5 Common Baby Tummy Troubles — And How To Help
Gas pain, spit-up, weird poops and more! How to deal with the most common baby gastro issues
Baby's got some tummy troubles? Read on to spot the worst of 'em and learn how you can get rid of the aches and pains a.s.a.p.
What it is : Air can get into baby’s belly and, as he’s digesting, get stuck. “Think of it like a balloon of air in the intestines,” says Cheryl Wu, MD, a pediatrician at LaGuardia Place Pediatrics in New York City. “It causes pressure, which can be painful.”
Why it’s an issue : Doctors aren’t 100 percent sure why babies are so prone to gas, says Wu. It might have to do with their immature GI tracts. (Remember those first black meconium poops in the hospital? That was the first time baby pooped. Ever. His body’s still figuring out how to do it right.) Gas is totally natural — it gets produced by the normal bacteria that live in baby’s gut. Crying, fussing and bottle-feeding can all put extra air bubbles there too.
Spot it : If baby has gas pain, his belly might look inflated, or he might be arching his back or squirming a lot because he’s uncomfortable. He’s probably fussy, too, which can make the gas even worse, because while he’s crying, he could swallow a bunch of air. Usually, gas pain is at its worst when baby’s about six to eight weeks old.
How to help : There are some things you can do to get the gas out. (Yeah, seriously, we’re telling you to help baby fart.) Lay him down and gently bicycle his legs forward and backward, and try pushing his knees to his chest, repeating several times. “I like to sit a baby on my lap facing away from me with his legs crossed and his back against me,” says Wu. “Then I pull his legs toward him.” If that doesn’t help, you can try infant simethicone drops, which are available over the counter — they work for some babies, but not for others, and they’re completely safe. If your doc gives you the go-ahead, a glycerin suppository could help too. (Nope, it doesn’t hurt baby.)
Know that gas pains are completely normal and aren’t usually cause for medical concern. Soon, baby will outgrow getting them so badly.
What it is : Um, you know what this is because you’ve probably been slimed already. Doctors refer to spitting up as “reflux” or GER (gastroesophageal reflux).
Why it’s an issue : The valve that closes the stomach off from the esophagus can be weak in a newborn, so until it gets stronger, baby’s food can easily come back out — especially when he eats too much or too fast.
Spot it : Spitting up is just spitting up, as long as baby seems perfectly content afterward. “Some babies just happen to be more spitty than others,” says Wu, who explains that it’s only a medical problem if baby’s coughing, choking, gagging, turning blue or has poor weight gain, or if it’s intense, projectile vomiting. In those cases, you should take baby to the pediatrician — it could be GERD (see below) and/or require medical treatment.
How to help : Work on prevention. Stop halfway through a feeding (when you switch breasts or he’s drunk half his bottle) and burp baby, so he has extra time to digest and you get excess air out before it gets stuck in there. Then burp him at the end of the feeding too. If you’re having trouble getting the burp out, try some different positions, says Wu. “Lean him forward, or lay him on his side, patting him on his side,” she says. “You can also lie him on his stomach to pat his back.” Also try keeping baby upright for about 20 minutes after the feeding, while he’s digesting.
Other than that, there isn’t much more you can do (sorry!). If you’ve got a frequent spitter, accept that you’re going to have to be super-prepared with extra clothes, bibs and burp cloths when you take baby out. You’ll probably do a ton of laundry too. It’s a pain, but trust us, it’s temporary — it usually gets better when baby’s around six months to a year old. (Yay!)
What it is : GER that’s severe is called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Your baby’s doctor may diagnose him with GERD if frequent spitting up is causing pain or health problems (like the ones we mentioned above). “About one-third of babies have GER,” says Wu. “And one-third of those have GERD.”
Why it’s an issue : Same reason as spitting up. Only some babies just happen to get it worse. As baby’s muscles get stronger, it will happen less and less, but for now, it can really hurt him.
Spot it : Babies with reflux disease are in terrible pain, so they tend to cry a lot during or after feedings, or they have obvious symptoms like coughing, wheezing, gagging or choking. “Moms are usually pretty good at knowing something’s wrong,” says Wu, so trust your instincts and take baby to the doctor if you suspect the problem could be GERD.
How to help : Frequent burping and keeping baby’s head elevated after a feeding can help. If baby doesn’t move a lot in his sleep, try putting a book or pillow underneath his mattress so his head is lifted at about a 30-degree angle. Baby’s pediatrician may put him on an H2 blocker medicine (like Zantac in liquid form for infants, available by prescription) to reduce stomach acid so he’s less irritated by what he’s spitting up. If baby turns blue or is having trouble breathing, take him to the hospital.
What it is : It’s not what you probably think — babies can poop anywhere from 8 to 10 times a day to once every 7 to 10 days and still be considered just fine as long as they’re not uncomfortable. Instead, constipation is about them having trouble pooping when they have to.
Why it’s an issue : Baby can get constipated when he’s switching to a new food, like from breast milk to formula, formula to regular milk, or when you introduce new solids.
Spot it : Keep an eye on consistency: “If baby’s constipated, his poop will come out as hard little balls,” says Wu. “Or he’ll be farting a lot and will be straining to try to poop.” Also, beware of black, red or maroon poop, which could mean there’s blood in it. Blood could be a sign of something more serious, so call baby’s doctor if you see it. Yellow, green and brown poops are A-OK.
How to help : First, ask your baby’s doctor to recommend a treatment. Depending on your baby’s age, the doctor may say it’s okay to give baby some prune juice (probably only one or two ounces); the fiber can help soften up the stool. Also, rectal stimulation can help, so taking baby’s rectal temperature — not to gauge fever, but to help get the muscles moving — might trigger baby’s...er...response. (Use ointment or Vaseline on the thermometer to make baby comfy!) Or, if baby’s doc okays it, you may want to use a glycerin suppository — you can find ones made for infants over the counter at your local drugstore. It might create the lubrication baby needs to pass the poop.
What it is : When baby’s losing water through his bum (ew!). Diarrhea is really scary in babies because it can cause them to become dangerously dehydrated.
Why it’s an issue : Diarrhea usually only happens if baby’s exposed to a virus (maybe through his big sister?) or has eaten something that was contaminated or spoiled. But since most parents feed their babies washed, cooked foods, food poisoning isn’t as likely a cause as a pesky virus.
There are also some things you can do to prevent baby from getting the runs in the first place. First, don’t get misled by those juices sold in the baby aisle of the grocery store. “Juice can give babies diarrhea because all its sugar causes the gut to excrete more water,” says Wu. “Don’t give your baby juice!” She also encourages parents to have their babies vaccinated against rotavirus, a virus that can cause diarrhea and vomiting. The vaccine is given in two or three doses, starting before three months of age.
Spot it : Babies — especially breastfed ones — can have much runnier poops than adults normally have, so don’t mistake that for the big D. “Diarrhea for babies is excessive watery stool,” says Wu.
How to help : Diarrhea means baby is losing the fluid he needs, so it requires a visit to the doctor, says Wu. The pediatrician will weigh your baby to make sure he’s not losing weight and try to detect the source of the problem so baby can be treated for whatever’s causing his diarrhea. You should also ask your doctor about giving your child an electrolyte solution, such as Pedialyte, to prevent dehydration.
If your baby’s been eating solids, you can try feeding him foods known to help stop diarrhea, known as the BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. Make sure he’s drinking plenty of liquids (i.e., breast milk or formula) — he should be wetting at least four to five diapers a day if he’s an infant; three to four if he’s a toddler — but be sure they’re age-appropriate.