What Is a Food Baby—and How Do You Make It Disappear?

Having a bloated stomach after a meal is generally common; sometimes, all it takes is to change what and how you eat to avoid it.

Maybe you overdid it at the buffet or accidentally ate all the cookies. Either way, you likely felt full, perhaps with a somewhat bloated belly. Most people would call this a food baby, an informal term for a protruding abdomen that occurs after indulging in a lot of food.

Here's what you should know about experiencing a food baby and what to do about it.

What Causes a Food Baby?

"It's really the products of digestion stuck in your GI tract," explained integrative gastroenterologist Robynne Chutkan, MD, author of The Microbiome Solution and The Bloat Cure. In other words, your food baby could be a combination of food matter, digestive gasses, swallowed air, and retained water. "If you overfill the GI tract, then you'll get a backup, kind of like a highway."

In addition to how much you eat, a food baby may also be caused by what you eat, Dr. Chutkan said. Artificial sweeteners, dairy products, carbonated drinks, and cruciferous veggies (like kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts) can all lead to the production of excess gas—and a ballooning midsection.

Eating too quickly can also be a culprit for a food baby, per MedlinePlus. When you eat too fast, that can cause you to swallow too much air at the same time and leave you with a protruding belly.

What Can You Do When Your Belly Swells?

If you find yourself in a situation with a food baby, there are a few ways to help get rid of it.

Liquids can help keep your food baby from growing any bigger. If you woke up with a food baby because you overate the night before, "[t]he last thing you need to be doing is having steak and eggs for breakfast," Dr. Chutkan said.

Instead, opt for nourishing soups, juices, and smoothies. Dr. Chutkan recommended whipping up a green smoothie that's full of fiber and good-for-you nutrients and adding some papaya or pineapple. Both fruits contain enzymes that aid digestion.

Further, certain herbal teas can help a troubled tummy. Soothing ginger tea has been shown to ease cramps, while fennel tea should help de-puff your belly. Peppermint and chamomile are also good choices; both types of tea calm muscles in the GI tract, allowing gas to dissipate.

Going for a walk can help by stimulating your gut and moving food through your large intestine. You could also do some twisting yoga poses that massage the abdomen. Or try this trick from Dr. Chutkan: Lie down and with a light dumbbell, make a large circle around your belly button, applying gentle pressure, in a clockwise direction.

Additionally, you can train your body to get back on track by staying hydrated, eating probiotic foods, and gradually adding more fiber to your diet (think fruits, veggies, and whole grains). You could also consider making changes to your diet in general.

The low fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAP) diet limits your food choices to those that do not cause bloating, per Johns Hopkins Medicine. Ultimately, making changes to your diet and adding exercise to your day can help regulate the rate of digestion.

When To Be Concerned About a Bloated Belly

If you notice that your belly is bulging after every meal, or most meals, it could be a sign of constipation, Dr. Chutkan said. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, this is because the longer it takes for you to have a bowel movement, the more time bacteria have to sit in your colon and create gas or bloating.

Other causes of abdominal bloating could include gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or lactose intolerance, per MedlinePlus. There are also serious disorders that can lead to bloating, such as tumors; celiac disease; dumping syndrome, ovarian cancer, and pancreatic insufficiency (where the pancreas has difficulty producing enough digestive enzymes).

Immediate medical care may be necessary if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Worsening heartburn
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Blood in stools or dark stools
  • Diarrhea

Overall, you'll want to make sure that your bloated belly is nothing serious. But remember: Food babies are extremely common and rarely anything to worry about.

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