Digestive Support for Infants
Your baby is going through a hard time. They constantly cry, usually starting right after feeding, and they only stop after passing gas or a bowel movement. OR they seem to be be spitting up A LOT. OR they just seem downright fussy a lot of the time. OR they seem to be having trouble with their bowel movements.
There are many reasons why babies cry, but once you’ve done all the basic checks: Hungry? Diaper change? Too hot? Too cold? Tired? and they are still crying, it can be really difficult to deal with. Babies do not have the ability to tell us how they feel, which is why they cry. It’s their mechanism to tell you they just aren’t feeling right. But how are they not feeling right? It’s up to us as parents to figure out that mystery ourselves.
Some babies cry due to colic, for which we can take steps to make sure they are coddled correctly to help ease their crying and soothe them. However, there are other signs and symptoms you can look out for to see if your baby’s crying is trying to tell you something more. That maybe they are having digestive upset and this is their way of communicating it to you.
Signs of Digestive Upset
There are many signs of digestive upset to look out for in your baby, listed below. It is recommended to observe if there is a pattern with their crying, marking down when it happens throughout the day, over a period of several days. The data may show a pattern and help you to narrow down the timeline, which can help you find the root cause.
Gas and cramps
Bloating (a bulge in the abdomen)
Diarrhea or constipation
Reflux (a.k.a. constant spit up, not just after feeding)
Vomiting after meals (this is more than just spit up)
Restlessness or insomnia
Seem to be unconsolable and typically only stops after passing gas or a bowel movement
Not interested in feeding
Begins crying after feeding
Poor weight gain
Causes of Digestive Upset and What to Do
It can be difficult, though not impossible, to pinpoint the cause of your baby’s digestive upset by looking through the historical data you’ve gathered. If you look through the list below, and the data you’ve gathered and don’t know where to start, that’s okay. Look through the list below and find a cause of digestive upset that you think you can easily investigate without it feeling like too much of a burden on your plate. Try it out for a few days, and continue to keep a journal of when baby experiences upset. After a few days, take a look at the pattern and see if baby’s upset improved, stayed the same, or got worse. If it improved, congratulations! You may have found the root cause (or one of them) for baby! If baby is still showing signs of fussiness, or patterns stayed the same or got worse, pick another cause from the list and try that. Continue this Pick-Choose-Observe method until you notice a decrease in baby’s symptoms.
Once you have discovered what you believe to be the root cause, continue to follow the guidelines on that root cause for at least 1-2 months. After that period you can experiment with doing less and seeing the impacts for baby. For some babies, as they mature and grow, these issues will subside and your attention will no longer be required, while others are a bit more sensitive and may need continued support.
There is a possibility that baby may have a poor latch on either the breast or bottle, resulting in them swallowing a lot of air during feeding and causing discomfort.
Speaking with a lactation consultant to correct your feeding technique
Visiting a chiropractor who can make any adjustments to baby to help their latch (this is a great option for babies who are tongue-tied)
For some babies, they may experience digestive upset and fussiness due to a lack of good bacteria in their gut. This often happens with babies who were born via c-section or are formula fed, as their bodies often do not get inoculated with enough good bacteria at the start of life. If this is your baby, do not fret! Being aware is the first step and there is something that you can do to help your baby balance their microbiome.
Giving baby probiotics 1-2 times a day after feeding. Find a probiotic that is meant for infants and follow their instructions. Adding probiotics into baby’s diet can help give them the good bacteria they need to process food better and help their digestive upset.
Lactose overload can occur with both breastfed and formula fed babies.
Breastfed babies are exposed to two different types of breast milk: foremilk and hindmilk. Foremilk is the first to come out of the breast and its purpose is to hydrate baby - this milk also contains more lactose. The second milk to come out of the breast is hindmilk, and its purpose is to nourish baby as it contains more fat. Lactose overload can happen when baby feeds off of both breasts for a short period of time, i.e. getting much more foremilk than hindmilk.
Feeding baby from one breast for longer before switching over to the other side, allowing baby more time to get both foremilk and hindmilk from each breast
Pumping milk from the breast and feeding it to baby in a bottle, to ensure they are getting a mix of both foremilk and hindmilk
Formula fed babies can experience lactose overload, too, as companies often put additional lactose into the product above what baby requires. Some babies are not able to handle this amount of lactose, leading to digestive upset.
Switching to formulas with different ingredients for carbohydrate sources (still including lactose) to see if it makes a difference for baby
If this doesn’t help, switch to a hydrolyzed or lactose-free formula for 1 month, while incorporating probiotics for baby daily. After 1 month, try switching back to a lactose formula (while continuing the additional probiotics), and see if baby’s symptoms are better. Note that while hydrolyzed and lactose-free formulas are okay for babies to consume for a short period, they should not be the long-term formula for baby unless absolutely necessary (i.e. using a lactose-free formula if baby is allergic to cow’s milk/lactose).
Similar to a lactose overload, overfeeding can cause baby to end up with too much lactose in their systems which can cause digestive upset.
Slowing down baby’s source of food. If breastfeeding, stop periodically to burp them. If bottle feeding, switch to a smaller flowing nipple that allows less milk to come out at a time
Food Sensitivities or Allergies
Babies, especially those who are breastfed, can experience digestive upset due to food particles that come through mom’s breast milk that do not agree with their digestive system.
Eliminating common trigger foods: dairy, gluten, chocolate, coffee, spicy foods, nightshades, citrus fruits, cucumbers
Eliminating gas-forming foods: garlic, onions, beans, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts
Consuming mainly cooked foods: 80% cooked, 20% raw
Determining any other food sensitivities and eliminating them from your diet - keeping a food diary can help to determine any sensitivities
Formula fed babies can also experience sensitivities.
Changing the formula baby is having. Look at the ingredients in your current formula and compare with similar formulas, switching up the sources of protein, carbohydrates, and fats to narrow down the food culprits.
How to Help Baby Immediately During Digestive Upset
As all the ideas above are long-term solutions for baby, you still may be wondering how to help out baby now, as fussiness is not fun to deal with! Below are some ways to immediately help your baby during digestive upset. Play around with the techniques, as one thing may work for your baby, or it may be a combination of multiple techniques mixed together. Try them all out and find out what works best for you and your baby.
There are multiple kinds of massage techniques that can help to alleviate your baby’s digestive upset. Both of the techniques below help to dispel any gas trapped in the intestines.
A tummy massage by lying baby on their back and rubbing their belly in a clockwise motion
Bicycling baby’s legs while lying on their back. Do this by pumping their legs back and forth
Signing up for a baby massage class! You can learn massage techniques for baby’s whole body while also meeting some new people
Giving your baby some time on their tummy can actually help their digestive upset as the weight of baby against the ground and their wiggling around will help to push out any trapped gas.
Putting baby on their tummy for about 10-15 minutes when they are fussy (or for the length of time baby is currently able to be on their tummy - for some it may only be a few minutes). Notice if they seem to pass any gas while in this position, or if they seem less fussy after tummy time is over
Carrying baby in what is known as the “football hold” can also help to ease digestive upset. Like tummy time, this hold applies pressure to baby’s intestines and can help to dispel any gas.
Putting baby into a football hold, where their tummy is on your forearm, with their chin at your elbow crease, and their legs straddling your wrist. You can use your other hand to rub their back, which provides additional gentle pressure to their intestines
Carrying Baby Around
Carrying your baby around is another way to help dispel gas from their system. Keeping them close to your body and moving when you do will jiggle them around, which can help move their intestines.
Wearing baby using either a baby carrier or a wrap and walking around with them to help bounce them, thus helping to dispel any gas
Pressing a warm compress into baby’s abdomen can help to ease any tummy pain they feel
Make your own compress by soaking a clean cloth in warm water (should not be over 100℉ for babies, check the temperature!). Wring out any excess water and then apply directly to baby’s abdomen. You can use this method 2-3 times a day when baby is feeling tummy upset
Chamomile tea can help to aid baby’s digestive upset by relaxing the digestive tract. It can also provide relief from stomach cramps. NOTE: this can only be given directly to babies 6 months or older, otherwise it can be passed along to babies who are breastfed through the mother
For Babies under 6 months:
Have the breastfeeding mother drink a cup of chamomile tea (1 cup of boiling water poured over a chamomile tea bag and steeped for 10 minutes before drinking). The tea will eventually go through the breastmilk to help calm baby. Experiment with drinking the tea at different times of the day to see if the timing of it coming into the breast milk works for baby
For Babies over 6 months:
Giving baby 15 mL to start, mixed with water, working their way up to 30 mL. 60-90 mL in a 24 hour period is considered safe.
Make the tea by pouring 1 cup of boiling water over a chamomile tea bag (with the only ingredient being chamomile) and allowing it to steep for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes take out the teabag and let it sit until it’s lukewarm, then portion out the tea to give to baby
Anise, fennel or peppermint tea can also help to aid in baby’s digestion, and it can only be given to baby through a breastfeeding mother. Anise reduces gas produced in the stomach, fennel helps to increase movement in the small intestine and decreases spasms intestinal spasms, and peppermint enhances digestion, is an antiflatulent, and helps empty baby’s stomach.
If breastfeeding, try:
Making a cup of anise, fennel or peppermint tea steeping as per instructions and consuming. The tea’s benefits will flow into the breastmilk to benefit baby. Can have 1-3 cups a day
Gripe water is a blend of herbs which help with baby’s colic symptoms. Look for a homeopathic gripe water products and make sure to follow the directions on the label. Do not give to babies under 1 month of age.
If You Still Cannot Find the Root Cause
Talk to your Doctor, Midwife or a Holistic Practitioner who Specializes in Children and Infants
Bring your baby to see a holistic practitioner for you to go over baby’s case with them. Sometimes we just need an expert’s opinion to help us get through! Make sure to bring the notes you’ve been recording about baby, as well as the information on what you’ve already tried with them.
Visit an Osteopath
During baby’s time in utero or during birth, baby can be squeezed and, depending on where the baby is squeezed (gut, diaphragm, rib cage, head, neck, mouth), different health effects can occur. An osteopath can help to relax baby’s tissues, nervous system and intestines. Make sure to see someone who works with children and infants often.