A baby’s upset tummy is never any fun — for them or for you.
When you can tell your little one is dealing with stomach pain, you may feel at a loss for how to help. And with their delicate gastrointestinal (GI) tracts, it’s not as if you can have them pop a few antacids to fix the problem.
Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t take action to get your child the relief they need.
Here’s a look at the most common causes of upset stomach in babies, plus what you can do to soothe it away.
Despite being nonverbal, babies are surprisingly effective communicators! Alert parents can spot the signals that a painful tummy is creating distress in their baby.
Watch out for the following signs and symptoms:
- crying more than usual
- spitting up or vomiting
- refusing to eat
- experiencing new or unusual sleep disruptions
- having diarrhea or constipation
- making grimacing faces
- displaying tense body language, like tightening muscles or an inability to be still
Just like with adults, there’s a whole host of issues that could cause your baby to have an upset stomach. While a firm diagnosis may require a doctor’s visit, these are some of the most common reasons babies experience tummy pain.
Plain and simple, the likely culprit behind your infant’s belly pain is gas.
Baby’s brand-new digestive system isn’t always a well-oiled machine, and various factors can cause these troublesome belly bubbles.
Fortunately, though baby’s gas may leave you with some sleepless nights, it isn’t usually harmful.
Early on in your baby’s life, they may seem like a mini poo factory, going “number two” up to 12 times per day. This typically slows down after their first few weeks, then increases again after they’ve started solids.
Parents and caregivers are usually familiar with their own baby’s poop patterns, so take stock: Has your little one been giving you as many dirty diapers as usual? If not, their tummy pain may be from constipation.
It’s always possible that the ingredients in baby’s formula don’t agree with their GI tract. Some babies also experience upset stomach when transitioning from breast milk to formula.
Allergies or sensitivities
A small percentage of children under the age of 5 have food allergies. If your little eater seems to get extra fussy after mealtimes, it could be related to their diet.
Other symptoms of food allergies include:
- swelling of the lips or face
- difficulty breathing
- skin rash
Even if your child doesn’t have an allergy (the symptoms of which are often severe), they may have a sensitivity to certain foods that causes bellyache.
All babies do their fair share of spitting up, but in infants with gastroesophageal reflux disease — aka GERD — spitting up can be accompanied by poor feeding, choking, and (you guessed it) stomach pain.
The reason: Excess acid in the stomach rises into the esophagus, causing an unpleasant burning sensation.
No one can deny breast milk is the ultimate superfood — but if a nursing baby is sensitive to something in your diet, it can spell trouble for their tummy.
Spicy foods, dairy, and caffeine are a few potential contenders that may unsettle baby’s stomach.
The mouth is the gateway to the GI tract, so anything your baby takes orally could ultimately put their tummy in a funk – including medications.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that exclusively or partially breastfed infants and children receive vitamin D supplementation via drops. Some formulations of these vitamin drops include added ingredients that might bother baby’s stomach.
To minimize the chances of tummy probs, look for drops without additives or nonessential ingredients.
Looking for ways to calm baby’s upset belly? These may help.
Bicycle baby’s legs
In this exercise, you’ll preview the training wheel years! To relieve gas pain, gently bicycle your baby’s legs back and forth. This light exercise engages the muscles of the abdomen, which helps gas to make its way out.
Take a look at their diet
If you suspect foods in your baby’s diet are giving them digestive troubles, talk with your doctor or dietitian about the possibility of allergies or sensitivities. They may recommend an elimination diet or clinical testing to get to the bottom of the problem.
Take a look at your diet
We’re all for carne asada and a side of guac, but you might need to hold off on Taco Tuesdays (or other foods that might not sit well with baby) for a while if you feed baby breast milk.
Again, under the guidance of a doctor or dietitian, you can explore whether something in the breastfeeding parent’s diet is transferring through breast milk and irritating baby’s stomach.
Address feeding issues
In addition to the foods a parent eats while nursing, the act of breastfeeding itself can be a hidden cause of your child’s tummy issues.
If the feeding parent struggles with oversupply of milk, your baby could be swallowing too much air as they nurse, leading to excess gas. A visit or two with a lactation consultant might be all it takes to put things right.
Consider a different formula
If you feed baby with formula, you may be able to quell their belly pain by switching the, well, formula of their formula. Numerous formulas are made specifically for babies with sensitive tummies. (Hooray!)
Another alternative: Try using warm water when mixing up baby’s bottle. This can help the formula dissolve without the need for shaking, which can create air bubbles that lead to gas.
Get things moving
The solid foods your older baby eats have serious impact on digestive transit time — for better or for worse.
When constipation strikes, focus on fiber-rich foods at mealtimes and snacks. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes are all great choices.
And don’t forget to step up baby’s hydration to help get things moving!
Switch up your burping strategy
Some babies are awesome burpers — others, not so much. For those kiddos who require a little extra effort to release air, consider adjusting your burping strategy.
Try burping baby mid-feeding or in a different position to prompt bubbles to make their exit. A few good, big belches could make a big difference in their discomfort.
Keep baby upright after feeding
You’ve probably heard the recommendation for adults with GERD to stay upright after eating — and the same principle applies to babies with GERD.
Keeping your baby sitting (or otherwise propped up) following a feeding allows gravity to do its work of taking food down the digestive tract. Avoid letting your little one lie down for about 30 minutes post-feeding.
Sometimes, baby’s stomach pain isn’t from run-of-the-mill gas or constipation. Occasionally, it’s a sign of something more serious.
The following symptoms warrant a call to the pediatrician:
- a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or above
- diarrhea that lasts more than 48 hours
- constipation that lasts more than a few days
- signs of extreme distress, such as nonstop screaming
- extreme fatigue
- a rigid belly
- weight loss
Identifying the source of baby’s tummy troubles isn’t always easy. Until they’re old enough to speak up and tell you exactly what’s wrong, it’s up to you to do some sleuthing.
The right gentle remedies (or possibly a visit to the pediatrician) should get your little one back to their usual healthy, happy self.