Baby Gas: Relief and Prevention

Lucinda Sky Elle Russia Fall/Winter 2016

Nothing makes every nerve ending in a parent’s body sit up and take notice as much as a crying baby. And when a baby isn’t easily soothed or comforted with the usual methods of holding, feeding, changing, and rocking, as a parent we often feel like joining in on the inconsolable crying. We know our baby is experiencing pain and discomfort and we just want it to stop. NOW. We want our precious baby to be able to relax and feel comfortable and secure.

Why do so many babies seem to suffer so with gas pain and discomfort, and how can we relieve it quickly—or better yet, prevent it from happening in the first place?

What is Baby Gas?

Gas is simply air bubbles or air pockets that develop in the stomach and intestines. It gets there when babies unintentionally swallow air. This can happen during feeding, or sometimes during periods of crying when air is “gulped,” in between cries. It sometimes occurs when a breastfed baby isn’t latching correctly, or when a bottle fed baby isn’t positioned correctly. Gas can also develop as a reaction to the type of formula being fed, or something passed from mother to child through breastmilk. Gas may develop due to constipation or simply because of an immature digestive tract.

For all humans, as food passes through the digestive tract the unabsorbed parts are broken down by bacteria which produce gas during the process. Typically, this is easily expelled, but it can cause pain and discomfort, and it seems to be much more of a problem for infants with their brand new digestive systems than it is for adults. When gas collects in a baby’s digestive tract, it can cause pain and bloating.

Some babies seem to tolerate gas well, but for others, it can cause much distress and discomfort.

How Can I tell if Baby Has Gas? (Besides the Obvious…)

Symptoms of gas in babies include squirming, pulling the knees up to the chest and kicking, arching the back, and crying while passing gas. Grunting and grimacing can also signal a gas attack. If your baby seems to feel better, at least temporarily, after passing gas, it’s a sign that it’s gas that’s causing her discomfort. Gas problems can be exacerbated when a baby cries from the gas, and in the process swallows more air. Unfortunately, telling a tiny baby to stop crying because she will make her problem worse, has no effect.

So what are some tips and tricks from experienced moms to prevent gas?

Preventing Gas in Your Little Guy

The double burp: You can help to prevent gas by stopping midway during a feeding for a mid-feed burp. This can help your baby to eliminate excess swallowed air the easy way—before it travels into the lower digestive tract where it can cause pain. Then, burp your baby again when the feeding has ended.

If you normally breastfeed, but your baby needs a bottle because you will be away from her, or to supplement her feeding, be sure to choose one of the best bottles for breastfed babies. This can help her to more easily adjust to the new feeding method, because the nipples and flow are designed to be closer to the way your breast works.

Limit ingested air. If you notice your baby is gulping air during a feeding, try adjusting him to a more upright position. If your baby is bottle fed, make sure that the flow isn’t too fast for him. If he’s breastfed, check his latch. A bad latch can result in the baby releasing the nipple between sucks, which can cause him to swallow air.

Limit crying. I know this may be easier said than done, but as much as possible don’t let your baby cry for more than a few moments. Extended crying can cause your baby to swallow air.

Check your baby’s diet: If you bottle feed, and your baby is experiencing excessive gas, you can try talking to your doctor about a formula change. Your baby’s doctor may recommend trying something easier on your baby’s tummy. If you breastfeed, you may have to investigate your own diet to see if eliminating specific foods will decrease your baby’s fussiness. Common culprits are beans, some gassy vegetables, acidic foods, and dairy products.

Treating Your Baby’s Gas

Tummy time: Try putting your baby down on his tummy on a blanket on the floor. Though he might protest, (vigorously) the pressure on your baby’s tummy can help him to expel the excess gas. A few minutes of your baby kicking and squirming on her tummy in protest to tummy time can actually help the gas to escape.

Play football with your baby: Placing your baby in a “Football” hold, face down across your arm with their legs straddling your elbow area, can also soothe a gassy tummy. Try patting them gently on the back in this position to help them expel gas.

Bicycle your baby: You may notice that your gassy baby often brings his knees toward his chest. This is his  natural way to try to work the gas out. You can help with this by putting your baby on his back, bending his legs gently toward his chest, and them moving them as though he’s pedalling a bicycle. This can help the gas to escape.

Baby Massage: You can try placing your baby on her back and gently massaging her tummy in a clockwise direction, which is the natural path of digestion. This can help the gas to work its way down the digestive tract to be naturally expelled.

Baby Gas Drops: If natural methods aren’t effective, you can try giving your baby gas drops. These are typically comprised of simethicone, an effective anti-gas medication used to break up and dissolve gas bubbles. These medications are safe and effective.

You may also find some natural gas remedies containing ingredients such as chamomile, which is also very soothing to a baby’s digestive system.

Keep a Feeding Journal: If you breastfeed and your baby is bothered by frequent gas, you can try keeping a food journal to chart what you eat. Pay attention to what you’ve eaten on the days when your baby has experienced gas, and then eliminate one food at a time to see if makes a difference.

Gas in babies is very normal and common, and usually nothing to be concerned about, other than your natural concern about your baby’s discomfort. However, if your baby isn’t gaining weight, or if he’s rejecting his formula or breastmilk, seems constipated, or breaks out in hives, or a rash, than call your baby’s doctor to find out if there is a more serious problem such as reflux, or a food allergy.

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