Abdominal Swelling in Infants

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The most common reason for abdominal swelling in an infant is constipation, so it may be important to pay attention to the frequency of a baby's stools. Learn about more problematic causes of swelling with help from a pediatrician in this free video on pediatrics and abdominal swelling.

Part of the Video Series: Baby Digestion & Stomach Health
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Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Dr. David Hill, and today we're going to be talking about abdominal swelling in infants. Now, first of all, infants are going to have kind of big puffy bellies in the first place. They haven't been doing a lot of Pilates and core workouts and they're not going to have really strong abdominal muscles. So, they're going to sort of have big, round bellies and that's normal. That said, sometimes you look at your infant and you think, "That ain't right; that's not how he or she should look." Yesterday, they're belly seems to be swollen. Why would that be? Probably the most common reason for abdominal swelling is constipation. Now, defining constipation in infant can be a little bit difficult. Why? Well, how frequently a newborn stools may vary widely. A lot of newborn babies especially breastfed babies will stool every single time they nurse. That can be ten or twelve times a day. It feels like you're going through a cart in the diapers every time you turn around. That's normal. But, the same breastfed babies may also only stool once a day or once a week. Some people make breast milk that it's so appropriate for their infant or the infant is so good at digesting it that they use every drop of that milk to make more baby, there's nothing left to poop out of. As long as what comes out of the baby is soft in texture, we don't worry. Your baby absolutely have a fit trying to have a stool. They may turn purple and red and scream and that's normal too because it's a hard job for baby to do that. They're on their back which is a tough way to have a stool. But, if what comes out is soft, we're still not going to call it constipation; we're not worried about it. If on the other hand, your baby is having a little hard stools or big hard stools, rabbit pellets; there's bleeding when they poop, they seem to be in a lot of pain, that's much more likely constipation. Even if they pass five rabbit pellets a day, they're having frequent stools, but, they're not having stool disease when they pass. So, we won't get worried about that. Now, if your baby has a swollen belly and stops feeding well or starts vomiting, we get very worried about serious, serious diseases of the intestine. Probably the most concerning are intussusception where one part of the intestine telescopes down inside another part. That can be a life-threatening, that can lead to death of part of that intestine which requires surgery immediately to make it better. There can also be a problem called volvulus where part of the intestine twists on itself and again, that can cut off the blood supply and be life-threatening. So, if your baby has an expanded belly, abdominal swelling and seems excessively fuzzy, refuses to eat, starts vomiting, has a fever, for God sake, get your baby medical care immediately. That is not to be blown off. Now, of course, another thing we think about is gas. Babies swallow air and the bacteria inside the intestine make more gas. And if that's what you see in your baby's farty, he or she is burpy, the belly's a little bit expanded, but, everything else seems fine, they're pooping fine, they're eating fine, we're not going to be terribly worried about that. Now, there's some other things we haven't talk about, rare issues like large tumors for example that could occur. Obviously, what I would say is, if you're worried, if your baby's belly doesn't seem right to you, you feel a mass, they're not feeding well, for God's sake, get a medical provider to put a hand on that baby's belly and see what's going on. Talking about abdominal swelling in your infant, I'm Dr. David Hill.


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