Tummy Troubles – 6 Reasons Why Your Baby May Have Tummy Trouble

Tummy Troubles - 6 Reasons Why Your Baby May Have Tummy Trouble

Life with a new baby can be full of mixed emotions, ranging from sheer delight to a sheer terror!

Many new parents have never experienced life with a newborn before they bring their own newborn home.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that most new parents are constantly worried about and questioning if what their baby is doing is ‘normal’.

A healthy gut is critical to your baby’s healthy development and wellbeing, so it’s important to constantly monitor his tummy for any signs that something might not be quite right.

6 Reasons Babies Why Have Tummy Troubles

Here are 6 reasons why your baby may have tummy troubles:

#1: It Actually Might Be Normal For Your Baby’s Age

It’s normal for babies under 3 months to have one or two unsettled periods every 24 hours. Unsettled periods tend to reach a peak around 6 weeks (read more about your 6 week old baby), before beginning to reduce from around 2 months and then being pretty much non-existent around 3 months.

During unsettled periods a baby will often:

  • Cry a lot
  • Not settle easily to sleep or only for a short periods of time
  • Cluster feed (i.e. have a series of short feeds close together)
  • Make facial grimaces
  • Got red in the face
  • Arch his back
  • Bend his knees up to his chest

It’s not known exactly why young babies have unsettled periods. It may have something to do with their immature digestive or central nervous system. Because a baby tends to cluster feed during unsettled periods, they may be ‘tanking up’ on higher fat/higher calorie breastmilk to prepare for a longer sleep.

To help a baby settle to sleep during unsettled periods, many parents find carrying their baby in a baby carrier helpful.

For the first couple of weeks, unsettled periods may not be obvious. From about week three however, when babies often start becoming a more wakeful, unsettled periods often become more apparent.

In addition, every now and then throughout a child’s development, they tend to have what is commonly referred to as ‘wonder weeks’. A simple definition of a wonder week is a leap in a child’s mental development, during which time they make more connections in their brain.

Wonder weeks typically occur every few weeks for the first 6 months or so and then typically every few months thereafter into toddlerhood. A wonder week tends to last a few days up to about a week. During a wonder week a baby is typically more irritable, may wake more often at night and may sleep shorter sleeps during the day.

Read BellyBelly’s article: Two Things Proven To Reduce Infant Crying.

#2: Is It Reflux?

Reflux is common and occurs in most healthy babies. It is where contents in your stomach rise up through your oesophagus (the tube connecting your mouth to your stomach) and sometimes out your mouth. Babies tend to experience reflux more than adults because they have a liquid diet, their oesophagus is shorter and they spend a lot of time lying down.

About three quarters of babies experience reflux in the first month. Within the first 2 months, about one quarter of babies experience reflux more than four times each day. Reflux tends to gradually reduce in half of babies during the fifth month. By 12 months, less than one in ten babies still experience reflux.

If reflux is a medical problem, your baby may:

  • Be slow to gain weight
  • Have ongoing breathing problems
  • Refuse to feed or feed ‘constantly’
  • Experience any pain with reflux

#3: Is It Lactose Intolerance?

If a baby has lactose intolerance, it has most likely occurred secondary to something that has irritated his gut.

Lactase (the enzyme that digests lactose) sits on the tips of the tiny folds that line the gut. If the gut is irritated, the tips of the tiny folds can be disrupted and this can reduce the amount of lactase made. Less lactase means that lactose isn’t digested as well and hence a secondary lactose intolerance can occur.

The aim with a secondary lactose intolerance is to find out what caused the gut and fix that.

Signs a baby might have with secondary lactose intolerance include:

  • Green frothy/very liquid poos
  • Irritability (i.e. sleeps little, cries a lot)
  • Is very ‘windy’

#4: Is It Lactose Overload?

Lactose overload is a benign condition that can occur in babies who drink very large volumes of breastmilk because their mother has an oversupply. When a baby has lactose overload, his digestive system has a bit of trouble handling the volume of breastmilk he drinks. Lactose overload most commonly occurs in babies who are under 3 months.

What you see in your baby’s nappies is the biggest clue as to whether your baby has lactose overload. A baby with lactose overload:

  • Many heavy wet nappies (perhaps 10 or more each day)
  • Many poos, often with each breastfeed, which are often explosive, green and frothy. The breastmilk seems to ‘go in one end and out the other’
  • Irritability between feeds. Many mothers say their baby is very ‘gassy’ or ‘windy’
  • Often large weight gains
  • Often spits up quite a bit of breastmilk after feeds
  • Will often drink from one breast only at feeds

Once a mother’s oversupply resolves, her baby’s lactose overload should too.

#5: Is It Due To A Tongue-Tie?

It has been speculated that a baby with a tongue-tie may cause signs of reflux in a baby. This may be because a baby with a tongue-tie may not be able to maintain a good seal while feeding at the breast (or bottle). This could result in the baby swallowing in too much air. If too much air gets to the baby’s stomach, this could result in reflux, stomach bloating and gas.

#6: Is It A Food Sensitivity?

Food sensitivity is a term used to cover food intolerance and food allergy. Food allergy is caused by an overreaction of the immune system to the offending food (often a food protein). Food intolerance does not involve the immune system but is when a person experiences stomach or bowel upsets when the offending food is eaten (commonly food chemicals).

Here are some signs a baby have food sensitivities:

  • Family history of food sensitivity
  • Spits up milk often
  • Cries inconsolably for long periods
  • Sleeps little and wakes suddenly with obvious discomfort
  • Intestinal upsets such as constipation or diarrhoea
  • Poos that contain mucus
  • Poor growth (if the sensitivity is severe)
  • Eczema (if severe, more likely food allergy-associated)
  • Hives
  • Swelling of lips, eyes and/or face *
  • Rash, often around mouth *
  • Breathing troubles (e.g. wheezing) *
  • Frequent runny nose and watery eyes *
  • Bowel motions that are bloodstained *
  • Anaphylaxis *

* associated with food allergy rather than food intolerance

A small percentage of breastfed babies have symptoms of a food sensitivity by reacting to something in their mother’s diet through her milk. However, most of the time, a baby with a food sensitivity does not show any obvious signs of it while being exclusively breastfed. Rather, more obvious signs are shown once the baby eats the offending food(s) directly.

If a breastfed baby has a medically diagnosed food sensitivity (particularly if severe), the mother can keep breastfeeding by avoiding the offending foods in her diet.

For a formula fed baby with a food sensitivity, there are a variety of formulas available. A paediatrician can help work out which one may be best for the individual baby.

If you think your baby may have any of the above conditions, it’s important to speak to a specialist health professional such as a lactation consultant or dietitian. You can also speak to your child health nurse or GP, to ask for a referral.

Recommended Reading: Follow our comprehensive baby week by week series, which will help you understand your baby better. Find out what’s normal for your baby’s age, so you can parent with even more confidence.

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Renee Kam is a mother of two daughters, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.

One comment

  1. My bub (now 9 weeks old) has had a bad tummy pretty much since week 2. It peaked around 4 weeks and this past week hs been horrid. If she’s not sleeping, she’s screaming. We have her lacteeze (enzyme to help with lactose intolerance) & it has made a huge difference. Would this mean she’s lactose intolerant or that she has an overload? If intolerant, when would the damage have been done (I’ve had her on probiotics since week 1)?

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