Seeing your 2-week-old newborn bloated and feeling her hard abdomen can be scary. Usually, however, these symptoms result from stomach sensitivities that most babies outgrow naturally within the first several months of life. Consult your pediatrician before trying different treatments if you doubt the cause of your infant’s abdominal discomfort, or don’t know how to alleviate it.
Colic is a condition that usually surfaces within the first three weeks of life, causing children to regularly cry for longer than three hours a day. Babies with colic are healthy in other regards, and usually naturally outgrow the colic by three months. Although doctors don’t know all causes of colic, they believe that it is linked to stomach sensitivities, including gassiness or allergy. Babies with colic often have a hard abdomen, either because of their stomach difficulties or because they tense their abdominal muscles while crying. If you suspect that your baby’s hard belly is linked to colic, see your pediatrician for a diagnosis and treatment advice.
Babies with lactose intolerance exhibit similar symptoms to babies with colic, including excessive crying and abdominal hardness. If your baby has lactose intolerance, her system either has no lactase, which is the enzyme needed to properly break down and digest lactose, or isn't producing enough of it. The undigested lactose can cause cramping, abdominal swelling, gassiness and irregular bowels, which all contribute to abdominal hardness. Most newborns that have insufficient lactase production outgrow this condition naturally within the first few months of life, as their system develops and increases production. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises mothers to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, so ask whether your pediatrician can give solutions that alleviate your baby’s intolerance without substituting formula for breast milk.
Stomach Flu (Gastroenteritis)
If your baby has a hard abdomen accompanied by fever, vomiting or diarrhea, he might have gastroenteritis, commonly called stomach flu. The flu is usually brought on by a virus or other infection, and will subside within 48 hours or, if more severe, within a week. If your baby’s hard stomach is accompanied by dehydration, frequent vomiting or a fever above 101 degrees Fahrenheit, bring him in to see a doctor immediately to confirm the diagnosis of gastroenteritis and determine what treatment is necessary.
A hard abdomen could be a sign of constipation. Causes of constipation in newborns include bottle feeding instead of breastfeeding and dehydration. The introduction of new food can contribute to constipation in older babies. If your baby has bowel movements less than once a day, passes firm or pebbly stools and cries or strains during a bowel movement, he could be constipated. While home remedies and changes in diet can help older babies and toddlers, Dr. Jay Hoeckner, a Mayo Clinic emeritus consultant, advises parents to contact a physician over constipation in their newborn.