Digestive problems are common in babies, especially when they are newborns. While more common in bottle-fed babies compared to breastfed babies, digestive problems in babies typically resolve on their own in a few weeks.
Here are eight symptoms to look for to determine whether your baby is having digestive problems and when to contact a pediatrician.
8 signs your baby is having digestive problems
1. Spitting up
Many newborns and young infants spit up part of their breast milk or formula during or immediately after a meal. Some newborns spit up sporadically, whereas others spit up every feeding. Spit up flows easily from the baby's lips, occasionally with a burp.
Spitting up, also called gastroesophageal reflux, occurs when the muscular ring at the top of the stomach fails to seal correctly. Spitting up lessens as the infant grows older, and it usually stops before the baby turns 1 year old.
Spitting up is typically harmless. However, it can be problematic if it results in poor weight gain, choking, or acid injury to the esophagus. Contact a doctor if your baby chokes, turns blue, or if the vomiting is severe or appears green or brown.
Digestive problems in babies can result in persistent hiccups. This is frequently accompanied by stomach pain, which can cause crying.
Constipation or diarrhea in a baby can be caused by a lack of fiber, a stomach virus, or certain medications. If diarrhea persists, seek medical help as diarrhea can lead to severe dehydration in infants.
4. Difficulty breathing
Stomach acids can cause a blockage of the respiratory passage, which can lead to symptoms such as nasal congestion or difficulty breathing. These symptoms may worsen at night or when your baby is sleeping.
5. Abdominal distension
Most newborns’ stomachs protrude, especially after a meal. However, your baby’s stomach should feel soft in between feedings. If the abdomen feels hard or if your child has not had a bowel movement in 1-2 days, talk to a doctor. The cause is usually gas or constipation, but it may indicate a more serious digestive disorder.
6. Excessive coughing
If your baby coughs after drinking too quickly, this is typically not a concern and will resolve once your baby is on a regular feeding schedule. However, contact your pediatrician if your baby coughs frequently or gags during feedings. These symptoms may suggest a problem with the lungs or digestive tract.
7. Unusual bowel movements
Meconium is the first stool passed by your baby, which can be seen in the first 24 hours of birth. If your baby does not pass meconium within the first 48 hours, further evaluation may be needed to check for any abnormalities in the lower intestine.
On rare occasions, your baby’s stool may contain streaks of blood, which may be a sign that your newborn has a small cut in the anus. While this is usually harmless, it is best to talk to your pediatrician to rule out digestive problems.
Colic affects some newborns between the ages of 3-4 months and can be quite stressful for parents. Colic is prolonged or excessive crying in an otherwise healthy newborn. The crying can be quite loud and last for several hours every day.
Colic often begins 3 weeks after birth, peaks at about 6 weeks, and progressively improves by the age of 3 months. The cause of colic is unknown. However, some believe that milk allergy and oversensitivity to gas may be factors that lead to the condition.
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Missouri Baptist Medical Center. "Newborn Care: The First 6 Weeks." <https://www.missouribaptist.org/Medical-Services/Childbirth-Center/New-Parent-Guide/ArtMID/722/ArticleID/184/Gastrointestinal-Problems>.
Stanford Children's Health. "Gastrointestinal Problems." <https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=gastrointestinal-problems-90-P02216>.
University of Rochester Medical Center. "Gastrointestinal Problems." <https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=90&ContentID=P02216>.
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