By Katie Ferraro, MPH, RD, CDE
Your baby’s gut is a remarkably complex set of organs and interactions that work in unison to provide nutrients to the growing body. But when something goes wrong in the gut, boy does that baby want you to know about it! Here are 7 things you didn’t know about your baby’s gut health:
Not all bacteria are created the same! While parents work hard to minimize kids’ exposure to harmful bacteria, babies should also have an opportunity to let their good bacteria thrive. Probiotics used during the first three months of life can contribute to the prevention of colic and also aid in digestive health[i]. Wellements Organic Probiotic Gripe Water helps treat both colic and promotes digestive health with its beneficial strain of probiotic bacteria. And it’s not just babies who benefit, a recent study in Genome Biology found that bacterial exposure during infancy may affect gut health later in adulthood[ii].
Some babies poop every day, others can go days or even a few weeks without a bowel movement. If a child is straining because of hard stools, constipation may be the culprit. There are natural remedies that can help alleviate constipation or slight changes to the diet that can be tried for older babies. For babies over 2 months old, adding 2-4 ounces of fruit juice such as grape, pear, apple, cherry, or prune juice two times per day can help promote motility and get things moving again[iii].
The medical community’s conventional thinking about introduction of allergenic foods has changed in recent years. For many years it was thought that withholding potentially allergenic foods – such as peanuts – would help reduce allergy. But new studies suggest that even for a baby at elevated risk for food allergy, he or she could start on peanut-containing foods prior to one year of age, and this may actually reduce overall allergy risk. Widespread adoption of updated guidelines is still pending, but the consensus is shifting towards earlier introduction of potentially allergenic foods, even for at-risk-for-food-allergy babies.
4. Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) does not just afflict adults. In fact, recurrent abdominal pain is present in 10 to 20 percent of children[iv]. Factors such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), genetics, even mental health and grain-gut signal problems may all contribute to IBS. While there is no cure, IBS can be treated and managed with changes in medication, diet and nutrition, addition of probiotics and a variety of therapies for mental health problems.
5. Stomach Size
New mothers often worry that they may not be producing or expressing enough milk for a newborn baby. Knowing how small your newborn’s stomach actually is can help alleviate fears about adequate intake in some parents. An adult’s stomach capacity is roughly the size of a softball. Compare that to he much smaller capacity of a newborn’s stomach:
- Day 1 of life: a baby’s stomach capacity is approximately the size of a shooter marble
- Day 3 of life: stomach is approximately the size of a ping pong ball
- Day 10 of life: stomach is approximately the size of an extra-large chicken egg[v].
6. Frequency of Stools
New parents often marvel about how much interest they are taking in their baby’s poops! Counting wet and dirty diapers can provide valuable insight as to whether or not a baby is getting enough milk:
- In the earliest days of life, a baby has roughly one dirty diaper for each day of life
- By day 4, the baby has at least 3-4 stools per day, but they are only about the size of a quarter
- Moving into weeks 2-6, parents can expect 3-4 or more stools per day, the size of a quarter or larger
- After 4-6 weeks, babies have less frequent bowel movements; some babies even go 7-10 days without stooling
Regardless of your baby’s frequency or size of stool, as long as the baby is gaining weight per the recommended guidelines, variations from these numbers can be entirely normal.
7. Introducing Solid Foods
For years, N. American healthcare professionals have recommended waiting until 4-6 months until starting solid foods. But a growing body of organizations around the globe now recommends no solids until 6 months (not 4-6 months). The reason for waiting is that earlier in infancy the space between the cells in the gut are open, which is great for absorbing antibodies in breastmilk. But this “open gut” can also allow large proteins from other foods through, which can predispose babies to food allergies. After about 6 months, gut closure occurs and babies begin producing their own antibodies that can help protect against allergy and other invaders[vi].
 Prophylactic use of a probiotic in the prevention of colic, regurgitation, and functional constipation: a randomized clinical trial. Indrio, et al. JAMA Pediatr. 2014 Mar;168(3):228-33
 Di Lorenzo C, Rasquin A, Forbes D, et al. Childhood functional gastrointestinal disorders: child/adolescent. In: Drossman DA, ed. Rome III: The Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. 3rd ed. Lawrence: Allen Press, Inc.; 2006: 739