The Tummy Tempest & How To Deal With It

There are many reasons for your baby’s fussiness and excessive cries, ranging from gas discomfort to something more than just a little gas. Learn to identify the tell-tale symptoms of various tummy pains as well as how to tame the rumble in the belly.

You know you’ll be dealing with flatulence and tummy aches but you never expect them to occur so often and cause so much trouble for your dearest tot. Infant gas affects about 70% of babies and it doesn’t matter if you breastfeed or bottle-feed. Chances are your baby would be prone to one of the many abdominal discomforts, even in the first few weeks of his life.

As such, understanding what causes the different types of gastrointestinal issues will help you manage your baby’s distress better. Here are the more common ones:

Case #1: Gastroesophageal Reflux

This is fairly common in young infants during the first 4 months of life because the valve that keeps the stomach contents out of the oesophagus is still relatively immature. Your baby is also still getting used to feeding and may eat too much or too quickly, resulting in spitting up. Fortunately, most babies who have reflux outgrow it in the first year.

However, should your baby show other symptoms along with spitting up such as coughing or gagging during feedings, he may have gastroesophageal reflux disease. The tell-tale signs are instantly noticeable - your baby latches on to the breast or bottle and suck hungrily for a few seconds before arching his back and crying. This is because the food and digestive juices are backing up into his throat, irritating the sensitive lining of his oesophagus. In other words, the crying starts when the reflux hits.

To reduce spitting up, feed your baby on an incline and leave him in a sitting position for 15 to 30 minutes after each feeding. Limiting the time of each nursing session or offering less milk than usual can keep air from being trapped inside your baby’s stomach, so does burping your baby during and after every feed.

Case #2: Colic

If your healthy baby cries uncontrollably and excessively for more than three hours in a row, three or more days a week for at least three weeks, it’s highly likely that he’s colicky. You may also notice your baby’s tummy looking enlarged, his legs alternating between extending and pulling up hard against his belly, and excessive passing of gas.

There’s no medical explanation for this and no cure for colic but the majority outgrows the condition by five months. For the time being, you can try some of these strategies:

  • Slower but more frequent feedings – As a general rule, feed your baby twice as often and half as much. Also, choose a bottle with the right size hole in the nipple that enhances the peristaltic movement to encourage your baby to employ a correct sucking pattern.
  • Neck rock-a-bye – Snuggle baby’s head into the groove between your chin and chest, and softly sing a lullaby as you sway back and forth to take the tension out of your baby.
  • Abdominal relaxers – With your baby laying on his back, pump his legs up and down in a bicycling motion before straightening them out and lightly shaking them. Alternatively, gently massage your baby’s tummy by placing the palm of your left hand over his navel and kneading his abdomen clockwise around the hand with flattened fingers of the other.
  • Swaddling – This involves wrapping your baby up like a dumpling to help him feel less out of control but more calm. Swaddling also helps your colicky baby to stay asleep so he won’t startle himself awake with his little twitches.

Case #3: Constipation

Babies, too, can experience difficulty in passing motion and will cry because of hard stools. Constipation can even happen before your baby starts on solids so don’t be surprised to find his bowel movements less frequent and/or more painful than usual when you switch from breast milk to formula or formula to regular milk.

If your baby is eating solids, you can help by feeding him foods that produce looser stools such as apricots, pears and prunes, and giving him more fluids to drink. Additionally, perform the bicycle exercise on your baby to relieve gas and other tummy discomforts.

Case #4: Milk Allergy or Lactose Intolerance

For children up to 3 years old, there is a possibility that his stomach ache is either caused by the immune system reacting adversely to a particular milk protein or the body’s inability to produce the enzyme needed to digest lactose.

It is recommended that you do not give your baby cow’s milk until after his first birthday. Mothers also need to watch their diet and stop eating dairy products if breastfeeding since the milk proteins can pass through breast milk to the baby. If your baby is formula-fed, you can consider switching to goat’s milk!

Case #5: Indigestion

Indigestion causes your baby’s intestines to feel like balloons of air, filled with pressure due to eating too quickly or drinking too many juices. This condition is characterised by sharp and high stomach pains, made worse when taking deep breaths. For quick relief, give your baby a warm water bottle to place over the tender area.

Case #6: Stomach Flu

Stomach flu, or gastroenteritis, is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Symptoms include vomiting or diarrhoea and can last for a few hours or for days.

Because it is caused by a virus, antibiotics don’t work. Yet that doesn’t mean you should let the ailment run its course without doing anything. Watch for signs of dehydration and make sure your baby gets plenty of fluids. If he’s unable to keep down formula or breast milk, discuss with your doctor on giving him small sips of an over-the-counter electrolyte solution to replenish any lost fluid, minerals and salts.