Newborn tummy troubles
Advice on newborn constipation, diarrhoea, colic, reflux and lactose intolerance
At a glance
What is normal poo differs from baby to baby
Gentle tummy massage may help newborn constipation
Diarrhoea may clear up on its own within 24 hours - if not, seek medical advice
Contact a healthcare professional if you think your baby has colic or reflux
Breastfeeding is the best choice for babies and should always be recommended first. Breast milk is ideal as it’s individually tailored to suit your baby.
Whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, burping or weaning, there’s bound to be a few hiccups when it comes to feeding your little one. Colic, constipation and reflux are some of the most common tummy troubles.
What is normal baby poo?
Your newborn’s routine includes a lot of feeding. So you’ll spend much time thinking about the contents of their nappies. Here are some things to be aware of:
- In the first days, your baby’s first poo will be a sticky greenish or black - this is called meconium
- After you’ve been feeding milk for a few days, it will change to a yellow or mustard colour
- Breastfed babies’ poo is runny and tends not to smell as much as formula-fed babies'
- Formula-fed babies’ poo is firmer, slightly darker and more smelly
- Ready-to-feed liquid formula may produce softer stools than powder formula
- Depending on the individual baby’s digestion, their poo can be dark green, this is nothing to worry about
- If you change from breast to formula feeding, you’ll find your baby’s poos become more paste-like, but they should still be generally yellow in colour
- Your baby’s poos will probably vary in texture and colour from day-to-day or week-to-week. If you notice a marked change of any kind, such as the poo becoming very smelly, very watery or harder, and particularly if there’s blood in it, you should talk to your GP, health visitor or public health nurse
How often should a newborn poo?
Some breast-fed babies fill their nappies around every feed, others go more infrequently. Formula-fed babies can go for several days or even up to a week without a bowel movement. Both are normal – it just depends on the baby, though in either case, their poo should still mostly be yellow.
Constipation in newborns
It can be hard to tell why your little one is crying or uncomfortable, and tummy troubles are often the cause. It can be normal for babies to strain or even cry when passing a poo. If you’re unsure, talk to a healthcare professional such as your GP, health visitor or public health nurse. Signs of newborn constipation include:
- Dry, hard stools
- Infrequent stools
- Foul smelling stools or wind
- Irritability or signs of distress
- Lack of energy
- Loss of appetite
A breastfed baby will very rarely get constipation because breast milk is more easily digested than formula, while a bottle-fed baby can go a few days without having a poo. As long as their poos are soft, they have plenty of wet nappies and are not distressed, your baby is not constipated.
How to help a constipated baby
Under six months
- If your baby is constipated, you can try giving them a little boiled and cooled water between feeds. Speak to a healthcare professional to know how much you should be giving
- Gently move your little one’s legs in a bicycle motion or massage their tummy
- If you are bottle-feeding, make sure you always follow the preparation instructions on the label. Too much powder or too little water can make your baby constipated
Over six months
- Give your baby lots of fluids - water is the best. Your healthcare professional will be best to advise on how much fluid your baby needs
- Try feeding younger babies pureed apricots, peaches, pears or strawberries
- For older babies, try finely chopped or pulped apples, seedless grapes, plums, prunes, raspberries or strawberries
- If your baby is bottle-fed, make sure you always follow the preparation instructions on the label. Too much powder or too little water can make your baby constipated
- Some medication can cause constipation. Read the label and if in doubt speak to a healthcare professional
Watery or loose poo is common in babies, especially if they are breastfed. If your baby is otherwise well (no fever, vomiting or distress), it is likely the diarrhoea will settle within 24 hours. Until then, follow some steps to keep them comfortable:
- Change your baby’s nappy as soon as it is dirty to stop their bottom from getting sore. Clean with cooled boiled water and pat dry. Apply a thin layer of barrier cream just before putting on a clean nappy to help protect their skin
- It is important to make sure your baby is getting enough fluid. As well as normal feeds, offer your baby extra feeds after each bout of diarrhoea
- Fewer wet nappies or strong smelling urine could be a sign of dehydration
- Do not use anti-diarrhoea medicines for babies or infants
If you are concerned or unsure, speak to a healthcare professional such as your GP, health visitor or public health nurse. If you feel your baby is unwell and you notice any signs of dehydration, fever, vomiting - or if diarrhoea has lasted more than 24 hours - always get your GP’s advice. Our Careline team are also able to help.
Colic in newborns
Colic is one of the most common feeding-related problems, equally amongst breast and bottle-fed babies. It often starts at two or three weeks of age. Signs of colic include:
- Your baby is less than five months of age when the symptoms start and stop
- They have repeated and prolonged bouts of crying, fussing or irritability, without any obvious cause
- Your baby is otherwise well and is growing at a healthy rate
How to help relieve your baby's colic
Experts believe there are a variety of causes including immaturity of the digestive system, trapped wind, lactose intolerance and the balance of gut bacteria. Mums who smoke also appear to play a role. If you suspect colic, try the following:
- Sit your baby upright during feeds to prevent them from swallowing more air
- Burp them regularly, gently rubbing their back or tummy
- Try holding them in different positions to relieve wind
- Gentle swaying, rocking or even a trip in the car can help
- Try gentle baby massage for colic to help soothe your baby
- Singing, toys or looking in the mirror together are great distractions
- White noise or even the sound of the hoover can be soothing
If you’re breastfeeding, certain foods such as caffeine, spicy food or garlic in your diet may contribute to your baby’s colic. If you think your diet may be having an effect, you can always note down what you’re eating when your baby’s symptoms occur.
If you feel your baby has colic, it is important to speak to a healthcare professional, such as your GP, health visitor or public health nurse. Our Careline team are also able to help.
Reflux in newborns
Bringing up milk after a feed is very common in babies. It’s known as reflux, posseting or regurgitation. Some babies bring up a lot and others very little, but in general, mild reflux in babies is perfectly normal. As long as your baby is content and putting on weight, this is nothing to worry about.
Reflux affects more than half of all babies under 12 months old and is more common in those under six months of age and before weaning. However, if you’re worried about how much feed your baby is bringing up, speak to your healthcare professional such as your GP, health visitor or public health nurse.
How to help babies with reflux
- Feed your little one in an upright position
- Don’t lie your baby down straight after a feed. Hold them upright for about half an hour after
- Try smaller feeds, but more often
- Don’t force your baby to take more milk than they want, they will let you know when they have had enough
- Burp them frequently during a feed. Read our tips on how to wind your baby
- If you’re bottle-feeding, check the hole in the teat isn’t too big or too small
- If unsure speak to your GP, health visitor or public health nurse who may ask you to change to an anti-reflux formula – but only do this on their advice
If you are concerned about your baby’s reflux, seek the advice of a healthcare professional. And don’t forget, you can always talk to our Careline for tips on how to cope with reflux.
Lactose intolerance in newborns
Lactose is a natural sugar found in milks, and ‘lactose intolerance’ is the term used when your baby has difficulty digesting it. In the early weeks of life, or after a tummy bug, some little ones can experience temporary lactose intolerance. It is relatively common in young babies and they usually grow out of it.
However, it can make your baby feel uncomfortable and it can be an unsettling experience. Some of the common signs of lactose intolerance in babies are:
- Abdominal bloating and pain
- Discomfort and crying
How to manage your baby's lactose intolerance
If you think your baby is lactose intolerant, or if you are concerned, always seek the advice of your healthcare professional, such as your GP, health visitor or public health nurse. For bottle-fed babies, your healthcare professional may advise the use of a lactose-free formula but always check with them first before switching. And our Careline also has tips on how to cope with lactose intolerance.
Need some help? Our Careline team are online to answer your questions.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The best way to feed a baby is to breastfeed, as breast milk provides the ideal balanced diet and protection against illness for your baby and also many non-nutritional benefits for both baby and mother. We recommend that you speak to your healthcare professional when deciding on your choice of feeding your baby. Professional guidance should also be sought on the preparation for and maintenance of breastfeeding. If you do choose to breastfeed, it's important to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Infant formula is intended to replace breast milk when mothers choose not to breastfeed or if for some reason they are unable to do so. A decision not to breastfeed, or to introduce partial bottle-feeding, will reduce the supply of breast milk. If for any reason you choose not to breastfeed, do remember that such a decision can be difficult to reverse. Using infant formula also has social and financial implications which must be considered. Infant formula should always be prepared, used and stored as instructed on the label, in order to avoid risks to a baby’s health.