouble pooping, or constipation
- Urinating more or less frequently than usual
These kinds of signs should be pretty apparent if your kid is actually sick with a stomachache.
If you see these things crop up, it’s best to call in the pros and get an appointment with your pediatrician rather than trying to self-medicate with Tums or other over-the-counter remedies, unless recommended by a doctor.
And if attention and/or placebo aren’t making the complaining stop, that’s another sign that they might actually be sick and need to visit the doctor.
Is Tums good for an upset stomach? Can kids have Pepto?
The nurse I spoke with at my pediatrician’s office noted that Tums is really best used, in general, as an antacid for heartburn and indigestion. It can also be used for stomachs that are “sour” or a little upset (these tablets neutralize stomach acid and help calm things down)
Turns out, though, that there are lots of other options on the market that do come in kids’ varieties, especially if there’s nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea involved.
Call your pediatrician or nurse line before you give any of these, but you can easily find upset-stomach remedies for kids at your local store like:
- Kids’ Pepto Bismol
- Hyland’s 4 Kids Tummy Ache Tablets
- Immodium for Kids
Pepto, in particular, has a variety that’s intentionally made for children under 2-years-old.
What are the side effects of Tums? What happens if a toddler eats Tums?
According to WebMD, the most common side effects of Tums or other antacids like them are:
- and burping
That doesn’t sound too scary!
They also mention that serious allergic reactions to Tums are very rare, though they can happen.
I’ll continue to reiterate that I’m a doctor and don’t have medical expertise, but from my own research, it’s very unlikely that anything serious should happen as a result of a one-off consumption of Tums.
However, I’ll also reiterate that my own doctor advised me not to give Tums to kids under 6 years of age, especially on a regular basis.
So can toddlers have Tums? My pediatrician advised me not to try it for children under 6-years-old.
But you have some other options if your kid has a persistent or questionable stomach ache.
First, realize they might be pretending for attention. A gentle conversation, a hug, or some playtime might be all they really need. Conversely, they could be exaggerating a belly ache to get out of doing something they don’t want to do. In that case, you may need to put your foot down.
Second, you can try a placebo if you’re comfortable with it. Get a simple kids chewable multivitamin and tell them it’s going to make their bellies feel better. (If it works, you know they were faking!)
Finally, if they’re showing signs that their stomach really does hurt (like diarrhea or loss of appetite), call your doctor and get professional advice. However, there are lots of medicines you can buy in the store for this exact purpose like children’s Pepto or Immodium.
Hope this helps, parents!