Tummy problems are the most common issue that newborns face, largely due to their underdeveloped digestive system. This is a big culprit of poor sleep and of an overall fussy baby. Many people just assume that their fussy baby has “colic”, which is basically just a medical term that describes unexplained intestinal discomfort. If your baby is having stomach discomfort, there is most likely something (or a few things) that you can do to help them. We have so much more knowledge now about the way that food affects our bodies, so if your baby is uncomfortable, it’s up to you to figure out what the source of the problem is.
When Rylen was born, it took us some time to sort out what was bothering her little tummy. She seemed exceptionally uncomfortable at nighttime, which meant that none of us was sleeping very well. She had a diaper rash that simply wouldn’t go away because of what we later realized was a milk protein allergy, commonly confused with a lactose intolerance. Milk protein allergies are VERY common in babies under six months and can cause pain, discomfort, gas, and irregular poops. I began to notice when I ate things that seemed to make her worse and finally realized that all of those things contained dairy. Once I eliminated dairy from my diet, Rylen improved rapidly. She grew out of this sensitivity around 6 months and can now eat and drink dairy without any issues.
If your little one is having tummy problems, I encourage you to use the following as a process of elimination guide and figure out how you can help them. It may be challenging at first and you may have to give up some of your favorite foods for a while if you are breastfeeding, but your reward will be a much happier and well-rested baby.
Burping your Baby – Burping your baby isn’t just a recommendation – it’s an absolute necessity for younger babies. Even older babies can benefit from a good burp, but for your newborn, this is an absolutely critical step in the feeding routine. If you are breastfeeding, you should burp your little one once when you switch to the other side, and then again when finished. If bottle feeding formula or pumped milk, you should stop your baby halfway through the bottle to burp, and then again when finished. If your baby is struggling with reflux, you may even want to burp them a few times throughout the feeding.
Gas – Another common culprit for an upset stomach, especially at night-time, is a gassy baby. Gas can be a result of what mom ate that day if she is breastfeeding, your baby’s formula, or what foods your older baby may have eaten that day. If your baby is breastfed, it’s a good idea to keep track of mom’s diet throughout the day so that you can pinpoint which foods make your baby gassy. Some babies will become very gassy when switching formulas. While we encourage you to look for the culprit of your baby’s gas, some very young babies seem to be gassy no matter what. They will likely outgrow this stage as they get older and their digestive systems mature a little more. You can help your baby with their gassy tummy by giving stomach massage, using a device called a Windi, or giving gas drops. Gripe water is also a fast-acting fix for middle-of-the-night stomach discomfort and is safe to use with gas drops.
Food Sensitivities While Breastfeeding – As I mentioned before, we realized that Rylen had a milk protein allergy when she was younger. Anytime I would eat anything with dairy, Rylen would react poorly. At first we thought that she was lactose intolerant, but then we learned that it is actually VERY rare for babies to be lactose intolerant. Our own breast milk contains lactose, so if your baby was truly lactose intolerant, they wouldn’t be able to drink your milk at all. It’s more likely that they have a milk protein allergy that is typically outgrown by 6 months. Some babies have food sensitivities or allergies, and can be affected by what you are eating. If your little one seems to have a lot of tummy issues (ie: gas, colic, green stool) or skin problems (rashes, eczema, etc), you can try eliminating some of these common culprits from your diet and see if your baby’s symptoms improve. There is unfortunately a lot of trial and error involved with this and it will take a few days for you to see the effects of eliminating a food from your diet. Try eliminating dairy, soy, gluten, eggs and nuts if you think your baby may have a food sensitivity. The most effective way to do this is eliminating all of them for about a week and then slowly adding one back at a time to see which one your baby is bothered by. You can also try eliminating one at a time as a less drastic alternative. Keep in mind that even if your baby has a food sensitivity, it is quite likely that they will outgrow it. If you end up having to cut dairy from your diet like I did and you love cheese too much to not have it at all, there is a wonderful cheese alternative called Daiya that is just as delicious as regular cheese.
Formula Sensitivities – I could write an entire post just dedicated to formula. I did a lot of research when we were trying to decide on a supplemental formula for my 8 month old. During this time, I realized a few things. First of all, breast milk is indisputably the superior source of nutrition for a baby. It contains everything that your baby needs and nothing that they don’t need. It even has antibodies to keep your baby from getting sick! I was sick several times when my baby was little and she managed to stay healthy even when I wasn’t. My breast milk was protecting her fragile little immune system. However, for a variety of reasons, many people need or choose to use formula at some point in their baby’s life. I struggled with this reality for a while before realizing that I truly just wanted my baby to be fed and happy, despite the fact that my supply issues meant we would need to start using formula. Even with all the technology that we have today, scientists have still not been able to replicate the benefits of breast milk in a lab! Maybe the complexity of breast milk is why the list of ingredients in American formulas often contains more words than this paragraph.
The USA uses a LOT of ingredients in their formulas. Even the organic brands have a ton of ingredients that I can’t pronounce. Many formulas contain ingredients that are banned in other countries. Regardless of why these things are used in the life-giving formulas that we feed our babies, it isn’t hard to understand why your baby’s underdeveloped digestive system may have difficulty processing formula. Because of this, most US formulas have “sensitive blends” or even “soy based” formulas for babies with the milk protein sensitivity I discussed earlier. If you are looking for a formula option, I would recommend looking into some European brands. The ingredients list is much smaller (I’m talking at least half the size) and if you look at the options on their websites, a lot of them don’t even offer a “sensitive” option because babies “across the pond” don’t react as often to their formulas. Europe has much higher standards for the way that they raise livestock and produce food, particularly infant formula. The cost is not much different than buying an organic brand in the US, but my baby’s tummy could tell the difference and I’ll bet yours will too. We used a website called Organic Start to order ours, as the European brands can’t be found in most stores.
Reflux – Reflux is a very common problem with newborns and is once again related to an underdeveloped digestive system. There is a muscle which typically closes after food travels down the esophagus into the stomach. In young babies, this muscle is sometimes not strong enough to keep the liquid from seeping back up into the esophagus, resulting in spit-up, burning and irritation in the throat, and sometimes projectile vomiting. Usually reflux is not very serious and your baby will outgrow it in time, but it can cause some discomfort during and after feeding, and in more serious cases, trouble with weight gain and damage to the esophagus. You should see a doctor if your baby stops gaining weight, projectile vomits on a regular basis, or spits up any color liquid except white (ie: green, yellow, red). To help your little one with mild reflux, you can feed them in an upright position, burp them even more often than I mentioned above, and do not lay them down flat for 15 minutes after each feeding. You can also try some different bottles if you are bottle-feeding. Some “anti-colic” bottles do a better job than others at preventing air from being trapped in your baby’s belly, which is what pushes the liquid back into the esophagus. Every baby is different, so what works for one may not work well for another. You may have to do some trial and error before finding the right one for your baby.