Bringing a newborn home is an exciting time, but it can also come with some challenges, especially regarding digestion. Newborns may experience gastric problems that can cause discomfort for the baby and their parents.
Here, we will discuss the symptoms of newborn gastric problems, tips to help relieve them, and how long these issues typically last.
How do I know my newborn is having a gastric problem?
Here are some signs and symptoms that may indicate your newborn is having a gastric problem:
1. Spitting up or vomiting
Babies often spit milk with burps or after feedings due to their weak and immature sphincter muscles (a ring-shaped muscle in the body that relaxes or tightens to open or close a passage). However, forceful vomiting or spitting up considerable amounts of milk following most feedings may suggest stomach problems in newborns.
If your baby is frequently vomiting (especially green-tinged or discoloured) or shows other signs of discomfort, seek immediate medical attention from your baby’s paediatrician.
Formula-fed newborns’ bowel motions are often yellow and shaped. They can happen once or twice a day, sometimes more. Breastfed babies have soft, seedy, yellow-green bowel motions several times a day, sometimes as often as every few hours with feedings.
Diarrhoea in babies causes frequent, watery bowel movements, which can quickly lead to severe dehydration and should be addressed immediately. Some other signs of diarrhoea include:
- The stool contains mucus or has a bad odour
- Lethargic (or less active than normal)
- Poor eating
- Acting sick or fever
If your baby experiences a change in bowel motions or shows these signs, seek advice from your baby’s physician.
Hiccups in babies are common and usually harmless. However, when babies experience digestive issues, they may develop persistent hiccups that can be bothersome and uncomfortable.
This frequently comes with stomach pain, which can make them cry. So, if you notice your newborn is experiencing frequent hiccups and seems fussy or in discomfort, they may have digestive problems that need attention.
Colic is a condition that affects some healthy newborns between 3-4 months of age, causing continuous and uncontrollable crying for several hours each day, which can be very stressful for parents. It usually begins about three weeks of age, peaks at six weeks, and improves gradually by three months.
Babies may have colic due to the following reasons:
- Adjusting to parents and the new world
- Gas hypersensitivity
- Milk Allergy or intolerance to cow’s milk-based formulas
Some babies may experience reflux, a condition in which stomach contents flow back into the oesophagus (the tube connecting the mouth and the stomach), causing irritation and discomfort. This can cause them to spit excessively and choke during feedings.
In severe cases, when the stomach contents back up into the oesophagus, the baby may vomit and breathe the contents into the lungs. This can cause rattling or wheezing sounds in your baby’s chest and back and may require medical attention.
6. Abdominal distension
Abdominal distension is common in newborns, where their bellies may appear larger after eating. However, their stomach should feel soft in between feedings. If it feels hard or the baby has not had a bowel movement in 1-2 days, it could be due to gas or constipation, or possibly a more serious digestive problem.
What helps an infant’s digestion problem?
Here are some tips to follow that may help ease newborn’s digestive problem:
1. Change the feeding position
When feeding babies, it’s important to keep their heads slightly elevated above their bellies to prevent discomfort or complications. Changing the babies’ positions while eating can help keep their heads elevated. This can be done by holding the babies upright or at slightly inclined angles, using breastfeeding pillows or reclined baby seats. Keeping the babies’ heads slightly elevated can help prevent milk or formula from flowing back into their throats and causing choking or discomfort. Additionally, it can help babies digest their food easily and lessen the likelihood of gas or reflux.
2. Improve latch
A latch refers to how a baby attaches to the breast while breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding mothers need to ensure that their babies are latching onto the breast correctly by taking in the areola and creating a good suction. If the latch is improper, babies may have difficulty attaching to the breast, leading to frequent detachment and swallowing more air, which can cause discomfort and fussiness.
Here are some tips to promote a good latch while breastfeeding:
- Try to create a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere.
- Hold your baby close to your bare chest to encourage skin-to-skin contact.
- Let your baby take the lead. However, you can guide your baby towards your breast.
- Support your baby’s head and neck. Avoid forcing your baby’s mouth onto your breast.
- Let your breasts naturally hang.
Additionally, you can consult a lactation consultant if you have issues with the latch or other breastfeeding problems.
3. Check the flow
Mothers should pay attention to the flow speed of the milk when feeding their newborns, whether from the breast or a bottle. A high flow speed can cause newborns to gulp plenty of air with their meals, leading to discomfort and even colic.
If breastfeeding, you can avoid this by pumping or hand expressing for a few minutes before nursing, as flow tends to be fastest at let-down. If bottle-feeding, you can switch to a slower-flow nipple to reduce the flow speed. This helps the babies to drink at a more comfortable pace, which should reduce the amount of air they swallow.
It’s important to note that not all newborns have the same flow preferences, so you may need to experiment with different nipples until you find the one that works best for your baby.
4. Adjust bottle technique
When feeding babies with bottles, it’s important to prevent excess air intake as it can cause discomfort and gas. To avoid this, tilt the bottles at an angle that fills the entire nipple with milk, allowing the babies to feed without sucking in the air.
When using powdered formula, it’s best to let the bottle sit and settle before feeding your newborn. Shaking and mixing the formula can create bubbles, which newborns can ingest and cause discomfort and gas. To prevent this, consider using ready-made formula or specially designed vented bottles to help reduce the bubbles your newborn ingests and thus prevent gastric problems.
Experimenting with different bottles and techniques can help you find what works best for your babies.
5. Burp the baby twice
Swallowing air during feedings can cause a lot of discomfort in newborns. While feeding, babies often cry, gulp, and suckle, which can lead to swallowing air that can cause burps or gas. Burping your baby during and after a feeding is essential for preventing gas build-up. It will help release trapped air and ease your baby’s discomfort.
Consider burping your baby midway through the feeding by gently patting your baby’s back. You can also try burping your baby after every 2-3 ounces of bottle feeding or every 5-10 minutes of breastfeeding.
6. Encourage tummy time
Tummy time is not only vital for babies’ physical development, but it can also help relieve stubborn gas. The exercise can help the gas pass through their bodies, like a tummy massage. Being active can also encourage movement and ease discomfort.
However, wait 20-30 minutes after feeding before placing your baby on the tummy to avoid spitting up. You should also supervise your baby during tummy time to ensure safety.
How long do gastrointestinal problems in infants last?
Gastrointestinal problems are common in babies, especially when they are infants. Its duration can vary depending on the illness and condition. Some common gastrointestinal problems in infants include reflux, colic, diarrhoea, and constipation.
Reflux and colic usually resolve on their own by the time the infant is 3-4 months old. Diarrhoea caused by a viral infection normally clears up within a week, while diarrhoea caused by a bacterial infection may take longer. Constipation can last longer, but it is often manageable with changes in diet or medication.
However, if your infant has prolonged or severe gastrointestinal symptoms, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and treatment.
Newborn gastric problems can be challenging for both the baby and the parents. However, with proper care, the symptoms can be relieved. It’s essential to pay attention to your baby’s cues and look for signs of discomfort.
Consult with a paediatrician at Apollo Cradle & Children’s Hospital if you suspect your baby is experiencing gastrointestinal problems, as they can provide valuable guidance and advice.
Remember that every baby is different, and some may experience digestive issues for longer than others. You can help your baby feel more comfortable and thrive with patience and care.
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