My toddler’s tummy seems to be sensitive and delicate.


toddler reading with mumIt’s not at all unusual for children to take time for their digestive system to fully mature as part of their developmental process in the early years. During this period of growth, their tummies are usually delicate, small, and growing in size. Due to their small size, sometimes it is hard for children to keep all their food down, and so they cannot digest food as comfortably as we do, resulting in spit-up. At other times, they may not be able to break down some nutrients in their diet smoothly. 

At some point during their development, it is common for some Asian children to be sensitive to the lactose in their diet as their tummies are unable to digest the lactose due to lower lactase enzyme activity.1-5 It is not uncommon for some children to experience some digestive problems as their delicate and sensitive tummies develop in the early years with a need for extra care. 

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Some digestive problems your child’s sensitive and delicate tummy may experience

Occasional gas6 is completely normal for most children, as it's often caused by swallowed air while eating or crying. If the air is not burped back up, it can become trapped in the digestive tract, bloating your little one’s tummy and making them uncomfortable.

Your child’s tummy may also build up gas because it is not fully matured yet. Each child’s tummy develops at a different rate. Children whose tummies have difficulty digesting lactose may have digestive problems, such as flatulence or gassiness, abdominal pain and diarrhea in some children.1-7 Gas is produced when microbes in the digestive system ferment excess or undigested lactose.7

It is important to remember to observe your child’s eating behavior while he is still developing, as your child won’t be able to process some of the nutrients in his food. Nevertheless, you may ease your child’s digestion through simple changes to their diet.

Spit up8 is also a common occurrence for children. The food is regurgitated, as the child is unable to digest large quantities of food at one time or have difficulty digesting nutrients like milk protein. You can help your child by addressing the amount and type of nutrition your child receives.

Foods that ease your child’s digestive problems

A key component in your child's food is protein. It can sometimes take time for a child's digestive system to mature and be able to process proteins smoothly. When that's the case, foods or diet such as growing up milk with easy-to-digest and easy-to-absorb proteins that are already partially broken down (often referred to as ‘partially hydrolyzed’) may be more appropriate for your child’s delicate tummy.

Foods like yogurt and lower lactose milk may also benefit children who have difficulty digesting lactose. The bacteria in yogurt can help in lactose digestion.

Will my child outgrow his sensitive and delicate tummy?

Over time children may outgrow their digestive problems simply because it takes time for your child’s delicate tummy and his digestive system to develop naturally. An appropriate food or diet can help manage some of the problems your child may have experienced during digestion.  

1. Yang Y, He M, Cui H, Bian L, Wang Z. The prevalence of lactase deficiency and lactose intolerance in Chinese children of different ages. Chin Med J (Engl). 2000 Dec;113(12):1129-32.
2. Tadesse K1, Leung DT, Yuen RC.  The status of lactose absorption in Hong Kong Chinese children. Acta Paediatr. 1992 Aug;81(8):598-600.
3. Kim, K. H., Kang, S. B., & Yoon, S. S. Distributions and Incidences of Elementary School Children with Lactose Intolerance Symptoms after Drinking Milk in Korea. 한국축산식품학회지.2011; 31(6), 893-898.
4. Wong FHW, Yeung CY, Tam AYC, Fung KW. Lactose Malabsorption by Breath H2 Test in Chinese Children. HK J Paediatr (New Series) 1999;4:1015.
5. Swagerty DL Jr, Walling AD, Klein RM. Lactose intolerance. Am Fam Physician. 2002 May 1;65(9):1845-50.
6. Merck Manuals. Gas. Home health handbook. Available at Downloaded 27Feb2015.
7. Neu J. Overview of Digestion and Absorption. Gastroenterology and Nutrition. London: Elsevier Health Sciences. 2012:3-11.
8. Semeniuk J, Kaczmarski M. Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) in children and adolescents with regard to food intolerance. Adv Med Sci. 2006;51:321-6. Abstract.