Have you had the surprising experience of hearing the sound of liquid sloshing around baby’s tummy?
You are bouncing your baby on your knee or your toddler is jumping around … and you could swear you hear a pool of liquid sloshing about in there.
What is this, and should you worry?
Read on to learn more about your baby’s normal digestive process, and what causes the sound of liquid sloshing around baby’s tummy.
Your baby’s digestive system
Eating and digesting food are new experiences for your newborn baby.
During pregnancy, nutrients and oxygen pass through the umbilical cord from your placenta to your baby directly.
After birth, your baby needs to eat and process breast milk or formula to meet nutritional needs.
While in the womb, your baby swallows and pees out amniotic fluid. It sounds gross but it helps to form the gastrointestinal tract and also gives your baby a taste of the food you ate.
Studies show what you eat during your pregnancy even influences your baby’s food preferences.
Swallowing amniotic fluid also creates what becomes your baby’s first poo – the sticky meconium a newborn passes over the first few days of life.
Colostrum – the thick, yellow substance that precedes breast milk in the first few days after birth, has a laxative effect. This helps move the meconium through the bowels and excrete excess bilirubin, to prevent jaundice.
Colostrum and breast milk also contribute to a healthy microbiome by colonising your baby’s gut with helpful bacteria.
Within moments of birth, your baby breathes air into his lungs. He also swallows air into his stomach, and the air then moves down through the bowels and intestines.
Why does my newborn’s stomach make noises?
The noises a newborn baby’s tummy makes can be a little alarming for new parents. Gurgles, grumbles and sloshing liquid sounds can seem loud, coming from such a little body.
Usually, what you hear is not actually coming from the stomach. They are just the normal sounds of your baby’s lower digestive system functioning – a sign everything is working properly in there.
Your doctor or midwife will listen to your baby’s tummy during the first newborn exam and at follow-up pediatrician visits.
They are listening for bowel sounds in all four areas of the abdomen. These sounds begin about 15 minutes after birth as air enters the gastrointestinal tract for the first time.
Is it normal to hear baby’s stomach gurgling while feeding?
When you’re feeding your baby, often in the dead of night, sounds are amplified. But even during the day, with a noisy toddler nearby or the radio on, you can still hear your baby’s stomach gurgling during feeding.
Gurgling sounds are simply the movement of food or liquid moving through the intestines. They are the normal sounds of your baby’s gastrointestinal system working.
In between feeds, you’re likely to hear gurgling or tinkling sounds every 15-20 seconds.
I can hear liquid sloshing around baby’s tummy
If you notice the sound of liquid sloshing around baby’s tummy and feel really worried, you’re not alone. Many new parents hear this noise and worry there’s something wrong.
We’ve all experienced the ‘growling’ and ‘rumbling’ in our stomachs when we’re hungry.
This rumbling sound happens when the stomach is empty, starts to contract, and moves air around.
When you can hear liquid sloshing around baby’s tummy, think of a bottle of water that isn’t full to the top but has some air in it. You can hear that water sloshing around as it moves. It’s the same with baby’s tummy.
Tummies are noisiest right before and right after eating.
Other causes of tummy noises in babies
All the variations of tummy noises already mentioned are completely normal. If your baby shows signs of distress or pain, however, there could be something else contributing to tummy noises.
Most often this is due to swallowing excess air. We often refer to this as being ‘gassy’.
Reasons a baby might be gassy:
- Overactive letdown from the breast
- Bottle feeding with a fast flow nipple
- Excess crying
- In need of improved gut flora, after taking antibiotics
- Allergy to something in formula or breast milk
- Needs help to relieve gas or burp.
Overactive letdown and gas
Some breastfeeding mums have a forceful flow of milk at the time of letdown; this happens at the beginning of a feed.
It can cause babies to gulp and sputter as they try to keep up with the fast flow. Gulping can cause them to swallow more air, which leads to gas and tummy upset.
Strategies to deal with overactive letdown include:
- Getting a good latch
- Using laid-back nursing positions
- Nursing more often
- Burping your baby after every feeding
- ‘Catching’ the fast letdown milk.
Read more details in Overactive Letdown – 6 Tips To Manage It.
Bottle feeding and gas
Many bottles have a nipple opening that’s larger and allows breastmilk or formula to flow too quickly. This causes gulping and excess swallowing of air during feeds.
Be sure to use a bottle with a ‘slow-flow’ nipple. This allows the baby to work his mouth and jaw muscles appropriately, while decreasing the amount of air swallowed.
Paced bottle feeding allows your baby to bottle feed with less risk of getting too much air and also has other benefits.
Read more about paced bottle feeding and more in Bottle Nursing-6 Steps To Better Bottle Feeding.
Excess crying and gas
Your baby might be crying because of gas pain. He then swallows more air, which leads to more gas: what a vicious cycle!
Crying happens for many reasons. Responding promptly to soothe your baby reduces the length of crying episodes.
If you think your baby is crying because of gas pain, read on for some ideas about how to bring your baby relief.
Antibiotics, decreased gut flora and gas
If your baby has been on antibiotics for any reason, or if you received antibiotics during labour, your baby might need to replenish helpful bacteria in the gut.
Breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact are the first ways of keeping your baby’s microbiome healthy.
Many formulas include probiotics.
Allergies and gas
Most breastfeeding parents can continue to eat a variety of foods without affecting their baby’s digestion.
If your baby has other signs of food allergies, along with fussiness, with guidance from your healthcare provider you could try eliminating things from your diet to see if it helps.
Signs of food intolerance include:
- Eczema or rashes
- Blood or mucous in stools
- Congestion or a wheezing cough
- Family history of food allergies.
Your baby might also be sensitive to an ingredient in the formula.
Contact your healthcare provider to solve problems possibly related to allergies.
Tongue-tie and gas
Babies with an oral restriction, such as a tongue-tie, might swallow more air as they work to move milk from a breast or bottle.
Read Tongue Tie-9 Facts You Need To Know for more information.
Always consult with a certified lactation consultant for a thorough assessment.
How do I know if my baby has gas?
Many parents hear about crying babies having gas and wonder whether there are other signs to look for.
Babies sometimes go through stages of crying for no apparent reason, so other signs of gas to watch for include:
- Arched back
- Straining to pass gas or have a bowel movement
- Lifting the legs
- Swollen stomach
- High pitched “eh, eh” vocalisations
- Squirming and fidgeting
- Spitting up after each feeding
- Fussiness when they aren’t hungry or tired.
How can I relieve my baby’s gas?
Here are some things you can try to help your baby feel better:
- Hold him in positions that put gentle pressure on the belly, such as over your shoulder or in a ‘football hold’
- Pat him firmly on the back
- Burp him more often, between switching sides and after every feeding
- Lay him on his back and ‘bicycle’ the legs up toward the tummy
- Wear your baby while you move around
- Try infant massage on the tummy
- Give it time and patience!
What about reflux and tummy noises?
Most babies experience some episodes of reflux, when the stomach contents come up into the esophagus. This is usually normal and doesn’t require medications or strategies other than the ones mentioned above.
As midwife and IBCLC Emilia Smith says:
“Often what parents think is reflux, is actually just a normal baby reaction to position at the breast, or a forceful letdown. When this is the case there are a variety of things to try to improve the feeding experience”.
Consult a certified lactation consultant or your pediatrician if your baby doesn’t get relief from these things or if tummy noises seem abnormal to you.