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Tummy issues in babies

September 9, 2020 • read

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Tummy issues in babies

It’s hard to believe sometimes that babies are just little humans, but it’s true. They can’t walk or talk, but their little bodies still face the same discomforts as grown ups, especially when it comes to digestive issues. But while you likely have no problem solving issues like acid reflux and sluggish digestion in yourself, the same remedies that work for us aren’t always safe for our little ones. Here’s how to tell if your baby is having tummy issues, and how to help them.

How to spot a gassy baby

Having a newborn basically means that your whole life is going to revolve around gas for the first 12 weeks — or more. Infants are born with immature digestive systems and they can take in a fair amount of air while eating. Without the ability to release that gas, they’ll likely end up cranky, fussy or spitting up. This is why the concept of burping your baby is so important!

Some babies get pretty bad gas, and you can actually see their little tummies bloat with it. Others will cry and fuss and pull their legs into their bodies to show their discomfort. You can’t always tell if your child is gassy by looking at them. But if they’re fussy and they’ve eaten recently it’s a good place to start.

How to soothe a gassy baby

There are a number of anti-gas and anti-colic products on the market for babies. None of these products, however, is scientifically proven to be effective in treating either gas or colic — colic is when your baby cries for long periods of time without a discernible cause. They meet the criteria once they’ve done it for at least three hours a day, for at least three days a week. Some products do give relief from crying for a brief time, but that’s likely because the sugar in them momentarily distracts your child from crying.

The best way to relieve a gassy baby is to burp them. At minimum, you should burp your baby at the end of each feed. You can do this by holding them upright facing you with their head over your shoulder while you gently but firmly pat them on the back until they burp (if you don’t hear it, it probably didn’t happen). If you’ve done this but they still seem gassy, you can try to get them to pass gas with the “bicycle method.” To start, place them on their back on the bed or another comfy flat surface. Grip their ankles, then bring their legs up into their tummy and out again as if they were riding a tiny baby bicycle. Do this gently but firmly for a few minutes. While effective for gas, the bicycle is best to do a minimum of 20 minutes after eating, otherwise it’s likely to make your baby spit up.

What to do if your baby is vomiting

Spitting up is a normal part of life with a baby. Many babies spit up every day for their first six months (or longer). Babies usually take spitting up in stride, and often seem not to notice that they’ve done it. Vomiting, in contrast, usually provokes crying in your baby. The biggest difference between vomiting and spitting up, however, is how far it goes. Vomiting is a much more forceful act and often shoots out of the baby.

If your baby is under three months or if they are vomiting very frequently, speak to a doctor right away. Young children can become dangerously dehydrated and may need intravenous (IV) rehydration to get better in some cases. If your baby is over three months and their vomiting is under control, make sure they’re comfortable and focus on keeping them hydrated by offering them the breast or bottle frequently. You can also give them small amounts of oral rehydration liquids (like Pedialyte) if you’re concerned they may be getting dehydrated. Children over one may be given small sips of water or ice chips.

How to treat digestive tummy issues in babies

Whether constipation is an ongoing issue or an occasional one will dictate the treatment. Usually time and some tweaks to baby’s diet and fluid intake are enough to help ease their constipation, but occasionally you’ll need a bit more intervention. Check out our blog on constipation in babies and children for more info.

On the flip side, babies can also have some pretty liquid poops, but soft stool is noticeably different from diarrhea. Diarrhea is much mushier and sometimes has no solid pieces at all. Diarrhea is more serious in babies than in adults. Because they’re so little, dehydration happens more rapidly in their little bodies. If your child has diarrhea and is less than three months old, call your pediatrician right away.

How to treat diarrhea in a baby

If your child is over three months, you may be able to treat their diarrhea at home, provided you monitor them for signs of dehydration and make sure they don’t get worse. As with vomiting, offer them the breast or bottle frequently to make sure they’re taking in lots of fluids. You can also give them an electrolyte replenishing drink, just aim for a pediatric one, not an adult sports beverage. Adult home remedies for tummy issues like chicken soup and ginger ale are also a no-no — your baby’s body isn’t familiar with them and they’re likely to make their tummy issues worse.

Signs of dehydration in a baby

  • A sunken fontanelle
  • Child is crying without tears (after three months)
  • Baby has fewer than six wet diapers a day 

As long as you watch out for dehydration, tummy issues can be treatable at home. Hydration, sleep, and some extra TLC are often all your baby needs. Most bouts of tummy trouble subside within a few days. But if you notice that your baby seems to have recurring tummy issues or you’re worried that something is really wrong, speak to a doctor. You know your baby best.

Talk to a doctor online.

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