17 Ways to Soothe Your Baby's Upset Stomach

Do you have a fussy baby? We asked pediatricians how to deal with everything from gas to constipation.

Mother massaging belly of baby boy
Photo: Tetra Images/Getty Images

Who knew a tiny tummy could have so many problems? You want your little one to feel comfortable, so here are expert-recommended tips for soothing your baby's upset stomach.

1. Try a Baby Massage

Your baby's digestive system is still very immature, but you can help move things along. "Infant massage is an exceptional and natural way to resolve abdominal discomfort," says Anthony M. Loizides, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist at The Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York City.

"A 15-minute protocol of moderate pressure massage—moving the skin—used several times on the face, abdomen, and limbs seems to be quite helpful. Massage is beneficial in infants that otherwise appear to be healthy, are growing, and in whom massage is not contraindicated by the pediatrician."

2. Bicycle Their Legs to Remove Gas

Another external technique to try is baby leg exercises. "Maneuvers you can do to help them pass gas include bending the legs and bringing knees to tummy, and bicycling the baby's legs," says Kim Alt, M.D., a pediatrician at Rockford Pediatrics in Rockford, Michigan.

The simple motion can help gas trapped in the intestines find its way out and hopefully relieve your little one's upset tummy.

3. Find the Right Formula

If your baby is formula-fed, try an easy-to-digest option to ensure it won't upset your baby's tummy. "For babies with gassy tummies, hard or pasty stools, or digestive upset with formula, it may be helpful to try a formula that has the milk proteins partially broken down already, which for some babies can make them easier to digest," suggests Amy Lynn Stockhausen, M.D., an associate professor of general pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

"These are often labeled as 'gentle,' and often also contain less lactose than regular formulas. For some babies, it may also be useful to look for a formula that contains probiotics, as some research suggests that probiotics can be helpful to aid in digestion for fussy infants and are generally considered safe in this context." Before you make these changes, however, it's important to discuss the matter with your baby's pediatrician.

4. Check Their Latch

Whether you're bottle-feeding or breastfeeding, make sure your baby's latch is tight to avoid excess air getting in. "Contact a lactation consultant to adjust latch and determine if tongue tie is an issue," recommends Janice Montague, M.D., director of pediatrics at Good Samaritan Hospital, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network in Suffern, New York.

Some signs of a good latch include:

  • You feel a pulling sensation on your nipple.
  • Your baby exhales after sucking.
  • Your baby is visibly swallowing.
  • Your baby's lips are flayed out and not tucked in.

5. Check for Oversupply, Too

Having too much breast milk or an overactive letdown can also trigger gassiness. "Oversupply can cause the baby to overfeed or swallow too much air, causing an upset belly," Dr. Montague says. Make sure you're emptying one breast fully before switching sides so baby gets all of the stomach-soothing hindmilk. A lactation consultant can help you get your supply under control.

6. Don't Overfeed

Babies unlatch when they're done breastfeeding, but with a bottle, it can be harder to tell. "Your baby's stomach is as big as their fist, so only give small amounts at a time," Dr. Montague says. "I'd rather a baby eat a small amount every two hours than large amounts every four." If your baby spits up, Dr. Loizides says you may need to wait until their next normal session before feeding more.

7. Avoid Distractions During Feeding

Keeping your baby focused during feedings can help prevent tummy troubles, Dr. Loizides says. "Avoid interruptions, sudden noises, bright lights, and other distractions, and make each feeding calm, quiet, and leisurely."

Creating a routine of feeding times can help keep your baby focused on nursing. Some studies suggest that babies fed on a routine measure more favorably on wellbeing scores.

8. Burp in Different Positions

If one burping position doesn't do the trick, try another. "Laying your baby on their tummy on your legs and patting their back, holding your baby with a hand on their chest just under their neck and leaning them forward while sitting up, and hugging their head over your shoulder are a few different options," Dr. Alt says.

9. Burp Partway Through a Feeding

Taking frequent burping breaks while feeding can help digestion. "Burping the bottle-fed baby at least every three to five minutes, or after every two to three ounces, will slow your baby's gulping and reduce the amount of air they take in," Dr. Loizides says. "If your baby is nursing, burp them when they switch breasts."

10. Try a Warm Bath or Towel

A bit of warmth can ease your baby's upset stomach. "A warm towel isn't a bad idea, or a warm bath can sometimes help your baby relax and move their bowels as well," Dr. Alt says. "Just make sure they aren't too hot!" Also, keep your baby comfy by avoiding diapers and waistbands that are too tight, Dr. Loizides suggests.

11. Keep Your Baby Upright

Let gravity do its thing by feeding at an angle. "Avoid feeding while the infant is lying down," Dr. Loizides says. If you're breastfeeding, try an upright football or laid-back hold. After your baby eats, don't have them lie down right away. "It's best to seat baby upright for 20 to 30 minutes to ensure proper digestion," Dr. Montague says.

12. Pay Attention to Your Diet

When you're nursing, your baby is getting what you eat—and dairy is a common culprit for a baby's upset stomach. "Fruits, green veggies, especially broccoli and Brussels sprouts, and garlic can also make a baby uncomfortable," Dr. Alt says. But don't eliminate healthy foods unless you're sure they're a problem.

13. Choose the Right Bottle

Hold the bottle so that the milk or formula completely fills the nipple to reduce excess air. Also, "try switching to a bottle that limits how much air the baby gets, like a Dr. Brown's bottle," Dr. Alt says.

You might also consider switching out the bottler nipple for one with a slower flow. If the flow of the milk from the bottle nipple is too fast, your baby may be forced to gulp and take in excess air while feeding.

14. Do Some Tummy Time

Besides strengthening your baby's head and neck muscles, chilling on their tummy puts pressure on the stomach. "Tummy time has a lot of benefits for babies, and one is helping to move gas along," Dr. Alt says.

15. Switch Up Solids

New solids can be a bit of a shock to your baby's tummy. "Some babies will get a little constipated," Dr. Alt says. "If this happens, avoid rice cereal—try oatmeal instead—and bananas, as these can be constipating. Pureed fruits, especially pureed prunes, can help keep things moving."

16. Add Probiotics

Infants' gut bacteria haven't fully developed yet, which could cause an upset stomach. "I often add a probiotic approved for children, especially in breastfed infants—some formulas contain a prebiotic or probiotic already," Dr. Montague says. "Studies have shown occasionally babies have a predominance of one bacterium in their guts as opposed to a more diverse bioflora." Infant probiotics come in drops or powder form. Ask your baby's pediatrician before trying this option.

17. Know When to Call the Doctor

If these simple solutions for your baby's upset stomach aren't working, call the doctor. Colic, which is characterized by excessive inconsolable crying, might not really have a known cause, says Dr. Loizides, and some constipation might work itself out on its own. However, he says to watch out for concerning symptoms like pain during or after feeding, persistent food refusal, vomiting blood or green or yellow fluid, poor growth, breathing problems, or choking.

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