Before your baby develops the ability to produce enzymes to digest food and antibodies to protect himself, his digestive tract is not entirely functional and is susceptible to infection. So although it is common for newborns to experience tummy throes such as gas, constipation and diarrhoea, it is still better to be safe than sorry to know what you and baby are in for and what you can do about it.
When infants swallow milk, milk will glide past the back of their throat, down their oesophagus and then reach the stomach. The ring of muscles that connects the throat and stomach will open to let the milk go into the stomach and then close back up. When that ring does not tighten again, a reflux will occur, and milk can come back up.
Due to the size of their stomach and how the valve where the stomach and oesophagus meet might not be mature enough to work as it should, infants tend to experience reflexes, especially around the age of four to five months.
What Can You Do?
- Burb baby after each feeding.
- Keep baby upright for at least 30 to 45 minutes after feeding so that gravity can help keep things down.
- Ensure no pressure is applied to her stomach after feeding.
Spit-Up And Vomiting
It is fairly common for babies to spit up and dribble a little milk with burps or after feeding, as the muscle between their stomach and their oesophagus is still not as strong. However, if your baby feels uncomfortable and her spit-up gets more forceful and greater in volume, your child might be vomiting.
If you baby vomits more than once, it may be caused by a virus that that can also cause diarrhoea. These viruses are usually not dangerous, but it can cause your baby to suffer from dehydration. Signs of dehydration involves the shortage of saliva and the drop in the normal wet diapers.
Another common cause of your baby’s vomiting is an infection of the intestinal tract by a virus that might happen to be going around. It usually starts with vomiting and often with fever or diarrhoea. On the bright side, these infection only lasts for two or three days.
What Can You Do?
- Burp baby because sometimes they spit up due to some bad air bubble in the tummy.
- Avoid overfeeding.
- Keep baby upright after feeding.
- Consult a healthcare professional immediately if baby vomited more than once, vomiting forcefully or frequently, vomiting green bile or blood, becomes lethargic, or show any other signs of distress.
It is hard to tell if baby is having diarrhoea since it’s normal for breastmilk to cause watery stools. But one way to do so is to monitor his bowel movements. If there is a sudden change, such as pooping more than usual, and his passes are looser and more watery than usual, it is probably diarrhoea.
In most cases, the diarrhoea is relatively mild and does not pose any significant health threat as long as you keep your baby hydrated. Dehydration can be severe and fatal in a baby.
When your baby’s stool becomes softer and more frequent, he might have diarrhoea that is caused by an infection or an inability to digest certain nutrients in her food.
What Can You Do?
- Ensure baby is hydrated by giving her breastmilk or formula if she isn’t also vomiting. If your baby can’t keep the milk down, seek help from your paediatrician immediately. The paediatrician could prescribe electrolyte solution, which is easier to keep down than milk.
- Give baby some yoghurt that contains lactobacillus or live cultures. Studies have show that live bacterial cultures found in yoghurt can safely and effectively cut down on the amount an duration of diarrhoea.
Constipation is a common problem, especially after you start feeding your baby with cereals and letting them start on whole milk as too much milk can lead to sticky, clay-like stools. One way to detect if your baby is constipated is to observe his bowel movement and figure out what’s normal for your baby.
Babies who drink formula or eat solid food would have a regular bowel movement of at least once a day. Breastfed babies do not have a standard number or schedule; it depends on what’s typical for your child. In fact, some breastfed babies even have one bowel movement a week.
Another way to detect if your baby is constipating is to take note when your baby is having less frequent bowel movements than usual, especially if he hasn’t had one for three or more days and is uncomfortable when he does.
What Can You Do?
- Exercise baby’s legs to break up the hardened stools in his bowels or gently massage his stomach. Try this: lie baby flat on his back, then lift his knees to his chest, rolling it to the side and then back down like a circle, or like cycling a bicycle.
- Cut out rice cereal for a day or two to see if it might help with baby’s constipation, Alternatively, if you suspect milk is the culprit, reduce his intake and see if the situation improves.
- Add a little prune, apple or pear juice to formula or breast milk, but only if baby is at least four weeks old.
- Call your paediatrician if you see blood in baby’s stool, when your baby is not having at least one bowel movement every other day, if movements are painful, or more than normal pushing is needed during the bowel movement.
This article is repurposed from “Goodbye Tummy Woes!”, written by Rachel Lim, and published in the August 2016 issue of the Singapore’s Child.