You know the feeling: the downward curl of the mouth, the small beads of sweat on the forehead, the crossing of the arms over your stomach. There is nothing fun when it comes to having an upset tummy.
While there are remedies that we often do for ourselves as adults (bathroom breaks, warm tea, Epsom salt baths, vegging in our PJs and binge-watching Netflix…etc), when it comes to our babies, upset tummies are a little more difficult to diagnose. Because our sweet little angels can’t yet speak, it’s hard for them to communicate they have an upset stomach.
Today, we’re going over symptoms to look out for if your baby has an upset stomach and how to keep your baby’s tummy calm while breastfeeding.
Why is My Baby’s Stomach Upset?
Just like there are a whirlwind of possible causes for an upset stomach in an adult, there are also a few different reasons for an upset stomach in your baby, including gas, reflux, colic, and excess lactose.
One of the most common reasons for upset stomachs in a baby is gas pain. While having gas doesn’t sound devastatingly harmful, because your baby is…well, a baby. Their bodies are still developing. This means that bodily functions that seem relatively simple, like passing gas, are rather difficult to adjust and adapt to.
Gas typically occurs because air is trapped in the infant’s digestive system. If a baby cannot burp or pass the gas, they will have stomach pain. If you have a gassy breastfed baby, a big indication of an upset tummy is crying.
A big indication of an upset tummy due to gas is crying. The rather ironic truth is that the more a baby cries, the more air they intake which can result in even more gas.
Gas is inevitable, but there are things you can do to reduce the amount of air a baby swallows, along with remedies to lessen the pain and promote effective relief.
Possible Causes of Gas When Breastfeeding
Swallowing of Air During Feeding
To remove unnecessary intake of air, there are a few things you can do. If you are bottle feeding, look for an anti-gas bottle. The key for anti-gas bottles are in the construction of the bottle and the nipple.
Finding a nipple that releases enough milk to satisfy the baby, but is also slow to release will pace the baby and reduce air consumption. Finding a bottle that is vented or angled can also help reduce infant gas by reducing the amount of air a baby swallows during feeding.
If you are breastfeeding, adjust the way you hold your baby. Sometimes the way you position your baby while nursing can positively affect the way he or she consumes. Sources say holding your infant at an incline, with their mouth above their stomach, can aid in proper digestion.
You can also try giving your baby a belly massage to help facilitate the removal of gas. 30 minutes after feeding, massage your baby’s tummy by using two fingers and apply gentle pressure directly underneath the baby’s belly button.
Other massage techniques include “drawing” circles with your fingers around your baby’s belly button and circling their legs in the air. The ultimate goal is to help regulate consistent gas relief so performing a belly massage a few times a day will offer the best results.
The Mother’s Diet
Although your baby may not be directly eating niblets of food just yet, the food you consume can alter your breastmilk. Depending on your baby, different types of foods can affect their stomach.
Take note of what you eat during the day and whether or not your baby’s symptoms of upset stomach increases. While there is no research that has shown that certain foods cause more gas in babies, it is still important to note if you eat anything that consistently causes a reaction in your baby.
Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Maternal/Child Health Specialist at Crystal Karges Nutrition, shared her thoughts with us:
It's also important to be aware of any medications, supplements, or substances that you might be taking, which can potentially have an impact on your breastfeeding baby. For example, caffeine, which is present in coffee, teas, colas, energy drinks and certain medications, can pass into your breast milk and may trigger an upset tummy in your baby.
Newborns seem to be especially sensitive to caffeine, which can irritate their tummies or make them irritable. The same could be true of other substances you may be ingesting that will transfer small amounts into your breast milk, including alcohol, herbal preparations, and homeopathic products.
If you're unsure about a substance you're consuming while breastfeeding and the impact it may have on your baby, check in with your doctor about it.
In some situations, your baby may be unable to tolerate certain foods that you're eating, which can make digestion harder and trigger an upset tummy as well. Some of the most common food intolerances in a breastfeeding baby include dairy, soy and eggs.
If you suspect that your baby may be intolerant to these foods which are passing into your breastmilk, talk to your pediatrician about your concerns. Your doctor can run some more definitive tests to help isolate potential food intolerances, which you can then temporarily avoid in your diet while breastfeeding.
Avoid eliminating food groups in your diet without direction from a physician or dietitian so that you can continue to adequately meet your own postpartum nutritional needs. In the event that your baby does have a food intolerance, it will likely be temporary, as most babies will outgrow food intolerances after a period of time.
Having poor latch can also cause an increased amount of air consumed while breastfeeding.
Adjust positions and try re-latching in order for your baby to properly latch onto your breast and feed.
If you are still having trouble, consider reaching out to lactation consultants or an IBCLC to rule out structural issues, like possible tongue tie that could be inhibiting a deep, optimal latch.
While it is common for babies to spit up after feeding, if you have noticed your baby frequently spits up and seems to have a stomachache, it could be a result of having reflux. Reflux stems from an improper functioning between the baby’s stomach and esophagus. Because of this, a buildup of gastric acid occurs and prompts the baby to spit up.
Some babies have true acid reflux, while some babies will have these symptoms because of food sensitivities and/or latch issues. We now know that reflux in babies has been over diagnosed and the medications prescribed can have long term consequences. Some of the medications used for reflux have recently been recalled and are no longer prescribed.
Meeting with an IBCLC can help with bottle fed and breastfed babies, as they are the experts in infant feeding.
To calm your baby’s tummy as a result of reflux, make sure you keep your little angel sitting upright for half an hour after feeding. Laying down right after a feeding can make it more difficult for your baby to digest.
If your child’s crib allows it, you can try adjusting it so the head of the crib is higher than the rear, allowing your baby to sleep at a small incline and making sure food is traveling downwards in the digestive system.
Colic in babies is most traditionally identified by excessive crying lasting for hours at a time. While there is not a single issue known for being the cause of colic in infants, one irritant that can be the root cause of colic in babies is excess gas in the system.
It is important to note that Colic is a symptom, not a diagnosis. Finding the root cause of the symptoms is possible and important. Because we’ve already discussed the treatment of gas, we’ll focus on other factors that can increase colic in babies.
Not Breastfeeding Often Enough
The best way to have a baby gain weight and get milk that is gentle on their stomach is to breastfeed more often. Fat content is determined by the emptiness of the breast. Fat molecules stick to the sides of the milk ducts, so a breast massage and gentle compression before and during a feed can help get the baby more milk.
Feeding Too Quickly
Your baby’s stomach may be upset if you have an overactive letdown reflex. After beginning to feed, a baby may cough or choke as a result of drinking too much breastmilk too quickly. Although they may struggle and become irritable after coughing or choking, they’ll try to feed at the breast again only to receive the same result.
Lying on your side may slow down the flow of milk and allow your baby to feed at a normal pace. If you are waiting too long to feed your baby and they are irritable and starving, they will nearly ‘attack’ the breast.
Feeding your baby while they are calm and half asleep may slow down their feeding and help them consume at a more leisurely pace. Setting a consistent schedule for feedings can also help regulate your baby’s hunger and your body’s production of milk.
If your baby has difficulty managing the flow of your breastmilk after the first few weeks of life, seeing lactation consultants or an IBCLC can help rule out latch issues. Babies can handle a fast flow of milk if they have full oral function.
Consider Consulting with an IBCLC
If you are breastfeeding, see an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), to confirm that you baby has a good latch, and a complete seal. An experienced lactation consultant can go over breastfeeding latch, positions, and even assist in gut healing and food sensitivities
New parents can check with their insurance to see what their benefits include for lactation support. Some IBCLCs are in-network with some insurance companies, while others like are not in-network but do provide superbill receipt that can be filed for reimbursement.
For complex lactation issues there are IBCLCs that have advanced training.
Look into www.IBCLCmasterclass.com for a list of skilled IBCLCs.
Remedies to Calm Your Baby’s Upset Tummy
After feeding, it is vital that you burp your baby to help relieve the buildup of gas. Alter your burping positions and take a mental note of which positions your baby responds best to. Positions such as the “over the shoulder” “over the knee” or “knee bouncing” are all effective positions to apply.
If your baby has tummy problems, give your infant a warm bath. The warm water will soothe and calm your baby’s tummy. Make sure to keep your baby’s belly warm by placing a small washcloth on their stomach and pour warm water over it occasionally.
If your little one has a buildup of gas, they are most likely feeling uncomfortable and the desire to move around to work through the pain. If you lay your baby on its back and move each of their legs in the motion as if they were riding a bicycle, this could help your baby pass gas. It gets the tummy moving, which can help the gas move through the body and stop the buildup. Keep in mind to do this gently, and not too fast.
Similar to the tip above, if your baby is experiencing gas pains you want to get them moving to help stop that buildup. Place you fingers lightly on your baby’s tummy and apply gentle pressure while moving them around in a circular motion. This will help breakup the gas pain and even help to relax your little one. This a good thing to do when you’re trying to get baby to sleep as well and they’re wanting to be soothed.
Be Mindful of What You Eat
If you’re breastfeeding, sometimes foods you consume can pass through your breastmilk and upset baby’s tummy. It’s not uncommon for moms to have a gassy baby after eating spicy or garlicky food and then breastfeeding. Once you identify what foods may be causing tummy pains for baby, you can learn to adjust your eating to avoid upsetting the baby’s tummy.
Tummy time isn’t just for strengthening neck and head muscles, it can also be used to help relieve baby’s upset tummy too! Having your little one do tummy time, puts pressure on their tummy and can help them pass gas as well.
Talking to a Doctor
Stomach aches aren't uncommon in newborns and most of the time, the symptoms can be remedied at home. However, if your baby is experiencing significant symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, fever, or inconsolable crying, take your baby to the doctor to rule out any more serious problems, such as an immature digestive tract.
Frequently Asked Questions about Keeping Your Baby's Tummy Calm
With all of these tips, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed or wondering what to try first. Here are answers to our most common questions!
How to get rid of baby gas fast?
Whether you have a gassy breastfed baby or bottles are to blame, you’re probably itching to relieve your baby’s pain as fast as possible. The tips above can all contribute to less gas build up and quicker relief, but our first tip is to really try and slow the feeding flow. Refer to our tips above regarding lying on your side (if breastfeeding) to help slow the flow, or using anti-gas bottles.
What should I do if my diet is to blame?
If you suspect that a certain food or foods may be causing your baby to have excess gas, try eliminating them from your diet for a certain period of time and pay attention to your baby’s response. If you think a couple of foods could be the culprits, you could try eliminating them one at a time to determine what’s really causing the issue. Keep a baby journal or a note in your phone where you can track what you’ve eaten and how your baby has handled it.
Is formula causing the issue?
Lots of bubbles wind up in formula when you mix it with liquid. It’s best to let the bubbles dissipate before giving it to your baby by letting it sit for a few minutes before feeding. If this combined with an anti-gas bottle doesn’t help, consider switching your formula of choice to a gas-friendly formula.
If you're looking for more information on breastfeeding and motherhood, check out these free resources and blog posts:
Amey Fields, founder of AZ Breastfed Babies, has 18 years of experience as a Labor and Delivery Nurse and 8 years of experience as a Lactation Consultant. She offers both in person and virtual breastfeeding and newborn care consultations.