Indigestion In Babies

Article #2: Indigestion in Babies by Dr. Herbert M. Shelton

I receive frequent letters from anxious mothers asking what causes indigestion in their infants (under two years) and what they can do about it. Indigestion in children under two seems to be very common.

Let us try to answer the first question: what causes it? Nerve energy is functioning power and anything that lowers nerve energy and brings on enervation will cause indigestion. Excessive play, overexcitement, overindulgence, overeating, eating between meals, eating when tired, or when excited, starch eating before the end of the second year, being tired from outings, neglect of the afternoon nap, being overheated, or chilled, drugging and anything that will use up nerve energy excessively may result from too much juice being fed the baby. Some mothers seem to want to drown their babies in juice.

The first symptoms of indigestion are “nervousness,” irritability, bad breath, bloated bowels, coated tongue, cold feet, constipation, colic, hives, sleeplessness, grinding of the teeth in sleep, drooling. Babies are always irritable and cry easily when they have indigestion. There will be undigested curds in the stools and often foul stools.

Teething does not cause indigestion, but indigestion may result in difficulties in teething. There can be no doubt that teething, which is normally a painless and unnoticed process, can be very painful in sickly babies. The gums may become inflamed and painful, the baby will cry and fret and its digestion will be upset still more, but the basic cause of the indigestion, which is the forerunner of painful teething is enervation.

What can be done about indigestion? Remove the cause. How? Stop the overfeeding. Cease overexciting the baby. Discontinue feeding it between meals and at night. Cease feeding starch and other foods which it is not physiologically equipped to handle. Give it less juice. Stop over-bathing it. Dress it more warmly or less warmly, as required. Do not permit it to overplay. Give due attention to its afternoon sleep. Give up the drugging.

Mothers want to know what they should do immediately, when the baby has indigestion. The care required is simple. Put the baby to bed with something warm at its feet. Let it rest and keep quiet until it is normal. Often within twenty-four hours the baby will be able to eat. If baby wakes up smiling, in good humor and with a sweet breath, it is ready to be fed. But, if it wakes up crying and irritable, with pungent breath and white lines (lines of stomach irritation) around the mouth and nose, complaining of discomfort, the fast should be prolonged for another twenty-four hours. Indeed this program should be continued until the baby is normal, even if it takes several days. Mothers are usually in a hurry to feed and by feeding prematurely, they prolong the indigestion. Give the body an opportunity to get rid of the surplus food, toxemia, and to restore functioning power.

When baby is ready to resume feeding, the food should be a little fruit juice—orange juice, fresh tomato juice, or other fresh fruit juice in season (I have used watermelon juice, canteloupe juice, papaya juice, peach juice, apricot juice, plum juice, pear juice, apple juice, etc.) which may be given every three hours. If the baby goes through this first day of feeding comfortably and rests well through the night, the next day regular feeding may be resumed, giving but about one-third what had been previously given. In one or two days, if the baby continues to do well, the amount may be increased to half the amount the baby had been in the habit of eating. After another day or two a full diet may be resumed. By a full diet, I do not mean the diet conventionally fed to babies, nor do I mean a return to the prior overfeeding and feeding between meals.

Until the baby is two years old it needs and should have no other food but milk and fruit juices. The best food in the world for the baby is its own mother’s milk. There is no adequate substitute for mother’s milk. Baby is physiologically unequipped to chew and digest starches before the age of two years and starch foods should not be given before that age. Indeed, baby is not equipped to chew solid foods until it has a mouth full of teeth and, normally, a full set of deciduous teeth is developed at 24 months.

Mothers and others who care for children, whether under or over two years of age, should be able to recognize the symptoms that precede, accompany, and follow indigestion, constipation, gas, distention of the bowels, excessive urination, a gradual growing state of dissatisfaction, white curds in the stools of milk-feeding babies, hard stools, etc. It should be known that white curds in the stools indicate that the baby is getting more milk than it can digest. It is being overfed. Mothers should not wait until the child is pronouncedly sick before doing something about this. Cut down the milk one-half and continue this feeding program until the bowels are moving regularly and the stools show a normal consistency.

When the baby is obviously taking in adequate amounts of milk and there are still curds in the stools, it means indigestion. The indigestion must be remedied before more milk is given. Unfortunately, our love of feeding and fondness for “butter balls” causes us to want to overstuff babies at all times. If a baby is not gaining weight or if it is losing weight, we tend to become frantic and fly to extremes.

During the hot months, constipation often fluctuates with diarrhea. The diarrhea is the means of expelling the accumulation in the bowels. Some children will have both vomiting and diarrhea. The care in these cases should be the same as that previously described. Put the baby to bed, stop all food, and keep him/her warm. No food is to be given until all indications of diarrhea are gone. If there is pain in the abdomen, hot application to the abdomen may be used for relief.

I do not advise water for infants during the first year of life. So long as their diet is all fluid—milk and fruit juices—there can be little or no need for water. But, when the child is going without food, all the water it desires may be given.

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