Did you imagine watching your new bundle of joy gently slip off to sleep in your arms while eating? Is your reality a screaming baby who can’t seem to get comfortable after feedings?
You’re not alone; it happens more frequently than you think. As moms, we’ve dealt with this ourselves. And as medical practitioners, we’ve seen plenty of parents with the same issue.
There are several reasons your baby might be feeling discomfort after feeding. We’ll look at some of the main causes of why your baby cries after feeding, and we’ll share some proven techniques you can use to make your baby more comfortable and your evenings calmer.
Why Do Babies Cry After Feeding?
If you’re dealing with an inconsolable child after feedings, you may have noticed some of the following symptoms of abdominal discomfort:
- Crying: Babies seem to experience more discomfort during the evening hours. If you’ve heard the cry before, you know it’s unmistakably a cry of pain. An urgency and intensity suggest it’s more than just complaining.
- Pulling up or extending their legs: Is your baby bringing their knees up to their chest or rigidly extending their legs? They are likely experiencing abdominal pain.
- Distended bellies: Most post-feeding discomfort can be linked to excessive gas in the baby’s system. If it’s trapped in their digestive system, it may lead to a hardened or swollen tummy. Their crying may be exacerbating the discomfort they’re already experiencing.
There are many possible causes of your baby’s discomfort. While this is not an exhaustive list, we’ll talk about some of the main sources of digestive discomfort in young babies.
Perhaps you’ve heard a baby referred to as colicky. Your pediatrician may have even given you the diagnosis. This designation came about after a pediatrician’s study on extremely fussy children and has been around for decades.
Having a colicky baby basically means you have a baby who cries — a lot. You can expect a baby with colic to cry at least three hours a day for at least three days a week (1). Using this definition, nearly a quarter of all infants will experience colic.
The good news is that 50% of babies with colic outgrow the condition by the time they’re three months old. By the time your baby reaches nine months old, there’s a 90% chance they’ll have outgrown the colic.
There’s usually no discernible cause for colic. But it’s clear your baby is uncomfortable. This discomfort is typically linked to the digestive system and follows feedings.
You may need to hold your colicky baby more often and provide lots of comfort. While it can be nerve-wracking and frustrating, having a colicky baby doesn’t mean your baby is unhealthy.
2. Acid Reflux
Also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), acid reflux is a common cause of post-feeding discomfort. It can be upsetting to hear your baby is experiencing reflux. But reflux isn’t uncommon; it affects up to 50% of babies during the first few months of life.
If your child is suffering from GERD, there may be additional accompanying symptoms, like difficulty gaining or maintaining weight. Children with GERD frequently spit up and may even experience aggressive vomiting (2).
When your child is experiencing acid reflux, it’s usually because the gastrointestinal system is not working properly. If the difficulty your baby is experiencing is related to an immature digestive system, a child may outgrow GERD. When this happens — as it does for about 95% of children — it usually does so by their first birthday.
There’s also a remote possibility your baby will not outgrow GERD. If this is the case, your doctor can help you create an ongoing treatment plan to support your child’s needs. If you suspect your child has GERD, you should make an appointment with a pediatric gastroenterologist to discuss your concerns.
Another common reason babies cry after feeding has to do with gas. Babies’ bodies are still developing their basic skills. A baby who swallows too much air during feedings may not be able to process the extra gas easily.
This leads to pressure and distension and can cause crying and extreme discomfort after meals. It may not be possible to keep your baby from taking in too much air during feedings. However, there are some things you can do to keep air intake to a minimum:
- Frequently burp your baby: Burping can help remove some of the excess air from your baby’s system and leave them feeling more comfortable. To successfully burp your baby, hold them upright, supporting their head well, and pat or rub their back. Some babies seem to burp a lot, while others might have one good burp per feeding.
- Feed in a more upright position: Keep your baby upright for at least 20 to 30 minutes after meals to reduce gas discomfort. If your little one is uncomfortable during sleep, you can also try an inclined mattress, following safe sleep guidelines (3).
- Cycle your baby’s legs: If your baby is visibly uncomfortable, you can lie them on their back and cycle their legs as though they’re riding a bike. This can help push the air through their system and provide them with some relief.
- Try to catch the crying early: It can be tempting to let your baby work through the crying and get to sleep. If it’s likely your child won’t stop, intercept the crying as soon as possible. Crying usually involves gulping air, which will lead to more gas — and more crying.
- Don’t put your baby to sleep directly after a large meal: We all know it’s best for your baby to sleep on their back. But putting a baby down on their back with a full stomach can be a recipe for discomfort. Hold your little one for 20 minutes post-feeding, even if they’re already asleep.
These approaches are great whether you’re nursing or formula feeding. However, there are some specific things you’ll want to look out for, depending on how you feed.
- Pay attention to how you eat: What you eat directly impacts your breast milk. Certain foods, including broccoli, beans, and onions, are notoriously difficult for your baby to break down. If you notice gas is especially bad for your baby after you eat a particular type of food, you can limit it in your diet.
- Food sensitivity: Something in your diet may be making your baby fussy. The most common culprits are dairy and caffeine. Usually, there are additional symptoms. Keeping a food journal may help you pinpoint the offending item so you can eliminate it from your diet.
- Nurse your baby in positions that keep their head above their stomach: This will help limit the amount of air intake and encourage digestion.
- Get rid of the excess gas: Plan on burping your baby before switching sides and after feeding.
- Pay attention to the bottle nipple you’re using: If your bottle nipple releases fluid more quickly than your baby can comfortably eat, they will guzzle their meal. This leads to an increase in air intake and plenty of gas. Using a slow-flow nipple can help avoid this problem.
- Position your bottle properly: Make sure your bottle is tilted enough to allow the milk to cover the nipple completely. This will help prevent your baby from sucking in the air that’s in the bottle along with their meal.
- Force out the extra air: Expect to burp your baby after every ounce of milk or formula is consumed.
Gas can be highly uncomfortable for your little one. Following these tips will help you mitigate gas and discomfort for your baby.
4. Food Sensitivities
It’s possible that some of your child’s crying after eating is related to an intolerance or allergy.
Everything you consume is passed on to your child in your milk. Some foods — like dairy and eggs — are frequently associated with food sensitivities (4).
If you’re nursing, the best way to determine what’s agitating your child is by charting your food intake. Keep a food journal; you may be surprised at where correlations begin to appear.
Early on, my youngest was inconsolable after the last meal of the day — just when the time came to settle into sleep.
The common link to the discomfort? Spicy food and cheese during my dinner. I cut back on those, and my baby was happier for it.
We were fortunate our baby was only intolerant of these foods and didn’t have a true allergy. Sometimes a young system has difficulty handling certain foods. If your child has a true allergy, you’ll notice more symptoms than abdominal distress.
Be on the lookout for hives, skin rashes, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and any face or tongue swelling (5). If you suspect your child has an allergy, you should consult your pediatrician immediately. And if your little one is struggling with breathing after eating, call 911.
When starting solids, always introduce one new food at a time to your little one to determine what might have caused the response.
Formula feeding your baby? If you notice signs of a food allergy before introducing solid foods, your baby may be allergic to the formula (most commonly the cow’s milk protein). If you think this might be the case, work closely with your pediatrician to determine a suitable alternative formula.
Other Reasons For Crying After Eating
Many causes of post-feeding crying come back to the digestive process. They aren’t the only reasons, though. Some other things may cause your baby to cry.
Most babies will begin teething between 4 and 6 months of age. This doesn’t guarantee the teeth will show up shortly afterward, though. Some babies could go through several months of teething before the teeth break through the gums.
Unfortunately, your child will likely experience inflammation and extreme discomfort in the mouth and gums during this time. This can make even usually benign experiences, like nursing or bottle-feeding, incredibly painful.
If your baby is experiencing teething-related pain, you can help by numbing their gums with cool water before feeding. Just dip your thumb in water and rub directly onto the gums (6). Or let them chew on a washcloth that has been wet and then slightly frozen.
Other pain management approaches can include numbing oral medications and anti-inflammatories (though you’ll want to ask your baby’s doctor before using these). You’ll also want to provide plenty of opportunities for your baby to practice gnawing on things. This can help relieve the pressure, encouraging teeth to break through a little more quickly.
Babies can experience an overgrowth of yeast in their mouths (7). While Candida, a parasitic fungus, is normally present in your body and in your baby’s mouth, excess yeast can be a problem. It’s extremely uncomfortable and may impact your baby’s ability to eat properly.
Excess amounts of yeast frequently happen after a course of antibiotics. Antibiotics will kill off the bad bacteria, but they don’t discriminate. This means they may also kill off good bacteria, leaving an imbalance that can lead to thrush.
Thrush is usually a visible condition. If you suspect your baby has thrush, look inside their mouth. If thrush is present, you’ll see filmy white patches that may look like milk. If the patch doesn’t come away with a swipe from your finger, you’re looking at thrush.
If your baby has thrush, make an appointment with your pediatrician. A simple course of prescription antifungal medication will help clean up the condition.
Yeast is quite persistent. If you’re dealing with thrush, plan on sterilizing every plastic nipple or pacifier you own to prevent recontamination. Nursing? You’ll need to be treated for thrush as well — or you will simply pass the infection back and forth between you and your baby.