Most newborn and young babies experience digestive issues in their early life, which can be a source of considerable stress and upset for both child and parent. There are many theories on why colic and other complaints occur at all, and the exact cause is unknown.
Firstly it is important to understand the workings of the newborn’s digestive tract. Babies are born with high active levels of an amino acid called 5-hydroxy-tryptophan (5-HTP). This causes strong digestive muscle contractions or ‘peristalsis’. In conjunction with this, the melatonin levels are significantly low. Melatonin is responsible for our sleep, and is switched on at night time, signalling to the body to slow down and prepare for sleep. With these two facts in play for the first 3 months of life, it is no wonder that digestive discomfort and irregular sleep is common in many babies. Once a child reaches 3 months of age, melatonin begins to rise as 5-HTP drops, seeing a more established sleep rhythm and gut balance.
However, if the symptoms continue to persist, a child may be diagnosed with infant reflux and receive treatment accordingly. From a medical model, this would be a form of antacid or medication called a proton pump inhibitor, its action being to stop the stomach from producing hydrochloric acid. Though this does reduce the amount of acid overall, and so less moving back up the oesophagus, it does not provide a long term answer and is more of a temporary fix. Our bodies make hydrochloric acid for a reason, and it is key in breaking down the foods we eat and avoid feelings of discomfort, heaviness and even poor appetite.
Common signs in babies with reflux are respiratory issues and a failure to thrive, along with irritability and sleep problems.
So what can you do to help reduce symptoms?
- lie baby on front with body elevated by around 30 degrees
- if you are breastfeeding, check your own diet – eggs, dairy milk and spicy foods are common culprits
- breastfeeding mums could also try a high strength omega 3 supplement with high DHA count (read the labels)
- take care not to over or under feed – if your baby is weaning and able to hold pieces of food, allow them to feed themselves as much as possible
- burp them frequently
- do not overstimulate the child, especially in the hour after feeding
- carob seed powder can be a good food thickener and be soothing to the digestion
- babies may benefit from probiotics (high strength), minerals or herbal medicine to treat specific symptoms such as addressing acid imbalance, supporting the digestion of food, and calming the nerves. These individual issues can be established in a consult to address all symptoms relating to both mum and baby