There’s nothing worse than a grissly baby! We look at the 5 most common baby stomach complaints, and how to treat them.
Medically reviewed by Dr Louise Wiseman MBBS, BSc (Hons), DRCOG, MRCGP
From a soggy nappy to a sore stomach, there are a number of reasons why your baby might be unhappy. We look at the most common baby stomach complaints and how to treat them, so you can all get a good night’s sleep:
Colic in babies
Colic is defined medically as repeated episodes of excessive or inconsolable crying in a baby up to four months old who otherwise appears healthy and is growing and feeding well. Doctors usually carry out a ‘diagnosis of exclusion’ where other conditions are carefully excluded and then colic may be given as the diagnosis. It is not known what causes colic, but experts believe it may be due to a baby’s immature digestive system, changes in the healthy bacteria in the gut or psychosocial factors.
Symptoms of colic in babies include:
- Irritability, fussing or crying which lasts for more than three hours a day for three or more days a week for at least a week.
- Looking flushed.
- Producing more wind.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Drawing in knees, clenching fists and arching back due to the pain of colic.
To help ease the symptoms of colic try the following:
- Give your baby a comforting warm bath.
- Rock your baby, or take them for a walk or drive.
- Always wind the babythoroughly after feeding. Speak to your health visitor or doctor if you need advice about winding techniques.
⚠️ For bottle feeding babies make sure that the teat is always full of milk and that the milk is flowing freely to avoid your baby swallowing too much air.
★ Try this: Use colic relief medicines such as Infacol or Dentinox which contain simeticone (also referred to as dimeticone). These products help relieve symptoms of wind, colic and griping pain for both bottle-fed or breast-fed babies.
Although it is difficult to manage an inconsolable crying baby with colic, the good news is that it is completely harmless and usually ends by the time a baby is four to six months old. Speak to your health visitor or doctor if colic persists and your baby is not feeding well.
Constipation in babies
Babies can become constipated a times, although it’s far less common in breastfed babies. Constipation can be caused by several different things including dehydration, minor illnesses such as a cold and changes in diet, including change in formula milk or going on to formula milk after breastfeeding.
Symptoms of constipation in babies include:
- Your baby is passing hard stools less often than what is normal for them
- Your baby seems to be straining or in pain
- Your baby seems unhappy, angry, irritated or lacking in energy
The symptoms of constipation can be eased by the following:
- Offer your baby cooled, boiled water between milk feeds.
- If your baby a little older and is eating some solids, encouraging the baby to eat more fruit or vegetables that are rich in fibre may help.
- For babies established on solids, apples, pears and prunes all help bowel movements.
- Massaging the baby’s tummy very gently or moving their legs in a cycling motion while they are lying on their back will help.
- Make sure that the formula milk feds are made up correctly if your baby is bottle fed. Too much milk powder can make the feed too concentrated.
★ Try this: If you are bottle feeding your baby, your doctor or health visitor may suggest changing to a different formula milk if constipation is an ongoing problem. If hard stools are the main problem causing the constipation your doctor may recommend a stool softening laxative called lactulose, which is suitable for children over one month. It is likely that the doctor will want to exclude other causes of constipation first.
Reflux in babies
Babies are prone to reflux, as they have small stomachs and the lower oesophagus valve (which opens to let milk into the stomach and then tightens to prevent it from moving back up) may not be fully developed.
About 50 per cent of babies get reflux up to the age of three months. For most babies the oesophagus valve will strengthen by the time the baby is 10 months old. Generally reflux usually first starts before the age of 8 weeks and is resolved by the age of one year.
💡 All babies posset – bring up a small amount of milk or vomit from time to time. This is normal and usually pass as the baby develops.
Symptoms of reflux in babies include:
- Bringing up milk or being sick during or after feeding
- Coughing/hiccuping/being unsettled during feeding
- Gulping after burping or feeding
If you notice any of the following symptoms or have any other concerns, speak to your doctor:
- Constant vomiting.
- Constant or sudden crying.
- Poor sleep with frequent waking.
- Your baby arches his/her back during feeding.
- Wet burps or frequent hiccups.
- Baby appears to be in pain while feeding.
- Baby is not gaining weight or showing poor growth.
To help relieve reflux symptoms try the following:
- Wind your baby before, during and after feeding.
- Keep the baby upright for 30 minutes after feeding.
- Avoid putting any pressure on the baby’s stomach after feeding, for example, try to wait for at least 30 minutes before putting the baby into a car seat.
★ Try this: If the baby is feeding well and seems happy and contented, then there is no need to treat reflux. If reflux is severe, then your doctor may suggest using special thickening agents that are added to formula milk, expressed breast milk or spoon fed. Your doctor may prescribe an infant formulation of Gaviscon that can be mixed with the baby’s milk.
Lactose intolerance in babies
Lactose is a natural sugar found in milk including breast, formula and cow’s milk. It’s an important source of carbohydrate – but for our bodies to use it properly, it has to be broken down by an enzyme called lactase. If there is enough lactase produced, this is referred to as lactose intolerance, because the lactose can’t be digested.
Babies can develop a temporary form of lactose intolerance called secondary lactose intolerance after an illness such as gastroenteritis. Symptoms of this normally disappear after a few weeks, when the lining of the gut heals, and the cells start to product lactase again.
Lactose intolerance symptoms
Symptoms of lactose intolerance in babies include:
- A bloated stomach
- Stomach pains
Lactose intolerance treatment
Speak to your doctor if you are worried about the symptoms. Your doctor may recommend a lactose-free milk formula for a few weeks, until the symptoms have cleared.
★ Try this: you can also discuss with your doctor or pharmacist using Colief colic drops that contain a natural lastase enzyme to break down the lactose in milk.
Cows’ milk allergy in babies
Allergy to cows’ milk is the most common food allergy in children. Many children grow out of it by the time they go to school. Cows’ milk allergy is an immune reaction to one or more milk proteins in cows’ milk. There are two types of cow’s milk allergies:
- Immunoglobin E antibody:the first type has an immediate reaction and is caused by the immunoglobin E antibody, the symptoms of allergy come on within minutes of having cow’s milk or within two hours.
- Non-immunoglobin E:the second type is a delayed response caused by non-immunoglobin E reaction and is the more common one. The symptoms come on slower, after two hours of having cows’ milk but it can take up to 72 hours.
Cows’ milk allergy symptoms
Symptoms of cow’s milk allergy in babies can vary. They usually begin when cows’ milk is introduced into the diet and often include the following:
- Vomiting or diarrhoea.
- Skin problems such as a red itchy rash.
- Problems with breathing such as wheezing.
Cows’ milk allergy treatment
Breastfeeding is the best way to avoid getting an allergic reaction to cow’s milk. If your baby is allergic to cows’ milk, breastfeeding mums should cut out cows’ milk from their diet too.
After diagnosing a cows’ milk allergy for your baby, your doctor may recommend milk formula that are extensively or fully hydrolysed. These milk formulas have the milk protein broken down making it easier to digest and less likely to cause an allergy.