Your premature baby's digestion

If your premature baby is unwell or is suffering from discomfort such as constipation, colic or reflux it's important to seek expert advice.


Constipation tends to affect premature babies more than term babies. This is partly because it's more common in babies who are bottle fed. It may also relate to poor muscle tone or immature gut function.

What you can do about constipation

The usual advice for constipation is to give a little cooled boiled water between feeds, and to gently push your baby's knees into his tummy one at a time, to help get his bowels moving. However, talk to your healthcare team, who may alter the mix of the formula you are using, or may prescribe glycerine suppositories.


Gastro-oesophageal reflux, usually known simply as 'reflux', is the name for when the contents of the stomach come back up into the foodpipe or mouth. This may just cause posseting (bringing up small amounts of milk after feeding), but in more severe cases the baby may vomit, cough or choke, and it can sometimes cause soreness or problems with sleeping or feeding. It is very common among babies - especially those born prematurely.

What you can do about reflux

Try nursing your baby on a tilt, with his head much higher than the rest of his body. Sometimes the healthcare team may prescribe a thickener to add to his milk. However, this is not a trouble-free option, as it can cause diarrhoea, coughing and feeding problems. Reflux tends to ease naturally over time as your baby's digestive tract grows.


Colic is the name for frequent episodes of prolonged crying in a baby who seems otherwise healthy. It is very common in young babies. We do not know exactly what causes it, but it is linked to a number of causes related to the digestive system. Many parents feel that their baby is crying because he is in pain, often around the time of feeding. The problem usually resolves itself after three or four months.

What you can do about colic

If your baby has colic, it is recommended that you contact your GP when the excessive crying begins. This is so your GP can rule out conditions that may be causing your baby’s crying.

Your GP is unlikely to refer you to a paediatrician unless there are any other signs that your baby is unwell, or if the problem is getting worse or continues beyond four months.

Ways to soothe your crying baby

  • Keep the room quiet and dimly lit.
  • Cuddle him or give kangaroo care.
  • Take him for a drive or a walk in the buggy, the movement may soothe him.
  • Give him something to suck.
  • Gently push his knees into his tummy in a cycling motion, to help with wind.
  • Swaddle him.
  • Rock him or gently walk around the room with him.
  • Bathe him in warm water.

    Last reviewed on April 1st, 2017. Next review date April 1st, 2020.

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    Please note that these comments are monitored but not answered by Tommy’s. Please call your GP or maternity unit if you have concerns about your health or your baby’s health.
    • By Leopoldine (not verified) on 28 Mar 2020 - 06:27

      My baby was born prematurely with 1.78kg and was doing well and did not need any breathing help, a week passed and he started vomiting aftre feeds, the dr wont say anything specific about this case, please help need advice.

    • By Chris millican (not verified) on 12 Aug 2019 - 14:13

      I know baby's cry! This is neither mine or my wife's first. She has two from previous marriage and I have one making this the fourth kid of ours. Our baby girl was born 3months early, made it through all kinds of issues breathing machine feeding tube and everything, one week before term date they took her off all respiratory support, one week before that I think the feeding tube came out, four days before the term date she came home with us. She now has been to the doctor 3 times and the hospital once . Only one of the visits were the scheduled the first one and I expressed my concerns of her starting to be a little more gassy I thought. The rest of them I have mentioned that she is in pain and grunting excessively. When I say excessively I mean 24/7 rocking don't comfort nothing comforts her for the past two weeks and two days ago I was back at the hospital that she delivered at with an er visit that I was told don't worry without a single test done .. before something seriously bad happens what tests can I have done to check her intestinal tract to see if she has any of these unfimiliar conditions that can be fatal if not cought soon enough? Please someone, tell me what to have the doctor check for.
      We already put some Vaseline in a q tip and gently massage her rectal ring as the doctor has instructed us to, and this is the only way she goes poop. Also he said her stomach was really rumbling the second visit and now on the third visit a
      switch to nutramigenn formula. Im about positive there's more to it as nothing comforts and it seems like at 8 lbs now she would eat more than 2oz of formula at a time as the others would eat twice as much or more. Also when she's crying about it she's really really crying with her knees to her chest no kicking of legs and it's a hurt cry not anything other than that. Poor baby girl, please everyone with experience or input reply back sincerely

    • By Mariam (not verified) on 22 Mar 2019 - 02:58

      My baby was born 10 days ago at 34 weeks, so premature baby. She has been pooping and weeing fine every 3 hours. But now she has not pooped since 1:15pm yesterday and now its 3am...thats 14 hours. What do I do?

    • By Tiny (not verified) on 18 Feb 2020 - 21:13

      My 33 weeks premature baby is now 4 weeks old she was good all along as I only breast feed because she was not getting enough her piadiatrician prescribe formula so I breastfeed plus adding fomular s- 26 now she's fussy help

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 11 Sep 2018 - 16:01

      I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your baby boy-I hope you have both family and professional support with this, also that you have been able to meet with the team caring for him to find out what happened. It sounds like he had a condition called necrotising enterocolitis which is a serious complication of prematurity
      I would suggest contacting the hospital again via PALS (Patient Advice and Liaison Service) as they can support you to help find out the answers to your questions-any investigations would include looking at your son's hospital notes to review what care was given.

      Hope this helps.
      Please do not hesitate to contact Tommy's PregnancyLine 0800 0147 800 or via [email protected]

      Take care
      Tommy's Midwife

    • By tony bamber (not verified) on 6 Sep 2018 - 18:25

      hi im looking for help on where to look for information on my son passing away, he was born at 26 week at 2pound 5 he wouldnt feed for the first week ,however he started to have half a ml of milk every feed and was doing well he came of the ventalator and just had a little help with oxygen in like a fish bowl around him. for the next 4 week he went up to 18 ml of milk every feed ,the dr said he was doing realy well ,we even got to hold him once ,then when he was 5 week old his bowels started to get blocked or something like that ,dr told us he needs a operation on is bowels at alderhay ,after the operation he just give up and they told us hes getting septasimeire and its cruel to keep him on the life support he will not pull through so we made the tough decision to turn it off ,we made a mistake by not having an autopsy has we thought hed been through enough , we was young an foolish , im trying to find out if hospital made any mistakes buy over feeding him to quickly can anyone help me please thank you

    • By Michelle (not verified) on 23 Sep 2018 - 19:15

      So sorry to hear
      About your baby. My son was born at 27weeks 6days and was 2lbs 6oz. He was doing great and starting to bottle feed when we noticed wasn’t acting like himself and had small drops of blood in his stool. He had confirmed NEC. This is a common occurrence in premature babies and if not caught early can be fatal.

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