Why Do Toddlers Have Big Bellies? (Mom Explained)

While books like What to Expect The Toddler Years (available at Amazon) seem to address just about anything concerning children, sometimes it’s the simple, yet perplexing questions that have us scratching our heads. For instance, why do toddlers have big bellies, sometimes called potbellies or ‘Buddha bellies’?

Mostly, toddlers have big bellies due to underdeveloped stomach muscles. As well, stool and gas can cause bloating, contributing to a protruding belly. So in most cases it’s normal for toddlers to have a potbelly or Buddha belly, but parents should always consult their child’s doctor if concerned.

As a mom of four no-longer-toddlers, I’m especially experienced with toddler big bellies and happen to find them irresistible. But I also recognize that moms and dads can worry over just about anything when it comes to kids, and big toddler bellies aren’t an exception.

So let’s dive in, looking at why toddlers have big bellies; what causes potbellies; when they should lose them; any potential problems; and anything else related!

Why do toddlers have potbellies?

So let’s first think about why toddlers have potbellies, and of course, what is meant by potbellies.

Toddlers are known for their rotund potbellies, commonly called Buddha bellies. The reason toddlers have big bellies is that their stomach muscles aren’t yet developed enough to hold in abdominal contents. Add to that toddlers’ gastro issues of constipation, gas, and bloating, and it makes sense.

Typical Toddler Physical Descriptions:

  • Gains 4 to 6 pounds each year
  • Increases 2-3 inches per year
  • All 20 teeth by age 3
  • Is clearly right or left-handed
  • Develops bladder/bowel control
  • Average 38 inches tall
  • Average weight of 32 pounds
  • Up til age 2, the circumference of head, chest, and abdomen are almost the same
  • Boys and girls have about the same height and weight as toddlers

But remember, this is a guide and approximation. Not all toddlers develop and grow at the same rate. Some grow faster while others grow at a slower rate. Like with anything concerning your child’s well-being, if there’s any concern, always talk with your child’s pediatrician about it.

Some Causes for Toddler Big Belly:

  • Underdeveloped stomach muscles
  • Curved infant/toddler spine
  • Large liver in comparison to rest of body
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Gas/Too Much Air
  • Crying/straining can lead to protrusions and even hernias
  • Eating/Drinking
    • Uncommon Reasons: Lactose Intolerance’ vitamin deficiencies; irritable bowel syndrome; and chronic illness

Potbellies Explained

The description of potbellies for big stomachs/abdomens for people comes from Potbelly Pigs.

What are potbellies exactly?

To be clear, potbellies are bellies that protrude noticeably. This term is synonymous with beer bellies, Buddha bellies, and large guts. It’s a term that comes from a special type of pigs called the potbelly pig, known for its big belly. Toddlers particularly are known for their baby ‘potbellies’.

Who has potbellies?

  • Toddlers
  • Adults who eat too much
  • Adults who drink too much alcohol
  • Certain animals such as pigs

Special Side Note: While Pot-bellied Pigs have become trendy as pets, they’re not as easy as one may assume, despite their infectious oink. There are many varieties of potbellied pigs, making their sizes range from mini to quite large, sometimes weighing as much as several hundred pounds when fully grown! And a cute little pig is not nearly as adorable once it’s a full-size porcine, weighing more than you! From what to feed them to how to keep them properly entertained to litter box training, it’s wise to do your due diligence of research before joining the ranks of pet pig families.

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Is it normal for toddlers to have big bellies?

So should parents worry about toddlers having big bellies? Is this just normal?

It’s normal for toddlers to have big bellies. Toddlers are just out of infancy when their head, chest, and circumference are all about the same in size, so their abdomens are noticeably large. And toddlers commonly have gas, bloating, and constipation that can make their bellies look big too.

So again, the short answer for, ‘is it normal for toddlers to have big bellies’, is yes. But then, there are some instances when it’s not so normal.

Keys to Knowing What’s Normal:

  • It’s similar to other children of the same age.
  • Toddlers’ big bellies are soft and not painful to touch.
  • The stomach/abdomen doesn’t look distended.
  • Their weight and height are proportional.
  • Their weight is within normal range.

Potential Abnormal Signs:

  • It begins protruding suddenly.
  • Toddler’s belly is painful when touched (or tender).
  • Toddler cries from pain.
  • Toddler seems overly gassy or bloated. Or not able to move his/her bowels.
  • Your toddler seems especially bloated or full-bellied after eating certain foods (particularly foods with lactose).
  • Your toddler has other symptoms like jaundice; fever; or vomiting.

Remember: If you have concerns that your toddler’s belly is overtly large, or notice any abnormal signs or symptoms like mentioned above or other, seek advice from his or her pediatrician right away. More than likely, you’ll find there’s no cause for alarm, but in the slim chance that it could be serious, it’s worth your full effort to get medical advice and care.

When do toddlers lose their potbellies?

Even though toddler potbellies are quite adorable, it’s good to know they won’t last forever, too. And this is without any real interference or intervention from you!

Toddlers will lose potbellies or Buddha bellies by the time they are school-aged. While there are exceptions, this is true for the predominant of children. If your child continues to have his or her ‘big toddler belly’ long after most kids have grown out of them, it’s time to talk to a doctor.

The reason toddlers lose their big bellies is because as they grow longer limbs and get taller, the stomach/abdomen lengthens. This provides more room for the Buddha belly to flatten out, looking noticeably slimmer. As well, children’s abdomen muscles get stronger as they grow, and thus, able to contain the stomach contents better.

In addition, school-aged children are less gassy and bloated than toddlers since they are better able to eat and drink without taking in as much air as toddlers do.

All of this causes visible changes in children’s abdomens.

Now, it’s not to say potbellies and Buddha bellies are vanquished immediately either. It’s a gradual change, so that the older children get, the smaller their bellies become. But if kids eat too much and don’t have enough physical activity, the potbelly is less likely to vanish completely, despite physical maturity.

Another Note: You may also recognize other physical changes from toddler-hood to school-aged children, than just the potbelly slimming down. For example, many toddlers have dimpled elbows and knees, as well as chubby cheeks. As kids grow older and taller, this ‘baby fat’ shrinks for many, causing the dimples in elbows and knees to leave and for cheeks to look less chubby.

Problems With Big Toddler Bellies

Your child’s doctor is the best source for how and what to feed your toddler.

Now just because toddler big bellies are ‘normal’ doesn’t mean that there aren’t associated problems, or outliers where it’s not so normal.

There are some issues to look for regarding toddler potbellies, despite big toddler bellies being normal. Problems parents should be aware of range from food allergies to vitamin deficiencies to yes, overfeeding/eating. Parents should always bring concerns to a trusted pediatrician.

So let’s consider a few of these problems, specifically, and how to deal with that. (We’ll look at overfeeding/eating more in depth below.)

Food Allergies:

Toddlers who suffer from food allergies can have big bellies as a symptom. Big bellies as a result of allergies are going to generally be more noticeable than ‘normal toddler bellies.’

Lactose is a common allergy for infants and toddlers, that can cause bloating, for example. Around 1 in 10 toddlers suffer from lactose allergies. Lactose is in dairy products from cows primarily. And the amount of lactose in dairy products varies, so toddlers may be more allergic to milk than yogurt or cheese for instance, so it is important to keep an eye on what a toddler eats when symptoms arise.

Other common food allergies than can affect toddler bellies are peanuts/nuts; certain fruits especially berries and citrus; and gluten/wheat.

A tip for dealing with food allergies is to introduce new foods one at a time with toddlers. This way it’s easier to notice any problems with the food. And pay close attention to trigger foods for your family. Allergies typically run in the family so if one is allergic to dairy, others are more likely to be as well.


It may seem inconceivable but toddlers can suffer from IBS or irritable bowel syndrome, too. And this can manifest as bloated, protruding ‘big bellies’ in addition to the typical toddler bellies. Children suffering from IBS often have diarrhea and excess gas as well. Common triggers that exacerbate IBS are chocolate, dairy, and fried foods.

Besides following the tips for food allergies mentioned above, you can help toddlers suffering from IBS by avoiding common IBS problem foods like high-fat and fried foods. You can also help your child by supporting him or her with regular bathroom breaks.

Another way to help your child with IBS is by enlisting services from a dietician or nutritionist familiar with IBS for recommendations.

Toddler Fat Vs. Toddler Potbelly

You can teach toddlers about eating healthily using language and methods appropriate for them like songs from Little Angel.

Keep in mind that though toddler big bellies are common, overeating/overfeeding can make what’s normal problematic.

Though potbellies or Buddha big bellies are normal for toddlers, overfeeding/overeating is still a concern. The US particularly has an epidemic of obesity and overeating, making it even more important that parents provide nutritious foods and encourage healthy eating habits for their children.

Healthy Eating includes a variety of vegetables and fruit each day. Children should also consume protein, whether from meat or non-meat sources. Added sugars and high-fat/fried foods should be limited too.

Healthy eating habits include regular mealtimes; eating consciously (not while on the go); and eating right amounts for your body. Feeling ‘too full’ afterwards should be avoided.

How to Deal With Toddler Big Bellies

There are some tips to help ‘manage’ toddler big bellies appropriately and healthily.

For instance, toddlers need to be able to move freely so avoid tight clothes around their middle. Also, it’s good to use clothes that fit properly. Often parents might use hand-me-downs, which can be budget savers, but you want to make sure clothing doesn’t restrict toddlers or hinder their movements.

Some of the best clothing for toddlers are billowy around the waist and this is primarily to provide ample room for their potbelly, and make the clothes more adjustable for toddlers of different sizes. These outfits are favorites for toddlers because their comfortable, but also pleasing to parents because tend to look super cute too!

Takeaway for Toddlers Having Big Bellies

So what’s the takeaway for toddlers having big bellies, aka Buddha bellies or potbellies?

Parents should first and foremost keep in mind that it’s pretty normal for toddlers to have big bellies. It’s actually part of their adorable package! It’s quite rare, to be honest, to see toddlers with slim waists, or any waistline that is. And if so, it often is more of an indicator of something wrong such as a chronic illness or neglect at this age.

Causes for ‘normal’ big toddler bellies are underdeveloped stomach/abdomen muscles, as well as common bloating, gas, and constipation.

Excessively big bellies, however, can be abnormal. If toddlers have trouble with bowels; cry or seem to have painful bellies; or other symptoms like fever or vomiting, parents should consult their child’s pediatrician asap. And in fact, if parents have any concerns about their toddler’s health, they should talk to a trusted doctor or expert about those concerns or questions.

Even though potbellies are adorable in toddlers, parents should be mindful of instilling good eating patterns and nutrition for their children, regardless of age, and not exacerbate their toddler’s big belly.

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