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Common infant feeding problems

Mother bottle feeding her baby
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If you’ve just had a baby, you may be worried about how they are feeding. Infant feeding problems may cause parents and babies some discomfort, however most of these issues aren’t serious and can go away on their own. Feeding issues include colic, constipation and reflux.

In this article, we’ll discuss some common causes of feeding problems, their symptoms and how to make your baby more comfortable if they have them, including:

  • Colic
  • Regurgitation and reflux
  • Constipation
  • Candida albicans
  • Mastitis
  • Infant feeding tips

As always, if you have any concerns about your baby or their feeding, speak to your health visitor, midwife or GP.

Colic

Colic is a very common problem in infants. It usually starts when your baby is just a few weeks old, and often gets better by three or four months. If you are concerned about helping your baby with colic you can always seek advice from your health visitor or GP.

Whilst it’s not clear as to what causes colic, it is thought that it may be because babies find it harder to digest food when they’re young.

Common symptoms of colic

If your otherwise healthy baby is continuously crying for more than three hours a day, for three or more days per week for at least one week- then this may be colic.

Whilst crying your baby may also:

  • Struggle to soothe or settle
  • Clench their fists
  • Go red in the face
  • Bring their knees up to their tummy
  • Be very windy

How to comfort a baby with colic:

  • Hold or cuddle your baby
  • Sit them upright during feeding to avoid swallowing air
  • Wind your baby after feeds
  • Rock baby over your shoulder
  • Rock in their crib, basket or pram
  • Give them a warm bath
  • Use some gentle white noise (like having the radio or TV on in the background)
  • Keep feeding them as usual
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Regurgitation and reflux in babies

Regurgitation or reflux is when babies bring up milk or are sick during or soon after feeding. This is very common, which usually starts before your baby is eight weeks old and can get better by their first birthday.

Common symptoms of reflux and regurgitation

Most commonly, your baby will bring up milk during or after a feed.

They can also:

  • Cough or hiccup during feeding
  • Be unsettled while being fed
  • Swallow or gulp after feeding or burping
  • Cry a lot and not be able to settle
  • Not gain enough weight

How to comfort a baby with reflux and regurgitation:

  • Hold your baby upright when feeding
  • Burp regularly during a feed
  • Give formula-fed babies smaller meals but more often
  • Make sure that your baby sleeps flat on their back

There are various baby milk formulas which might help if your baby has reflux. If you need support with any aspect of breastfeeding or help with bottle-feeding your baby, speak with your health visitor, midwife or GP.

Infant constipation

Your baby might be constipated if they struggle to poo. This can be caused by your baby’s diet and is often easy to manage at home. Speak to your doctor if the constipation is not better after several days or if you think your baby is becoming unwell.

Common symptoms of infant constipation

The most common symptom of constipation is that your baby is having less than three poos a week.

They may also:

  • Seem to find pooing difficult
  • Be passing dry, hard or lumpy poo
  • Be passing unusually smelly wind and poo
  • Be less hungry than usual
  • Lack energy or be irritable
  • Have a firm-feeling tummy

How to comfort a baby with constipation:

  • Lying your baby on their back and moving their legs like they’re riding a bicycle
  • Giving them extra water between feeds, if they are bottle-fed
  • If they’re eating solids, ensure they have enough fibre (like apples, pears or prunes)
  • Speak to your health visitor, midwife or GP to get advice about other treatments that might help
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Oral thrush

Candida albicans is a type of yeast that causes the fungal infection thrush. In babies, this fungal infection can affect their mouth, this is known as oral thrush. It’s usually harmless, but if it’s causing your baby discomfort, you might find that they’re less interested in feeding than usual. It can also be passed from your baby to you if you’re breastfeeding, causing nipple thrush.

Symptoms of oral thrush

These include:

  • A white coating on the tongue
  • White spots in the mouth
  • Reduced feeding if it is uncomfortable for your baby
  • Nappy rash

How to comfort a baby with oral thrush:

  • Seeing your pharmacist for a liquid or gel that can treat your baby’s thrush, however if your baby is under 4 months old, please see the GP.
  • Sterilising all bottles and dummies regularly to avoid getting thrush again
If you find that thrush is causing you difficulties with breastfeeding then your health visitor, midwife or doctor will be able to help with advice and treatment.

Mastitis

Mastitis causes your breast to become hot, painful and swollen. It’s most common if you’re breastfeeding.

Mastitis can get better with simple things you can do at home, but if you have symptoms for over 24 hours, you should see your doctor. They’ll usually treat mastitis with antibiotics.

Symptoms of mastitis

The main symptom of mastitis is that it can cause your breast to become hot and painful to touch.

Other symptoms of mastitis include:

  • The skin becomes red
  • A new wedge-shaped breast lump
  • Burning pain in your breast
  • Nipple discharge which can be white or have streaks of blood in it
  • Flu-like symptoms, with aches and a high temperature

How to comfort a baby if you have mastitis:

  • Putting a soaked cloth (in warm water) on the affected area
  • Having a warm shower or bath
  • Resting and drinking fluids
  • Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • Continuing to breastfeed as normal
  • Start feeds from the sore breast first
  • Express milk between feeds
  • Gently massage the breast to prevent blockages

There is a lot of support available if you feel you need it, including lactation consultants, peer supporters and health visitors, which healthcare professionals can direct you to.

We have a range of products to help make breastfeeding more comfortable for you and your baby.

What is the best position for breastfeeding?

There is no single ‘best’ position to feed in, and it takes time to find out what works for you and your baby. Many new parents ask for help when learning how their baby likes to feed, so don’t worry about reaching out for support.

Breastfeeding positions you can try:

  • Cradle hold – holding your baby across your lap, with your arm and hand supporting them
  • Lying on your side – lying down comfortably with your baby facing you
  • Laid-back – lying in a semi-reclined position with your baby on your tummy
  • Rugby hold - sitting with your baby tucked under your arm, facing you

Infant feeding tips

Every baby is different, and it may take a while to learn how they like to be fed. If you have any problems with feeding or concerns about your baby, you should talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP.

Breastfeeding tips:

  • Find out about breastfeeding before your baby is born, for instance, from neonatal classes
  • Be prepared for baby to feed very often straight after birth
  • Have skin-to-skin contact with baby after birth if you and they are able to, as this will help bonding and make it easier to start feeding
  • Help your baby feed from your first milk, called colostrum, which your baby might want to have more often than the milk you will make later
  • Expect that their feeding pattern may change to fewer, longer feeds after a couple of days
  • Be flexible about how often you feed your baby, as they may sometimes want to feed more frequently (‘cluster feeding’)
  • Feed your baby when they are hungry, don’t worry about overfeeding
  • Speak to your midwife or health visitor if you need support

NHS Tips for bottle-feeding your baby:

  • Buy several bottles and teats, so you don’t run out
  • Make sure you’re comfortable before you start
  • Hold your baby in a semi-upright position to feed
  • Never leave your baby alone with a propped-up bottle in their mouth
  • Be guided by your baby as to how hungry they are
  • Throw away unused milk (breast milk or formula) and only make it up when needed
  • Allow your baby to set the pace of feeding and give them plenty of time
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A final note on infant feeding problems

Infant feeding problems can be a common source of stress for new parents. There are many causes of feeding issues, whether your baby is breastfed or takes one of the many different milk formulas, such as lactose-free.

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you are having difficulties with feeding your baby, as this can be very common. There is a lot of support available to help you and your baby.

Feeding problems can be due to an underlying issue like colic or a baby change, like teething. Many of these issues will improve by themselves with time and support, but if you have any concerns about yourself or your baby, talk to your health visitor, midwife or GP.

Read our helpful guides for more tips on common baby health issues like eczema or thrush.