Abdominal distention in infants can be result from normal causes and from various health conditions. One cause of abdominal distention that occurs quite frequently in infants and does not indicate a health problem is swallowing excess air. This is most likely to occur during feeding or crying and could result in a distended abdomen. Colic might also result in abdominal distention. More serious causes of abdominal distention need to be diagnosed by a doctor.
When an infant has gas, his abdomen can become distended and he might cry, burp, pass gas or experience abdominal cramps. You can naturally relieve his gas symptoms by burping him for 2 to 3 minutes. If he doesn't burp in this amount of time, he doesn't need to and you can return to feeding or give him a warm bath if he is still crying. A warm bath helps your baby relax and the warmth might help him release the gas in his bowels, relieving him of his distended abdomen.
Another cause of abdominal distention which is very related to infant gas is colic. According to Dr. Alan Greene, about 20 percent of infants experience colic, a period of crying and fussiness that usually lasts for more than three hours each day. Colic can start when your baby is about 3 weeks of age and is most intense between 4 and 6 weeks of age; your baby will typically be colic-free after 12 weeks. The exact cause remains unknown as of 2011, but may be related to intestinal gas or abdominal discomfort due to allergies or overfeeding. Different babies respond to different comfort measures during episodes of colic. For example, some like to be swaddled, while others like to suck on something like a pacifier. A colicky baby also likes to be held; be sure to hold her in an upright position to help her expel gas. Talk to her pediatrician for advice on handling colic.
Abdominal distention in an infant may occasionally be related to a medical problem. Intestinal problems that can cause abdominal distention vary and can include obstruction, malabsorption or various infections. Other organs that may be involved in abdominal distention include the liver, heart, kidneys and spleen.
If your infant's abdomen is distended, take him to his pediatrician, particularly if it is a new condition and he cries a lot. Abdominal distention may be nothing serious, but you will feel more comfortable having him evaluated by his doctor.