Background: During the first months of life, infants can suffer from many 'minor' gastroenterological disturbances. However, little is known about the frequency of these problems and the factors which predispose or facilitate their onset.
Aims: (a) To ascertain the frequency of the most common gastrointestinal symptoms in infants during the first 6 months after birth; (b) to evaluate the influence of some variables on the onset of the symptoms.
Study design and patients: Each of the 150 paediatricians distributed throughout Italy followed 20 consecutive infants from birth to 6 months. 2879 infants (1422 f, 1457 m) concluded the study. The presence of the following symptoms was evaluated: constipation, diarrhoea, vomiting, regurgitation, failure to thrive and prolonged crying fits (colic). Symptoms were recorded whenever the parents requested a clinical check-up or during a set monthly examination.
Results: 1582/2879 (54.9%) infants suffered from one of the gastrointestinal symptoms. Regurgitation was the most common disturbance (present in 23.1% of infants), followed by colic (20.5%), constipation (17.6%), failure to thrive (15.2%), vomiting (6%) and diarrhoea (4.1%). Low birth weight was the factor most frequently associated with the onset of gastrointestinal symptoms, followed by low gestational age. Feeding habits did not influence the onset of symptoms, with the exception of constipation, which was linked to a low frequency of breast-feeding. Ninety-three infants (3.2%) were hospitalised for one or more of the gastrointestinal symptoms which were considered. During the whole study period the type of formula-milk was changed in 60% of the infants with one or more gastrointestinal symptoms, and in 15.5% of the infants who did not suffer from any gastrointestinal troubles.
Conclusions: Gastrointestinal symptoms are very common in infants during the first 6 months after birth. These symptoms required hospitalisation only in a small percentage of cases, but led to the prescription of a 'dietary' milk formula in approximately 60% of the cases. Low birth weight and low gestational age were the main factors influencing the onset of the symptoms.