For most newborns, one of the hardest parts of adapting to life outside the womb is digestion. Just like the respiratory system, the digestive system suddenly has to get to work soon after birth! This is the second of a 2-part series on infant digestion.
Here are some tools to help your baby feel more comfortable in their body as they adjust to life outside the womb. The first installment focused on how a breastfeeding mother’s diet affects her baby.
While there can be many sources of discomfort in a newborn’s digestive tract, most of them are related to gas that is trapped. Sometimes bubbles of air have been gulped in while feeding, but often the gas is produced in the digestive system itself. If you have a baby that often cries, arches their back and seems uncomfortable, even after burping- or if you have been told that your baby has colic- try these 5 helpful hints!
Don’t overfeed – Although the general rule is to feed newborns every 2-3 hours, if they are gaining weight and generally healthy, they may have sluggish digestion and be more comfortable eating every 3-4 hours. The idea is to give the body time to digest and assimilate one meal before the next is introduced. To learn more about this approach, read acupuncturist Hannah Kim’s article about colic here.
Abdominal massage – All mammal mamas perform some sort of abdominal stimulation on their babies when they are newborns. Why don’t we join the party? Infant massage is something that a lot of new parents have heard of but don’t do regularly. There is no need to go to a class or read a book to get started; just rub your baby’s belly with firm pressure in a clockwise motion with the bellybutton in the center. Alternatively, you can simply lay your hand across your baby’s belly, with your fingertips on one side and your thumb on the other. Use firm pressure as you pull your fingers and thumb together in the center of your baby’s abdomen. Bicycling their legs and pressing their knees into their chest can help too. Do these massages BEFORE feedings, so that the pressure doesn’t make them spit up.
Sucking – Stimulation at either end of the digestive tract can get the whole thing moving, so when your baby seems like they want to nurse, but then reject the breast or bottle, they may be full and just want to suck because they are uncomfortable. Offer your baby your pinky finger to suck on, or a pacifier (if the latch at the breast is well established). Don’t be surprised when the toots start coming out the other end!
Make sure they poop – This is a tricky one as there is a wide variety in how often babies poop and the size of the poo. The way I decide if a baby needs to poo is if I massage their abdomen (see #2) and it feels hard and seems painful to the baby. All of the other suggestions here can help a baby poop, but if you need some serious help, try using a lubricated thermometer, Q-tip, or pinky finger (inserted into the colon 1/2” to ¾”) as an anal stimulant to get the peristalsis pushing out the poo. I prefer food grade coconut oil or olive oil for the lubrication. You can also buy infant-sized glycerin suppositories.
Infant probiotics – Some babies struggle with digestion partially because they don’t have the flora and fauna they need in their gut to properly digest their food. Most babies do really well with infant strains of probiotics. They are available at health food store and online in either liquid or powder form. Some babies get these good bugs from their moms when they descend through the vaginal canal, but babies who are born in the caul or via caesarian need supplementation.
Put these tools in your tool box…. even print this article out and put it on your fridge so that when your baby is crying at 2am, you can see what might be helpful to try.
Let me know how these tools work for you.
Remember that I offer free 15 minute consults if you’d like to chat about your particular circumstances!
Hoping for comfortable baby bellies and happy mamas/papas!