One of the biggest concerns mums have about their babies is digestion. If you notice your baby experiencing constipation, diarrhoea, flatulence and other issues related to his/her bowel movement at the age of 1 onwards, this has to do with digestive health. Here are five things you need to know about baby digestion so you can help ease his/her discomfort and make bowel movements more regular.
Baby Digestion Tip #1: Check for consistency, in addition to frequency
Many moms make the mistake of counting how many times their baby passes stool in a day to determine if they are suffering from constipation, diarrhoea or other baby digestion problems. However, this is a common misconception. To know if your baby is suffering from constipation or diarrhoea, you need to look at a combination of the color and consistency of the stool1, along with the frequency. Even if your baby only passes stool once a day, and if his/her stool is too hard, then he/she is constipated. If it is too watery, then they are likely suffering baby digestion issues such as diarrhoea. Your baby has normal bowel movement if their excrement is soft, easy to pass and does not require too much force1.
Baby Digestion Tip #2: Stretching does not cause diarrhoea
It’s a common misconception to think that the rapid growth of a 1 year old is responsible for diarrhoea or influencing baby digestion. Additionally, your baby’s activities—learning how to lay on their stomach, sit, and for older children standing up and walking won’t cause bowel movement issues.
If your baby has diarrhoea during this time, it can be a sign of intestinal infection. This may be possible due to being able to reach and touch different things and putting these in their mouths. This could lead to the ingestion of germs and pathogens that cause stomach and digestion issues. It is thus important to clean everything around your baby at this stage.
Another possible cause of diarrhoea is a change in diet. As food intolerances and/or allergies can cause diarrhoea, it is important to observe what changes have been made to the food and drink introduced to monitor baby digestion. It is also this important to introduce only one new food or drink at any one time, so that the cause of the intolerance or allergy can be more easily identified.
It is important to look out for signs such as less wet diapers and lethargy, where this may warrant consulting a healthcare provider.
Baby Digestion Tip #3: Passing gas is normal
If you notice that your baby is passing gas or burping a lot, don’t be alarmed. Where baby digestion is concerned, it’s completely normal for toddlers to have gas. Common causes of gas and bloating in babies include the following2:
Swallowed air: Swallowed air while drinking and eating makes its way through a baby’s digestive system and is released through the anus as gas. Excessive swallowing of air can cause hiccups.
Varying food and beverages: Different solid foods and drinks contain varying gas levels, and changes in a baby’s diet can cause the onset of gas.
Lactose intolerance: Babies who cannot easily digest lactose (natural sugar found in dairy products) can experience gas and bloating.
So the next time you see your baby passing bubbles, know that it’s a perfectly normal part of baby digestion for a child above the age of 1 year. It will go away as your baby’s digestive system continues to develop and produce more gastric juice.
Baby Digestion Tip #4: Turning red while defecating does not mean pain
Do you notice your baby turning red whenever they pass a stool? That’s not necessarily a bad thing or a baby digestion problem. Since they do not know yet how to push gradually while defecating, they tend to strain excessively. This causes the redness in their face. You can help by massaging their stomach clockwise to facilitate bowel movement.
What you need to watch out for is marble-looking stool3. This indicates constipation. It is most likely a cause of discomfort for your baby. Check for blood in the stool too. This could mean your baby has a tear in the anus, also known as anal fissure. If your baby has not had any bowel movement in a few days, he/she may be experiencing discomfort due to baby digestion issues such as constipation. In such cases, you should consult your paediatrician before giving your baby any medication3.
Baby Digestion Tip #5: Changes in their diet can help facilitate digestion
At one year, your baby’s digestion would already be accustomed to consuming solid foods. And during this stage, it is only natural to try out new food recipes to provide your baby with sufficient nutrition - a crucial component in baby digestion. As your baby’s diet changes, so will their digestion and bowel movement. Thus, some babies may experience constipation or diarrhoea at this stage. It is imperative that only one type of food is provided to the baby so as to identify and eliminate any allergy causing foods. A good rule of thumb at this stage is to feed one type of food over a span of 3-5 days which will serve as the observation period4.
Introducing more fruits and fibre to their diet5 will help to facilitate bowel movement, improve baby digestion and help prevent constipation. If your baby experiences diarrhoea, it is important to make sure they stay hydrated.
Download the Enfamama A+ Club mobile app to access a comprehensive Baby Poop Tracker to better understand your baby’s digestion based on detailed poop analysis.
Dr. Raymond Choy Wai Mun
MBChB (UK), Aviation Medicine (Singapore)