Baby’s Digestive System – When and How it Develops

Baby’s Digestive System – When and How It Develops

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Gunjan Baweja (Paediatrician)
View more Paediatrician Our Panel of Experts

Babies are delicate and so is their digestive tract. Whatever your baby puts in his mouth may enter his gastrointestinal tract, which is not strong enough to fight various kinds of pathogens or bacteria that enter his body. In the initial months of your baby’s life, his digestive tract will undergo many changes. For the first few months, it will not only produce various enzymes that help and aid digestion, but it will also develop antibodies to fight various infections and medical ailments. To know when and how a baby’s digestive system develops, read the following article.

An Infant’s Digestive System Transition From Womb to Birth

When a baby is inside his mother’s womb, he gets all his nutrients from the placenta. But soon after the birth of your baby, everything changes for him as he no longer depends on the placenta for the nutrition. Now, his digestive system will have to fend of itself, which means it will have to digest food on its own. However, a baby’s digestive system is not mature or strong enough at birth, and it will take some time to adjust. And because of this very reason, he may even lose approximately 10 per cent of the weight within a few days after birth. Breast milk has all the nutrition and energy that a baby requires at birth. It is through breast milk only that a baby will get all the calories for his growth and development. It may take time for the breast milk to turn from colostrum to fat-dense milk, and once the transition happens, you will notice that your baby will start gaining weight.

As you know that babies have a smaller tummy, so you will have to feed your baby often. In the initial few days after birth, your baby may only be able to take an ounce of milk, but this may gradually increase up to three to four ounces a day before your baby is three months old. Apart from the smaller tummy, your baby may also have a small and underdeveloped oesophageal valve. This valve is responsible for the transfer of food to your baby’s tummy. However, being small and underdeveloped, it may lead to frequent spitting. Your baby’s kidney will also be immature, hence it is important for a mother to pay heed to her baby’s feeding schedule to ensure that the baby gets ample nutrients, is hydrated, and there is no electrolyte imbalance.

The Digestive Tract Lining Issue

Adults and older children have a layer of mucus lining around their gastrointestinal tract. This mucus lining acts as a shield in protecting the digestive tract against any microbes or contaminants that they may consume with their food or liquids. However, babies do not have a strong mucus lining around their gastrointestinal tract. This may put babies at high risk of catching various kinds of infections. However, this should not be your cause of concern because as your baby will grow, this lining will become stronger and will mature completely and your baby’s body will become strong enough to start making its own antibodies. Before your baby’s body starts making its own antibodies, your baby will get them from the breast milk. Apart from this, the breast milk will also help your baby in building the mucus lining by promoting the good bacteria and keeping various dangerous pathogens at bay.

The Digestive Tract Lining Issue

Why Avoid Solid Foods Until 6 Months?

You may be tempted to give a morsel of food to your baby when you have your meals. However, if your baby is less than six months of age, this may not be a good idea. This is because no matter how eager or ready your baby may be, his digestive system may not be ready or prepared for the same. Your baby’s body will not be efficient enough to produce the apt amount of enzymes to digest starch in the food until he reaches six months of age. Also, bile salts and lipase, which aid in the digestion of fats, do not reach a maturing stage until six to nine months of age. By four to six months of age, your baby will have an ‘open gut’. This gut will allow the whole proteins to pass from the small intestine to the bloodstream. This will also aid the antibodies from the mother’s milk to enter into the bloodstream; however, if large molecules of food or other pathogens pass through it, it may lead to allergies or infections.

When Does a Baby’s Digestive System Develop Fully?

Are you thinking how long it will take for your baby’s digestive system to mature? Well, your baby’s digestive system needs to make enough digestive enzymes that can help digest carbohydrates, fats and proteins present in the solid food. And this may not happen until six to nine months of age. Therefore, your baby’s digestive system gradually starts maturing at around six to nine months of age. By this time you can start introducing various kinds of solid food in your baby’s diet after checking with your doctor.

Tips to Care for Your Child’s Digestive Health

Colic, diarrhoea, spitting up, tummy pain, and other digestive problems are very common during the first few months after the birth of your child. But there is no need to worry as these are very common issues that most babies may face due to an immature digestive system. However, here we have some tips that may help you to take care of your baby’s digestive health.

1. Breastfeed

Breast milk is a boon for babies as it not only provides them with ample amount of nutrition, but it also helps in building antibodies. Therefore, you must breastfeed your baby until six months of age or longer. It has also been proved that babies who are exclusively breastfed are less likely to have digestive, respiratory, or other health complications.

1. Breastfeed

2. Introduce Solid Foods Gradually

You may give solid foods to your baby once he turns six months. However, refrain from adding too many foods at the same time. Begin by slowly introducing one food at a time and the new food should be added after a gap of four to five days. Monitor how your baby’s digestive system responds to it. Bananas, broccoli, apples and cereals like rice, ragi and suji are some of the food items that you may begin with. The addition of wheat should be delayed and it can be started around eight months or after.

3. Look Out for Food Allergies

Make sure you register any allergies or food sensitivities that your baby may have as it may impact his digestive health. For this reason, it is important to start with one food item at a time to know if a particular food item may be the culprit behind the food allergy. If your baby is allergic to any food item, make sure you refrain from giving any food preparation that may contain that food item in it. Some babies may be lactose intolerant, may have nut allergies or even be allergic to eggs. So, keep a good eye on your little baby.

Now you know when your baby’s digestive system develops, so introduce solid foods to him once you are sure that his digestive tract is completely developed. Please consult your doctor before starting off with any kind of solid food for the first time as your doctor may be able to guide you better as to how you may go about feeding solid foods to your baby.

Also Read: Gas Problems in Babies

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