A baby’s fussiness, colic, gas or other tummy pains should never be ignored. While Babies can easily become upset, the quicker you can understand the problem and alleviate symptoms the sooner your child will calm.
The many reasons for a baby’s upset stomach are not that dissimilar to the causes of an upset stomach in adults: lactose intolerance, constipation, overeating, hunger, stress, infection or illness. Additional reasons specific to infants include colic and sensitivity to formula or breastmilk. For some babies, an upset stomach may even be the result of something their mother has eaten before breastfeeding.
The hardest part in uncovering the cause of an upset stomach is that babies cannot tell us what is causing the pain or where it is coming from. Instead, parents must listen, tune in and rely on close observation and other symptoms to figure out what is causing a stomach ache. Here is some information on the most common causes of baby fussiness:
What are the most common causes for baby fussiness?
Virtually every baby will experience gas at some point during their first four months, as their immature guts are still developing. Gas can affect both breastfed and bottle-fed babies, and can result in bloating, flatulence and yes – it’s a big source of fussiness.
To determine whether or not your baby is suffering from gas, take a look at the symptoms:
● Burping – Burping is a natural way to expel gas and should be encouraged after every feeding time. Constant burping, belching, hiccups or spit ups may indicate that too much air is being swallowed during meals.
● Bloating – When gas gets trapped, it essentially acts like a cork in the intestines, causing the flow of gastric juices to slow or stop. If a baby’s abdomen appears swollen and bloated, it could be a sign that gas is trapped in the intestines.
● Flatulence – Passing gas is extremely normal, and most babies will pass gas 15-20 times a day. Any more than that and your baby may not be digesting their food properly. If this is the case, symptoms should alleviate as the digestive system develops.
● Fussiness – With babies crying for a number of reasons, diagnosing gas from their cries is difficult. Parents tend to describe gas cries as sharper and more acute, while the “Dunstan Baby Language” system describes the sound of intestinal gas cries as an “Eairh” sound. If the sound is accompanied by a red face, clenched fists and grunting, it’s a good indicator of trapped gas.
What causes trapped gas in babies?
● Incorrect feeding – A poor latch on the breast or bottle can result in too much air being swallowed at meal times. If fed too much too fast, your baby’s body will increase intestinal gas to break down the excess lactose. Try keeping baby at an angle when breastfeeding or in a vertical position if bottle feeding as this slows how much milk is flowing into their mouth and down their throat. Always burp them after a meal.
● Crying – As a baby cries, they swallow air which can cause gas. Unfortunately, this can create a self-reinforcing cycle that’s hard to control. This is a big reason to attend to baby soon and not ignore their cries as it will only make fussiness increase. Babies simply cannot self-soothe away tummy pains.
● Too much lactose – Breast milk contains both foremilk and hindmilk, with foremilk containing more sugars and lactose. Some experts believe that emptying foremilk before a feed can help reduce symptoms of gas.
● New foods – New foods can take time to process, especially high sugar foods like juices. New foods can not only cause gas it can also cause loose stools.
What about Colic and Crying?
Colic is a common cause of fussiness and crying for babies. Colic, while not 100% understood – is often accompanied by stomach upset in babies under six months old affects approximately 20% of all babies. Babies with colic can be very unsettled and will often be seen extending their legs and pulling them up against their body as a way to pass excess gas. Afternoons tend to be the worst time, and crying can last up to three hours. Crying can sound intense to parents and is often difficult to soothe.
What causes colic? There are many theories about colic, but the actual cause is inconsistent. A lot of evidence points to a combination of three factors: a newborn’s immature digestive system, a breastfeeding mother’s diet (trace elements such as cow’s milk protein, onions, broccoli and chocolate), and the level of air being swallowed by the baby during feeds and crying.
Listening to a colicky baby crying can be trying. Make sure to create a plan and ask for help from another caring adult so baby gets the loving attention it needs and you get a break. Here are more suggestions on soothing a crying, fussy, upset baby.
Abdominal cramping and gurgling guts are common symptoms associated with diarrhea, as well as loose stools. Diarrhoea is defined as the passing of three or more loose stools in one day. (Not to be confused with normal Breast-fed newborn stools which are curdly and loose)
What causes diarrhoea? Diarrhoea can accompany both viral and bacterial infections, can be the result of diet or in some cases be the result of a parasite. If a child has diarrhoea, it’s important to monitor them closely to check for any other symptoms that may indicate a more serious condition.
Constipation is a common stomach problem in babies just starting on solid food. Signs of constipation include hard, dry stools or a period of several days with no bowel movements.
What causes constipation? Often constipation is a result of the foods you are feeding your baby, foods such as banana, apple, carrots, rice and squash. It could also be a lack of fluids or exercise, so ensure your baby has plenty to drink and try “bicycling” their legs.
It is quite normal for a baby to spit up, however, if this occurs after every meals, accompanied with vomit, crying and pain, you may want to check with your health provided. There is a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease that affects some babies. GERD is not too different from symptoms of heartburn in adults, and babies can often be seen arching their backs and drawing up their knees because of this.
What causes reflux? Reflux happens when the valve between your baby’s stomach and esophagus isn’t working efficiently, causing food and gastric acid to gurgle up from the stomach and into the throat. This can have a burning effect on the sensitive lining and the sensation can be very uncomfortable for babies.
Feeding Baby: How diet plays a part in fussiness, colic and gas
A large percentage of stomach upsets can be a result of a child’s diet and – for breastfed babies – their mother’s diet. This a relief to many parents, as diet is something you have the ability to control.
For a baby under 6 months old, breast milk or infant formula is all babies need as far as nutrition (see this post on feeding choices and feeding formula with care). After this age, you can begin to introduce other foods. One excellent approach to feeding baby is called Baby-Led Weaning.
Foods to avoid before a baby’s first birthday include too much citrus fruits (which can cause acidity) and whole cow’s milk (which can irritate a baby’s stomach). Other foods that may produce excess gas include broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage but really each baby is a bit different. Generally it is advisable to not introduce sugary and fried foods into babies diet.
While there are certain foods that can bring on stomach upset, there are many foods that can help ease stomach pain.
These include raspberries, white grapes, strawberries, snap peas, potatoes and sweet potatoes. A yoghurt smoothie can be a great way to get healing antioxidants into babies, and for older children a diet of toast, crackers, soup and rice can be soothing on the tummy.
The important thing to consider when feeding a baby is to do so with care, let the baby discover foods, explore textures. Respect babies ques when they are full, so don’t force babies to finish a bottle or meal if they are refusing it.
If your baby is often fussy and this is causing you and baby distress, reach out to your health provider for assistance, talk to a trusted friend and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Helpful reading and resources on Baby Care in line with Positive Parenting principles:
- The Discipline Approach that Helps Babies and Toddlers Thrive
- Baby Wearing
- 7 Tips for Breastfeeding in Public
- Discipline for Babies
- Babies: Competent and Capable from Birth
- Coping When Babies Don’t Sleep
This is a guest post by Liana. Liana Mollison is a communications manager at Bellamy’s Organic, where she is a regular contributor to the site’s popular blog. Bellamy’s Organic is Australia’s first organic baby food company and is dedicated to its mission of providing every child with a pure start to life.