Understanding Your Baby’s Digestion

Last update on Aug. 17, 2016.

Understanding Your Baby’s Digestion

When it comes to caring for healthy newborns and babies, most parents worry about things like sleeping, naptime, feeding schedules and who’s on diaper duty. But new parents quickly discover that their baby’s tummy health has a huge impact on all of the above, because when your baby’s belly woes are making them fussy and uncomfortable everyone feels sad.

Wondering why babies have tummy troubles? Let’s take a look at the ABCs of how your baby digests food.

Did you know it takes about a year for your baby’s digestive system to mature? Certain enzymes and bacteria they need to break down and digest things like protein, fats, sugars and lactose aren’t fully functioning right from the beginning. That means a perfectly healthy, happy and thriving baby can still struggle with common tummy ailments like gas, spit-up, constipation and reflux.

In fact, many newborns under 3 months old have a digestive disorder called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux). When this type of reflux occurs, your baby’s belly contents move backwards up through the esophagus, which causes discomfort, even if you don’t see spit-up or vomit. This can happen during a meal or right after one. Sometimes babies with GERD do have problems with gas, constipation, diarrhea and spitting up, so the symptoms are more obvious.

Discover good microbes and how they develop in your baby's tummy to aid in digestion & tummy health.

Did you know breast milk contains nutrients that regulate your baby’s digestive system? While your baby’s tummy continues to develop, breast milk and formula are great sources of nutrition. Human milk contains lipase, which is an enzyme that breaks down fats. The proteins in breast milk are easily digestible too. Both breast milk and many formulas also contain prebiotics and probiotics that are natural “friends” to the healthy bacteria in your baby’s tummy.

Now that you know your little one’s digestive system is still taking shape, it’s easier to understand why we need to wait on introducing solid foods. If baby starts eating them too early, she won’t be able to properly digest them. The benchmark most pediatricians and parents follow is from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until your baby is between 4 and 6 months to introduce solid foods.

Did you know there are certain foods to avoid in case your baby has food allergies? 

How do you know when your baby is ready for solid foods? If your baby can sit up and support herself without assistance and she seems interested in food, she’s probably ready. “Solid” food doesn’t refer to things like steak and hotdogs – at least not yet! The first solid foods are baby-friendly like infant cereal, baby food, pureed food and finger foods (which may be crunchy, but dissolve quickly.) Adding infant cereal to baby’s diet is typically the first step since it’s an easily digestible food and it contains fiber to keep food moving through your baby’s digestive tract.

And don’t be disappointed if your baby doesn’t like cereal the first time she tries it. It took us a couple of days of offering it to my son, but when he decided he liked it, boy did he like it! It was a fun and exciting new step in his development when he could sit in his high chair and interact with me during meals. His high chair became a new happy place for smiles, giggles and nourishment.

Wondering how a toothless baby eats and digests foods? Well, that cute gummy smile is capable of mashing soft solid foods. While she chomps and chews on food with her gums, enzymes in her saliva are breaking down food. As long as the food is soft and appropriate for her age, she can digest it just fine, even without pearly whites!