Montana Public Radio

All About Indigestion: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Jun 25, 2018

Hi! I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician. I’m here today with health tips for kids about indigestion.

Indigestion is the belly ache you get when the food you ate feels like a great big lump in your stomach. Your food isn’t breaking down, it’s not dissolving into a liquid the way it should. It’s just stuck there, feeling bad.

Doctors call it indigestion because when ‘in’ is in front of a word, it means not. Like invisible means not visible. Or insane means not sane. Indigestion means not digesting.

If you have indigestion, you’ll know it. Your stomach bloats, it sticks out and your clothes feel too tight. You might burp a lot, have pretty stinky gas, or feel like throwing up. Indigestion feels bad.

Indigestion is not a disease and it’s not contagious. It’s a temporary condition. You can do things to prevent it and you can help yourself if you do get it.

Kids can get indigestion if they eat too much, maybe at Christmas dinner or a 4th of July barbecue. You can also get indigestion if you eat too fast, when you swallow bite after bite after bite of food without chewing. You can get indigestion when you eat foods that are hard to digest or you eat too many sweets or a food you’re allergic to.

To prevent indigestion, eat less when you first start a meal and go back for seconds if you’re still hungry. Eat slowly and chew well before you swallow. Pick food that recently lived in a tree, garden, on a farm or in a field. Eat things like fruit, vegetables, meat and whole grains. If your doctor tells you you’re allergic to a food, don’t eat it.

But what if you forget all that and you end up with indigestion?

First, tell your parents or another adult. It’s good for them to know when you don’t feel well and they can help. Then, take a walk. Don't run around excitedly, that could make you feel worse, but just a quiet, gentle walk in fresh air. A walk gets your stomach moving and helps it digest your food.

Next, you can try drinking peppermint, chamomile or ginger tea. They help with bloating, pain and gas. When you use tea as medicine, it’s best to steep the tea in a pot for five minutes so it’s really flavorful. You can add honey, lemon or you can drink it plain. Just have one or two cups, don’t overdo it!

Third, use a moist hot pack over your belly. Ask your parents or an adult to help you with this. Lay on a couch or your bed with pillows under your back and head so you are partly sitting up. The adult should soak a thick towel with plenty of hot water. Then wring the towel out, place it over your whole belly and cover it with a dry towel. Then, cover up with a blanket and stay cozy, with the hot towel on your belly for five or ten minutes. Then take the towel off and gently rub your belly in a big circle for a few minutes. After that you can take a nap, or if you feel good you can get up.

Indigestion is not fun. But it is good to know how to prevent it and how to help yourself when you need to.

I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck and I’m wishing you well.