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Gut discomfort: What is it and what to do when your baby has it?

You spend months anticipating the arrival of your little bundle of joy and preparing yourself for your role as a mother, even for the crying and sleepless nights.

You spend months anticipating the arrival of your little bundle of joy and preparing yourself for your role as a mother, even for the crying and sleepless nights. But some babies – as many as 26% – cry a whole lot more than others, leaving new parents stressed and worn out. If your baby is crying inconsolably for no apparent reason – they’re not hungry, wet, tired, too hot, or too cold – they could be experiencing gut discomfort.

WHAT IS GUT DISCOMFORT?

Although there is no medical test to determine whether a baby is experiencing gut discomfort or not, paediatricians often use the “rule of three.” That is episodes of excessive and inconsolable crying for more than three hours a day, three days a week, over a period of three weeks in a row in an otherwise healthy child. Crying is often worse in the evenings, but it can occur at any time of the day. Other indications that your baby could be experiencing gut discomfort include pulling their legs up or kicking their legs excessively while crying, making tight fists, or crying so much that they go red in the face. If your baby is displaying such symptoms, you should speak to your paediatrician to rule out any other possible causes before assuming they have gut discomfort.

Gut discomfort isn’t harmful in itself, but it can take its toll on your family life, affecting relationships and even mental health. However, you will be pleased to hear that it is temporary. While it often peaks at around 6 to 8 weeks, in most cases symptoms subside at about four months, six months at the latest. In this challenging time for new parents, it is important to remember that you should not be afraid to seek help and support.

WHAT CAUSES GUT DISCOMFORT?

Despite being such a common cause of distress for so many parents, there is still no definitive answer to this question. Some doctors consider gut discomfort to be a natural part of your baby’s development, of the digestive system in particular.  In addition, some external factors could worsen symptoms. One is how your baby feeds. If feeding them from the bottle, make sure that they aren’t swallowing too much air – allow the milk to rest after shaking and hold the bottle such that the tip is filled with milk while they feed. If you are breastfeeding, it is equally important to ensure that your baby is latched on properly during feeds. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help with this; it is not always an easy feat!

Secondly, consider what your baby is eating. If your baby is feeding on breast milk, it could be worth looking at your diet as this can affect your breast milk. It could make sense to avoid foods that can cause gas such as legumes, cauliflower, broccoli, or dairy products. Try making small changes to your diet and observing how this affects your little one. If you are using formula, you could speak to your paediatrician about switching to a different kind. However, it is not advisable to change it too often or without consultation as this could put further strain on their digestive system.

WHAT CAN I DO WHEN MY BABY IS EXPERIENCING GUT DISCOMFORT?

While there is no miracle cure, there are some things you can do to help calm your baby and ease symptoms:

  • “The Belly Hold”: laying your little one face down on your forearm with their head in your hand can help to relieve gas. This hold puts light pressure on their tummy, helping to release tension in the abdomen.
  • Tummy rubs: With warm hands, you can hold the palm of your hand over baby’s tummy and then use your index and middle finger to slowly and gently draw clockwise circles on their abdomen. Just a few minutes of massage can provide relief. After feeding, you should wait between 30 minutes and an hour before massaging your baby.
  • Movement: Many babies benefit from movement when experiencing gut discomfort. You can carry the baby around your home, take them for a short drive in the car, or a walk in their stroller – slight, rhythmic movements often help to get a baby off to sleep. Many also praise the benefits of babywearing in a sling or holder. Your baby will draw comfort from being so close to you, and your rhythms (walking, heartbeat, etc.) can have a soothing effect. But don’t forget, every baby and parent is different, so see what works for you and your family.

As the intestinal microflora in babies is still developing, they may also need microbiota supplementation. BioGaia’s tried and tested supplements contain Lactobacillus reuteri Protectis, a bacterium that is naturally found in the microbiota of newborns. Extensive studies have shown to be 100% safe for your baby and without side effects. Tasteless and in droplet form they can be given on a spoon or added to milk or water.

Most importantly, you should not feel alone here. Gut discomfort affects many babies and does not have to mean that your baby is ill or unhappy. If you think your baby might be experiencing gut discomfort, please go to see your paediatrician to rule out any other potential causes and receive help and support.

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