How fast do babies digest food

How a Baby’s Digestive System Works, for Parents

What should a baby eat? How much and how often? When can you give a baby solids?

These are just some of the questions a parent thinks about when caring for an infant. It’s very important that babies receive adequate nutrition to grow and develop, but it can be hard to know how to feed them. It helps to understand what’s going on inside their digestive systems.

The Baby Diet

Within the first few hours of life, a newborn will have his or her first meal.

“Breast milk or formula are the only two options for a baby to consume during the early months of life because a baby can’t chew and swallow solid food yet,” says Ricardo Baler, MD, UNC Health pediatrician.

If a mother is breastfeeding, she’ll notice small amounts of a protein-rich substance called colostrum coming out of the breasts first for the baby to eat. Formula-fed babies will consume about a half-ounce of formula during those early hours. From that point on, every two or three hours a newborn will consume about 2 ounces of milk, whether from breast or bottle (though you can’t measure what’s coming from the breast). As the baby continues to grow, the stomach begins to expand.

“The capacity for a baby’s stomach right at birth is about half an ounce to 1 ounce. By the end of the first week, a lot of babies are eating twice that. It’s a rapid stretch to hold more,” says Edward Pickens, MD, UNC Health pediatrician.

When it comes to feeding a baby, it’s all about following cues. Watch out for hints of hunger; hungry babies might suck on their lips or tongue, put their fingers in their mouth or cry.

The best way to confirm that a baby is eating enough is to monitor weight gain. Growth spurts typically happen when a baby is 2 to 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months and 6 months old.

Starting between 4 and 6 months of age, a baby is typically ready for solids. A baby who is ready has good head and neck control, can sit with little or no support and might open his or her mouth and lean forward when food is near.

It’s important for a baby to eat a variety of foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, yogurt, cheese and meat. Foods that can be made into a pureed form are best when introducing solids. Pediatricians recommend that parents introduce one food at a time to the baby, then wait a couple of days to try something different. This will allow time to see if the baby has any allergic reactions.

“Give the baby time to explore the food in front of them. It’s great for the baby to touch the food and experience its taste,” Dr. Baler says.

At mealtime, feed solid food first and then finish with milk. Around the first birthday, food becomes the primary source of calories and milk becomes secondary.

What to Know About Baby Poop

The first bowel movement after a baby is born is meconium. This green-black, sticky lining of the intestines flakes off and collects before birth.

“It takes about 24 hours once the meconium is gone for milk to complete its course through the digestive system to eventually lead to a bowel movement,” Dr. Pickens says.

There’s a huge range of normal when looking at an infant’s stool color. Green, brown or yellow “seedy” poop is common to see in a diaper in the early months of life. Oftentimes, the poop can be runny or of a liquid consistency, which is not a cause for concern.

When a baby is born, his or her digestive system is fairly inefficient. As the baby learns to pass stool he may strain, grunt, cry or turn red in the face. As long as the stool is soft, this is not due to constipation.

A baby might experience gas while digesting milk or after swallowing air while crying. Changing the baby’s position or “bicycling” his or her legs might help, and some parents swear by an over-the-counter supplement called gripe water.

But oftentimes, there’s nothing that can be done about gas, and it’s normal and OK, Dr. Pickens says.

“There’s a certain amount of gassiness and a certain amount of fussiness that cannot easily be fixed, but it gets better in time. Newborn gassiness tends to improve after 6 to 8 weeks of age,” he says. “Be patient and trade off when you can, so no parent is ‘on duty’ all the time.

Once you give your baby solids, the color, smell, texture and frequency of the stool changes. It will become a bit thicker with a stronger odor, and the color might depend on the food the baby ate.

How often a baby has a bowel movement can vary as well. Bowel movements can occur multiple times a day or once every few days, and both situations are normal.

“Sometimes a baby can have a bowel movement every three or four days and they are fine. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they are constipated. If the baby is showing happy behavior, feeling well and wetting diapers, there’s no cause for concern,” Dr. Baler says. “The way the gut moves and responds to food in the digestive system changes as a baby continues to grow.”

Common Digestive System Problems in Babies

Here are some of the most common digestive problems a baby might experience in the first year of life, according to Dr. Pickens and Dr. Baler.

Colitis is when babies are exposed to a protein in their diet that causes an irritation in their intestines. For breastfed babies, these proteins are in what the mother usually drinks or eats. They are also found in formula. The usual suspects are cow’s milk, soy and eggs. Symptoms include fussiness, gassiness and blood in the stool.

Intolerance to the mother’s diet is also fairly common in breastfed babies. If baby is gassier and fussier than normal, he or she could be having a reaction to something Mom ate.

Constipation in children can be caused by a range of problems including the use of certain medications, poor health or a lack of proper nutrition. Symptoms include hard, dry stools, straining more than normal to have a bowel movement, belly pain and bloating.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is when a normal behavior for babies—spitting up—comes with abnormal signs and symptoms, including poor weight gain and pain. Rarely, some babies gag and wheeze. If a baby seems happy and comfortable and is gaining weight, he or she might experience reflux (spitting up), but it doesn’t rise to the level of GERD.

Allergic reactions like a rash or hives are seen when a baby or toddler is having a reaction to something in his or her diet. The eight most common allergenic foods are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans.

If you’ve noticed your child having digestive system problems, contact your doctor or find one near you.

Little Remedies Blog - Understanding Your Baby’s Digestion

Food and Nutrition

productslittle tummys

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!

how it goes, what disorders and problems can be, disease prevention

The body of a baby differs in many ways from the body of an adult. In particular, the digestive organs have their own characteristics. In the first weeks and even months of a baby's life, his digestive system adapts to a new type of nutrition, a non-sterile environment, unlike the mother's womb. And while the baby's body adapts to rapidly changing conditions, it is almost impossible to avoid digestive disorders in infants.

Let's talk about digestion in children: what disorders can occur, is there a prevention of digestive disorders, what to give a child to improve digestion?

Often, gastrointestinal disorders in newborns are due to the peculiarities of the digestive system. In children, for example, the esophagus is arranged differently than in adults: its length is only 10 centimeters, and its width is from 5 to 8 millimeters. In addition, the esophagus in infants is not “equipped” with physiological narrowing (they appear at an older age), and the muscular and elastic tissue is undeveloped.

The stomach of an infant is characterized by weak contractions of the sphincter, which lead to frequent regurgitation. Moreover, in babies up to a year, the stomach is horizontal and takes a vertical position only when the child begins to walk. The volume of the stomach, by the way, is quite small: in the first days of life it is 35 milliliters, at three months - 100 milliliters, and already 500 per year. gastric juice.

All mucous membranes of the digestive organs in babies are very thin and delicate, and therefore they are a weak barrier to harmful microorganisms. This feature is one of the main causes of indigestion in children.

Causes of indigestion in infants

Gastrointestinal disorders can be divided into two categories: temporary disorders and diseases. Let us consider in more detail the types of digestive problems in newborns.

Temporary disorders:

The most common problem in newborns is an imbalance in the intestinal microflora, or transient dysbiosis , which occurs in 90% of babies. When a child is in the womb, his body is sterile. Own intestinal microflora begins to form ten hours after birth: at this time, various bacteria begin to colonize the body. Among them there are both useful lacto- and bifidobacteria, and harmful ones: E. coli, lactic acid streptococci, and so on. Due to the weak barrier function, the baby's body alone cannot repel the "invaders", which leads to dysbiosis.

The cause of dysbiosis can also be artificial feeding, because even the best mixtures do not contain a sufficient supply of nutrients that mother's milk is rich in. Often, an imbalance of microflora occurs with the introduction of complementary foods. The fact is that the enzyme pepsin, which is present in gastric juice, is responsible for the breakdown of food in the stomach. Babies have little pepsin, so it can be difficult for him to cope with any food other than milk.

Babies who take antibiotics are also at risk. Effectively fighting the underlying disease, such drugs often negatively affect the intestinal microflora. Dysbiosis can also be caused by various infections, to which the child's body is very susceptible. And, of course, we must not forget about hygiene: after all, the more microbes around, the higher the likelihood that they will "break through" the protective function of the child's body.

Diseases of the digestive system in infants:

  • Congenital malformations . These can be arteries and stenoses of the digestive tract, which are formed in the period from the fourth to the eighth week of intrauterine development. Some babies also have duplication of the intestine - when the colon is in the form of a cyst, as well as a hernia of the umbilical cord and various anomalies in the biliary tract. Depending on the type of disease, they can be eliminated surgically or partially stopped by non-invasive methods.
  • Thrush . This term is most associated with "female" diseases, but it is also often called candidiasis in the stomach of an infant, caused by an overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans. Its cause can be both banal non-observance of hygiene, and weak immunity of the child.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux . This is the reflux of the contents of the stomach and intestines into the lumen of the esophagus. It is usually caused by defects in the lower esophageal sphincter.
  • Functional dyspepsia . This is the name of the pathology of the gastrointestinal tract, which is characterized by many symptoms. Among them are burning pains in the abdominal cavity, bloating, nausea, heartburn and belching. In infants, functional dyspepsia is usually associated with impaired secretion of gastric juice and enzymes.
  • Celiac disease . An inherited disease associated with intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.

Prevention of digestive disorders

Of course, in the case of congenital diseases of the digestive system in children, prevention is powerless. But it is quite possible to protect the baby from various disorders. How can you improve your child's digestion? First of all, a nursing mother should observe personal hygiene while breastfeeding and carefully monitor the feeding technique. The fact is that the cause of a digestive problem in a newborn can be a banal swallowing of air. As for the mother’s diet, during the feeding period she should give up citrus fruits, pastries, cabbage, legumes, smoked and fried. Such products can cause heartburn, bloating, colic, and allergies in a baby. The frequency of feeding should be monitored no less carefully: underfeeding and overfeeding can also lead to indigestion in an infant.

Antibiotic therapy should be treated with care. Such drugs can be used only for serious diseases, when there is no choice: antibiotics carry a heavy load on the digestive system of a newborn child and on the whole body as a whole.

The intake of probiotics helps to prevent or eliminate the already formed indigestion in infants. These are products with live beneficial microorganisms - bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. Their beneficial effect on the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract as early as 19century was proved by our famous compatriot Ilya Mechnikov, and for decades this was confirmed by many of his colleagues. Therefore, today we can say with confidence that probiotics are well studied, they are non-toxic and non-pathogenic, and their action has been proven by many clinical studies. It is worth noting that probiotic products can contain only one type of bacteria or both at once. Comparing the functionality of these microorganisms is not very correct, because both types live in the gastrointestinal tract and are equally important for the intestinal microflora. In addition, lactobacilli have a beneficial effect on the development of bifidobacteria, which speaks in favor of complex probiotics. In addition, a number of parameters affect the quantitative proportion of these bacteria in the child's body: the type of childbirth, the factor of prematurity, the nature of nutrition, the presence of various diseases in the child, the characteristics of his metabolism, and much more. So it is impossible to determine which type of bacteria is needed more without special studies.

Do not miss scheduled medical examinations, because most of the diseases of the digestive system in infants can be easily treated, the main thing is to recognize the disease in time.

The causes of poor digestion in a child can be very different. Sometimes, to improve the well-being of the baby, it is enough just to adjust the feeding technique or revise the diet. But sometimes unpleasant symptoms indicate serious health problems. Therefore, the most important advice to parents of babies is to contact a pediatrician at the slightest alarm bells.

Child's digestive system

Author of article Pyrieva Catherine Anatolievna


September 15, 2021

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How does a small child eat and how does the digestive process of a newborn differ from the digestive process of an adult? How to facilitate the process of adapting the baby to complementary foods?

Our questions are answered by Pyreva Ekaterina Anatolyevna , nutritionist, candidate of medical sciences.

How is the process of feeding a child during pregnancy?

Babies are introduced to nutrition long before they are born. The baby's own digestive system begins to develop very early - already at the end of the 3rd week of intrauterine development. Gradually improving, by the time of birth, it is already ready to perform its main function - to digest and assimilate food.

The fetus receives from the mother the substances necessary for its growth and development, including oxygen, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, microelements, and biologically active substances. At the same time, the baby, with the help of the mother's body, gets rid of unnecessary substances - carbon dioxide, waste products of vital activity.

All this exchange between the body of the mother and the fetus occurs through a special organ that functions only during pregnancy - the placenta. In the placenta, the blood vessels of the mother and fetus are located close to each other and in such a way that exchange of substances easily takes place between them.

Features of the digestive system of a newborn

But then the baby was born, and everything changed. Now the baby's nutritional processes are not connected with the mother's placenta, and the newborn needs to adapt to new, unusual conditions for him.

The digestive system of a newborn differs from the digestive system of an adult in immaturity and the ability to digest and assimilate so far only one product - breast milk (or milk mixtures close to it in composition). Does the child have enough food, how adequate is the feeding regimen, whether the mother has mastered breastfeeding techniques correctly - all this should be assessed by the doctor who observes the baby. A nursing mother should talk to a doctor about the features of her diet, as improper nutrition of a nursing woman can harm her baby.

The immaturity of the digestive system of the newborn is manifested in increased permeability of the intestinal mucosa, insufficiency of digestive enzymes, incoordination of the motor activity of the intestine, as well as the absence of teeth and the imperfection of the processes of swallowing (solid food) and chewing.

Digestive problems in a newborn baby

Parents often worry when faced with so-called functional - that is, temporary, not associated with any pathology - digestive disorders in babies. These include colic, regurgitation, constipation, bloating. In children of the first months of life, these disorders occur precisely in connection with the immaturity of the digestive and nervous systems and their adaptation to extrauterine life. The baby's digestive system, as it were, "learns" to accept, digest and assimilate food. Usually, all these problems go away by themselves by the age of 3-4 months - as the baby's gastrointestinal tract matures and adapts.

However, even if the baby's digestive disorders are similar to functional ones, when they appear, it is imperative to show the child to the doctor. There are frequent situations when colic, regurgitation or constipation not only does not go away, but also intensifies, and additional symptoms are added to them. Most often this happens with food allergies in a child, which can only be diagnosed by a doctor.

How do you know if your baby is ready for complementary foods?

The scheme and timing of the introduction of complementary foods should be discussed with the doctor who observes the child and knows his individual characteristics of development and health. The timing of the introduction of complementary foods varies from the age of 4 months to the age of 6 months - it is during this time period that the maturation of the child's digestive system occurs. The signs of the child's readiness for the introduction of complementary foods are determined by the doctor.

What does the term “common table” imply?

When does a child's digestive system become similar to that of an adult - and what does the concept of "transfer to a common table" imply?

The concept of "adult" food or "common table" for a young child implies only a gradual decrease in the degree of grinding of complementary foods and some expansion of the menu.

Learn more