Common baby health complaints

There are a number of minor ailments that can affect young babies. While most of them are easily treatable, they can still be a bit worrying for new parents. Here’s a helpful guide to the most common baby health concerns.

Unsettled babies and colic

Many young babies have a period during the day when they are unsettled and cry with discomfort – but don’t appear to be hungry. This is often referred to as colic, and commonly occurs in the late afternoon and evening. Babies usually grow out of it by about the age of five months.

Because the causes of colic are unknown it can be difficult to treat and often just soothing, comforting and massaging your baby can help. For more tips on helping your baby through this difficult time, take a look at our section on colic .

Posseting

Posseting is seen in most young babies. A small amount of milk from their stomach regurgitates back up into their mouth. It doesn’t have any harmful effects and babies with mild posseting will gain weight, thrive normally, and eventually grow out of it.

Vomiting

When your baby vomits, large amounts of milk will come up. This may be because of overfeeding, or an infection. If your baby projectile vomits you should seek advice from your healthcare professional.

Reflux or gastro-oesophageal reflux

If your baby has reflux, the stomach contents will come up into the windpipe, but not always into the mouth. This will cause discomfort, but you may not realise that it’s reflux causing the problem.

More severe reflux/regurgitation is called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and can lead to screaming episodes in your baby. GERD usually resolves with time, but does continue throughout your baby’s first year and beyond in some children.

Smaller feeds more frequently throughout the day can help with GERD, so try smaller feeds every three hours rather than feeding every four hours. In breastfed babies better positioning and attachment may help improve GERD.

Your healthcare professional may suggest a thicker feed if your baby is taking formula milk, may prescribe a mild anti-reflux medicine.

GERD can sometimes be caused by intolerance to cows’ milk protein and a paediatrician may consider trialling a milk protein-free diet.

Diarrhoea and gastro-enteritis

Diarrhoea is common in babies, especially babies who are experiencing pain during teething.

Tummy bugs

The tummy bug gastro-enteritis is caused by either a bacterial or viral infection. It is seen more often in formula fed babies, as there is more chance of bacterial contamination when their feeds are being made up. Babies under six months are particularly vulnerable to gastro-enteritis and dehydration and may require hospital admission.

Gastro-enteritis is rare in babies who are exclusively breastfed, but if they do contract it, it is important that breastfeeding is continued, as they may become dehydrated. Severe cases may require the addition of oral rehydration fluids.

Continued diarrhoea after acute gastro-enteritis may be linked with a temporary intolerance to lactose. Breastfeeding should continue but formula-fed infants can change to a lactose-free milk formula. Advice on excluding foods containing milk and lactose would be needed for babies who are being weaned. This should only be undertaken under the supervision of a medical practitioner and following the advice from a dietician.

Constipation

Constipation is defined as difficulty, delay or pain on defecation (passing stools).

In the first three to four months babies should pass frequent, loose, bright yellow stools, at least two to three times a day. From three to four months, stools will become less frequent and it’s not unusual for a baby to go several days without a bowel movement. As long as the baby is well and happy, there’s no need to worry. After the introduction of solid food, stools may change in frequency and colour.

Constipation is rare in breastfed babies, but if your baby is constipated they may not be getting enough milk because of poor attachment or positioning. Check with your midwife or health visitor to see that your baby is positioned properly and that they are able to attach when breastfeeding.

Constipation is a more frequent problem in formula-fed babies. Babies changing from breast milk to formula often develop constipation. One cause may be the calcium salts in the formula that can harden stools in some babies. Other causes may be:

  • Over concentration of the formula
  • Inadequate fluid intake, including under-feeding
  • Cows’ milk protein intolerance

Managing constipation in formula fed babies

  • Make sure your baby is getting enough food
  • Check the formula is being made up according to the manufacturer’s instructions
  • A change from casein dominant (number 2 milk) to whey dominant (number 1 milk) formula may help
  • Change to a modified formula for minor digestive problems – the fats in these formulas are different
  • Additional drinks of cooled boiled water should be offered in hot weather
  • If your child is being weaned then make sure they’re eating a balanced weaning diet, including fruit, vegetables and cereals, such as porridge, Weetabix and Shreddie – bran should not be given to babies
  • Always offer a drink with meals

If constipation continues, consult your healthcare professional.

Faltering Growth

If your baby is not drinking enough milk they won’t grow as expected. Babies lose weight in the first few days of life but should have regained it by 10 to 14 days.

Breastfed and formula fed infants have slightly different growth patterns during the first year of life. Breastfed infants grow more quickly in the first three to four months and then grow more slowly from about five months when compared with formula fed infants.

Babies should not be weighed more frequently than every two weeks, as shorter intervals are not necessarily indicative of accurate weight gain or loss.

Signs of faltering growth are:

  • Poor and erratic weight gain or no weight gain
  • Your baby is apathetic and cries weakly
  • Poor muscle tone and skin distension
  • Concentrated urine, a few times a day
  • Infrequent bowel movements
  • Fewer than eight short breastfeeds a day

Managing faltering growth in breastfed babies

  • Your baby should feed at least eight times in 24 hours (including at night)
  • You should feed your baby until they come off the breast spontaneously. If they’re sleepy a nappy change may help to rouse them and they can then be fed on the second breast
  • You should have skin-to-skin contact with your baby as often as possible
  • Try expressing milk from your breasts once your baby has finished feeding – if you completely empty your breast, more milk will be produced for the next feed
  • Different positions for feeding, such as underarm, or lying down may help your baby to feed more efficiently
  • If your baby is sleepy or reluctant to feed, you may need to express your milk for a while and feed your breast milk by cup or bottle, until your baby is passing frequent yellow stools and is more alert – you can then feel free to re-introduce to the breast
  • Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet and drinking enough
  • Try to stay as calm as you can, as stress or anxiety can reduce your milk production

Managing faltering growth in formula fed babies:

  • Make sure the appropriate formula is being used and that you’re making it up correctly
  • Make sure the size of the teat on your baby’s bottle is appropriate

If your baby was premature you should continue to use a pre-term formula or high-energy formula as directed by your paediatrician or dietician.

Please be aware that the information given in these articles is only intended as general advice and should in no way be taken as a substitute for professional medical advice. If you or your family or your child is suffering from symptoms or conditions which are severe or persistent or you need specific medical advice, please seek professional medical assistance. Philips AVENT cannot be held responsible for any damages that result from the use of the information provided on this website.

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