There's a lot of finger pointing going on when it comes to gassy babies. Many parents worry that constant gas is associated with bigger health problems. But that's rarely the case. Here are some afflictions that people think are associated with gas but most likely aren't.
Baby colic is typically defined as bouts of excessive and unexplained crying. "Colic is believed to be due to an immature gut, which matures around three months of age," says Ari Brown, M.D., an Austin-based pediatrician and the author of Baby 411. And although a colicky baby can be a gassy baby, a gassy baby doesn't necessarily have colic. Babies are born gassy, but colic doesn't usually manifest itself in newborns until they are about 3 weeks old. Babies can be gassy around the clock, but colicky babies tend to ramp up during the evening hours (for about three hours a day). Finally, colic usually disappears by the time a baby is 3 or 4 months old. Gas -- a normal bodily function in both babies and adults -- is something you'll be stuck with indefinitely.
GERD -- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease -- occurs when stomach acid moves upwards into the esophagus and irritates the lining, causing pain. "Babies with acid reflux are definitely not having a gas problem," Dr. Brown says. "Their issue is above the level of gas production so we don't treat this problem with anti-gas products." Gas can take up to a couple of hours to surface, but GERD symptoms are almost immediate and can last several hours after a feeding, remaining painful (as the stomach acid irritates the lining of the esophagus). "Babies would show signs of being uncomfortable during feeding or just after," Dr. Shu notes. GERD is also associated with spitting up, vomiting, and lack of expected weight gain. But it can also be subtle, with signs that include avoiding eating, crying while eating, and arching the back while eating -- signs that parents might interpret as gas. It can be a tricky diagnosis," Dr. Brown says.
Lactose intolerance occurs when the body can't digest lactose, the carbohydrate found in milk. And although gas can certainly be a symptom, it's extremely rare for a baby to be born with lactose intolerance. "Most lactose intolerance occurs later in life or temporarily, after a stomach virus wipes out the enzyme that breaks down lactose," Dr. Brown says. Parents should watch for belly pain, diarrhea, and bloody stool before considering this ailment. Excessive gas isn't enough to diagnose lactose intolerance.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a group of symptoms that affect the large intestine. People with a sensitive intestinal tract can get IBS; food and stress are thought to bring on the symptoms. Gas is definitely one symptom, along with abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, and constipation or diarrhea. But, thankfully, babies are spared from this affliction. "Irritable bowel syndrome is not a malady for babies or even young children," Dr. Brown says. "It occurs in children who are at least school age." So if you're dealing with an excessively gassy baby, you can safely check IBS off of your list.
We may have dispelled the rumors about some health problems thought to be associated with gas but don't dismiss your baby's gas altogether. "If your baby's gas causes severe or persistent belly pain, or if you think her symptoms are beyond what you should expect from infant gas, then it's time to consult with your pediatrician," Dr. Shu advises.
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