Upset stomach and gas are common causes of fussiness in babies. Parents may struggle to comfort infants who suffer from these and other gastrointestinal symptoms, especially if they can’t tell what’s wrong, or when they don’t know to help their baby feel better. Many home remedies are touted to ease symptoms, although not all are proven effective. But when the culprit is gas or upset stomach, there are some useful strategies and home remedies that can help curb the discomfort -- and the fussiness.
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Infant Tummy Troubles
It’s normal for babies to have gas. Some of this gas is created by intestinal bacteria, but most is from the air infants swallow when they suck, feed or cry. This trapped gas can lead to pain and discomfort -- and uncomfortable, fussy babies who squirm, cry or pull their legs near their chest. A gassy baby may even spit up stomach contents while burping up swallowed air. Most babies also get stomach aches from time to time. Causes include reflux, the backup of stomach contents into the esophagus, or gastroenteritis, often called the stomach flu, which commonly leads to vomiting, fever or diarrhea. Intolerance to components in formula, breast milk or solid foods may also cause some tummy troubles.
Feeding Strategies to Reduce Gas
Since babies tend to swallow air during feeding, it’s important to burp during and after nursing or bottle feeding to allow some of this air to escape from the tummy. If the gas or stomach ache occurs after bottle feeding, help the baby swallow less air by using slow-flow nipples and bottles that are vented, angled or collapsible. If the formula or breast milk itself seems linked to the tummy troubles, contact your baby’s pediatrician for guidance. You may be advised to try a different type of formula, or if breastfeeding, it may be suggested you avoid gas-forming foods, including broccoli or cabbage, or specific allergens, such as nuts or cow’s milk. The introduction of solid foods may be associated with some stomach aches or gas, as the baby's digestive system gets used to new foods. Introduce new foods slowly and in small quantities to assess tolerance. If these symptoms persist, speak with your baby's pediatrician.
Other Ways to Reduce Gas
Helping a baby maneuver her body can also help rid the stomach and intestines of trapped gas. For example, giving your infant tummy time is one way to put pressure on this trapped air and facilitate the burping or passing of gas. Allowing your baby to lay on her back and kick her legs, or giving her a tummy massage may also help. Infant simethicone drops, an common anti-gas remedy which breaks up gas bubbles in the gut, can also be tried, however it’s effectiveness in treating fussy or colicky babies has not been established.
Managing Upset Stomach
If the upset stomach is caused by reflux, prevention is often the most effective strategy. Reflux is aggravated by a full stomach, particularly when the baby lies down right after eating. Feeding the baby small, frequent amounts throughout the day and gently holding your infant upright for about 30 minutes after feeding can minimize reflux symptoms. If the upset stomach is caused by gastroenteritis, it’s important to keep your baby well hydrated. Some parents use a homeopathic remedy called gripe water to treat an upset stomach, although there is no evidence this remedy works. Gripe water products may contain harmful ingredients, and when provided instead of breast milk or formula, can get in the way of providing proper nutrition to baby.
Most babies with an upset stomach or gas will be uncomfortable, but usually don’t need medical attention. However, if your infant has vomiting, diarrhea or is drinking very little or no formula or breast milk, contact your baby's pediatrician right away to avoid serious consequences of dehydration. Let the pediatrician know if your child has ongoing signs of stomach discomfort, and take your baby to the doctor when your baby suffers from forceful vomiting, blood in the stool, or a fever or rash along with stomach pain.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD