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5 Ways To Support Your Baby's Digestive System

What every parent needs to know about the baby digestive system and how to approach feedings to manage tummy troubles.

Holding your baby during feedings helps with bonding
Mar 13 2019

Every new parent has seen their fair share of spit-ups, gas and fussiness. It's normal, and while it's not typically a cause for concern, it can be helpful for any parent to know why digestive disturbances like these occur.

Understanding the baby digestive system is helpful to ensuring your child has the best nutrition and health possible, said Tiffany DeWitt, RD, a registered dietitian specializing in infant nutrition for Abbott.

"At birth, the absorptive and digestive capabilities of the gut are still developing," she explained, "and during that time, certain issues might occur," such as spit-ups or gas.

During the first year of life and beyond, gut bacteria plays a key role in keeping a baby's digestive system in tiptop shape. This is important because about 70 percent of the immune system resides in the gut. So, whether your baby is breast or formula fed, making sure your baby is getting gut-nourishing nutrients is important. DeWitt also shares other ways that a new mom can keep her baby's tummy happy and healthy.

Take Frequent Feeding Breaks

"Taking breaks to burp your baby can help get rid of gas that would otherwise cause a feeling of fullness or discomfort," explained DeWitt. She recommends taking a burp break about halfway through each feeding. "For a breastfeeding mom, a good time is when you're switching breasts, or, if you're bottle-feeding, every two to three ounces consumed."

If your baby doesn't burp within a minute or two of your attempt, they probably don't need to burp — go ahead and proceed with the remainder of the feeding.

Related: Is your baby eating enough?        

Give Small Feedings at Regular Intervals

While each baby runs on his or her own tummy time clock, in general, most infants need roughly two to three hours between feeding to allow for digestion. After all, at birth a full-term newborn's stomach can only hold roughly one medicine cup or condiment cup — equaling 2 ounces — of liquid at a time. And a preterm infant might not be able to ingest more than a teaspoon or 5 milliliters of liquid per serving. This will rapidly be changing as your infant quickly grows and requires more nutrition.

"Of course, this can be more as you recognize baby's hunger cues," DeWitt said. "Look for signs of hunger, such as sucking on fists, crying or smacking lips. It's just as important to know signs to suggest your baby has had enough, such as biting or spitting out the nipple, or falling asleep. Understanding these patterns will help you successfully offer the right amount of nutrition, at the right time, to support growth and development."

Provide Nutrients to Support Digestion and Immunity

A healthy gut is the foundation for a healthy immune system so it's crucial that your baby gets the building blocks. There are beneficial bacteria living in the gastrointestinal tract that provide health benefits to babies. Prebiotics provide a food source that helps to support the growth of these good bacteria. An important prebiotic found in breast milk is human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs).

Related Graphic: What are Human Milk Oligosaccharides?

"HMOs are prebiotics that make up about 10 percent of breast milk and feed the bacteria in a baby's large intestine to help support gut health and immune systems," DeWitt explained. "Breast milk is the ideal food for meeting the complete nutritional needs of infants — it's easy to digest and the nutrients are easily absorbed, even by a developing gut."

There are more than 150 different types of HMOs, and the most abundant one in most mother's milk is 2'-FL. Until recently, HMOs have only been found at significant levels in breast milk, but now it's been added to formulas like Similac® —giving parents an infant formula option that provides the immune supporting benefits of 2'-FL HMO. Before making any changes to your baby's diet, Dewitt suggests talking to your pediatrician.

Hold Your Baby Close During Feedings

"The two goals of feeding your child are first, to offer the right amount of energy and nutrients to support growth, and second, to nourish the emotional bond between you and your baby," Dewitt said. "Holding your baby while feeding helps with both goals." She recommends that moms get plenty of one-on-one time with their little ones.

Related: Feeding problems? Try the Tummy Trouble Tool

As you feed and spend time with your baby stay on the lookout for any clues that point to abdominal discomfort. "Signs of constipation in a baby include excessive fussiness; having dramatically fewer bowel movements than before; stool that is unusually hard; or your baby straining to stool, with no success after 10 minutes," she explained.

"Call your doctor if crying persists for an unusual amount of time or if the crying sounds peculiar — such as a shriek of pain."

Give Your Baby a Massage

If burping your baby doesn't help relieve pent-up gas, try a baby massage. Lay your baby on their back and gently push their legs back and forth, as if they're riding a tiny bicycle, to help get the gas moving. Another option is to lay your baby on their stomach with the pressure on their abdomen, which can help to relieve gas.

"To keep her safe, stay with her and make sure she is only on her stomach when she's awake," DeWitt said.

And, as always, before making any dietary changes on your own, call and talk to your pediatrician — especially if your child seems to be spitting-up far too often. They may be able to offer more guidance on how to make changes that are right for a sensitive growing tummy.


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