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 baby bellies.
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."
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 baby's legs," says Kim Alt, M.D., a pediatrician at Rockford Pediatrics in Rockford, Michigan.
Choose an easy-to-digest formula to make sure 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 recent research suggests that probiotics can be helpful to aid in digestion for fussy infants and are generally considered safe in this context.” We like Similac Pro-Sensitive for babies with fussiness, gas, or mild spit-up. But before you make a change, it's important to discuss the matter with your baby's pediatrician.
If you're breastfeeding, make sure your latch is tight to avoid 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.
Having too much breast milk could cause 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 hind-milk. A lactation consultant can help you get your supply under control.
Babies unlatch when they're done breastfeeding, but with a bottle it's harder to tell. "Your baby's stomach is as big as his 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 baby spits up, Dr. Loizides says you may need to wait until their next normal session before feeding more.
Keeping your baby focused 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."
If one burping position doesn't get the air out, try another. "Laying baby on their tummy on your legs and patting baby's back, holding baby with your hand on their chest just under their neck and leaning baby forward while sitting up, and hugging her with her head over your shoulder are a few different options," Dr. Alt says.
Taking frequent burping breaks while eating 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 she takes in," Dr. Loizides says. "If she's nursing, burp her when she switches breasts."
A bit of warmth can ease the stomach. "A warm towel isn't a bad idea, or a warm bath can sometimes help 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 tight diapers and waistbands, Dr. Loizides suggests.
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 him lie down right away. "It's best to seat baby upright for 20 to 30 minutes to ensure proper digestion," Dr. Montague says.
When you're nursing, your baby is getting what you eat—and dairy is a common culprit for infant stomach issues. "Fruits, green veggies, especially broccoli and Brussels sprouts, and garlic can also make baby uncomfortable," Dr. Alt says. But don't eliminate healthy foods unless you're sure they're a problem.
Hold the bottle so 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.
Besides strengthening Baby's head and neck muscles, chilling on his 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.
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."
Infants' gut bacteria haven’t developed yet, which could cause tummy problems. "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.
If these simple solutions aren't working, call the doctor. "Colic," which is inconsolable crying, might not really have a known cause, says Dr. Loizides, and a pooping problem called dyschezia usually works itself out on its own. But, 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.