Picture this: The parents of a six-week old baby who is combination fed (receives breastmilk and formula) have started noticing that in the last two weeks, their baby is squirmy, grunts, and gets very flushed in the face right before passing gas. These episodes are occurring more frequently, but last only a few minutes.
They think it could be due to their baby’s formula, but are they right?
Fact of the matter is, babies are gassy! In fact, it isn’t uncommon for a baby to pass gas over 20 times in one day. That’s a lot of air moving through such a tiny little digestive tract. While most babies tolerate gas perfectly fine, some babies are more sensitive to it.
Grunting, squirming, crying, and getting red in the face are all signs your baby might be trying to pass gas but is having a hard time doing so. Whether this behavior started the minute they came home from the hospital or has recently developed, you just want to be able to find the cause and fix the problem.
Milk Drunk consulted Dr. Régine Brioché, Head Pediatrician at Tribeca Pediatrics in Crown Heights Brooklyn (and mom), to find out what makes babies so gassy in the first place, how you can help them, and when it could be time to see a doctor.
What is Making My Baby So Gassy?
It isn’t necessarily what is making your baby gassy so much as it is what is causing their gas to be discomforting.
Most of the time, babies pass gas with relative ease. However, there are some circumstances that can make your baby’s gas more difficult to pass, and cause them discomfort.
Swallowing Air During Feeding
“For bottle fed babies, allowing air in the nipple of the bottle, a milk flow that is too slow and causes the infant to unlatch frequently and cry, or a flow that is too fast which leads to gulping can all cause your baby to ingest more air during their feedings,” says Dr. Brioché.
For breastfed babies, the ingestion of air can be caused by an improper latch.
Your pediatrician and/or lactation consultant can help your baby achieve a better latch, which can help eliminate gas.
Their Digestive Systems Are Just Young and Still Developing
Babies don’t handle the contents of food like adults do.
“Their gastrointestinal systems are still very immature,” says Dr. Brioché, “the small intestines of babies fail to absorb completely the carbohydrates in their milk and/or formula. As a result, the unabsorbed material ferments in their bowels causing gas. The longer it sits, the more gas produced and the fussier baby gets.”
All babies cry-it’s their primary means of communication. However, if your baby cries excessively, they could be more at risk for developing gas and gas related pain because of the amount of air they ingest while crying.
Unfortunately, there’s no “cure” for colic, but there are actions you can take to help soothe and calm your baby.
Solid Food Intolerance/Sensitivity
If your baby is older and eating solids, their gas pain could be from a food intolerance or sensitivity. It may be a great idea to keep a feeding journal while you introduce new foods so you can determine whether the source of your baby’s gas is from something new they’ve recently tried.
Tips and Tricks To Soothe (and Prevent) a Gassy Baby
When you know the cause of the cause, you can find the solution. However, even if you aren’t sure what’s causing your baby to be so uncomfortable, you can be proactive in helping them feel better. Here’s how.
Ensure Proper Latching
Both bottle fed and breastfed babies rely on a proper latch to effectively remove milk and/or formula into their mouths. If their latch isn’t secure, they can ingest air which can cause gas. In addition to getting help from a lactation consultant and/or pediatrician, you can also look for bottles that promote less ingestion of air.
Feed at the Right Angle
Angle matters. Dr. Briochés suggests feeding your baby more upright instead of in a laid back position, like across your arms. It’s important to keep your baby’s head higher than their stomach. This can also help babies who tend to spit up more keep more of their feedings in their bellies.
Take Your Time with Burping
Sometimes, burping is more of an afterthought, especially if your baby has fallen asleep while feeding. If your baby is gassy, burping is important. Dr. Brioché suggests burping more frequently. During your baby’s feeding, pause a few times to burp them.
It’s also important to keep your baby upright 15 minutes after burping. This will help eliminate gas and help them spit up less.
Try Doing Baby Bicycles
When your baby is very upset with gas, you can try to pump it out of them manually. Lie your baby on their back and gently bicycle their legs. This can help move gas that is trapped in their intestines which can make it easier for them to pass.
Make More Tummy Time
Dr. Brioché recommends tummy time 20 minutes after your baby has finished feeding as a great way to eliminate gas and discomfort. Keeping your baby on their tummy can help alleviate gas cramps and help move trapped air through the intestines so it can be easily passed.
You can also gently massage your baby’s lower back and/or tummy to help move trapped air.
Change Bottle Nipples
Your baby’s bottle may be to blame for all the excess ingested air. If you think the bottle may be the culprit, try switching your baby to a different flow nipple. If your baby seems to unlatch frequently and cry, they may be ready for a faster flow. If, however, they seem to be gulping air, they may need a flower flow nipple instead.
You can also adopt a pace feeding method which usually uses a slower flow nipple and more closely mimics breastfeeding. This type of feeding requires the baby to work harder to express milk or formula from the bottle, which can reduce the amount of air they ingest.
Gripe Water and Probiotics
Sometimes, it seems like nothing helps. Your baby is miserable and gassy and there seems to be no end in sight.
Dr. Brioché recommends experimenting with over-the-counter treatments like gripe water (usually helpful with colic), gas relievers like simethicone, and even probiotics:
“According to a study in JAMA Pediatrics, probiotics are bacteria thought to have a beneficial effect on the gut. These ‘good bacteria’ can help with digestion and development of our immune system.”
Another holistic approach is giving your baby a warm bath. Your baby will likely relax once they are in the warm water, which can help move gas along their digestive tract. Additionally, a warm bath has a soothing effect on your baby, which can help give them relief from gas pain.
When Should I Take My Baby to a Pediatrician for Their Gas?
Is it just normal gas or is it something else? If you are concerned your baby’s gas is getting worse, you can look for signs.
Dr. Briochés suggests taking your baby to their pediatrician if you notice any of the following:
- Blood in your baby’s stool. This can be a sign of a milk protein allergy.
- Multiple episodes of vomiting. If your baby seems like they just can’t keep food down, it could be a sign of a bigger issue.
- Vomiting and diarrhea. Your baby could have a stomach bug that is causing their gas.
- Weight loss, fewer wet diapers. If your baby seems like they are losing weight or producing less wet diapers, it is an immediate cause for a trip to the doctor.
- Constipation. In babies, constipation looks like less frequent stools or hard, pellet-shaped poops.
- In older infants taking solids. If you suspect a food intolerance or allergy, speak to your child’s pediatrician.
Babies get gas, and that is totally normal. However, passing gas should be a comfortable event for your baby.
If your baby is struggling to pass gas, don’t give up hope! Keep a journal of the methods you have tried and keep looking for ways to help them feel better.
Consistency can be key in determining what’s causing the gas and how you can deal with it.