Signs Your Baby Has Gas and How to Treat It
Babies are naturally gassy, but you can take preventive measures to keep your little one comfortable. Here, experts share what to do for a gassy baby.
New parents are often surprised at the big noises that come out of a small baby. Newborns can be quite the audible orchestra, and gas is often part of the repertoire. "Gas is a normal part of the digestive process, but it's also involved in most intestinal complaints," says Jeremiah Levine, M.D., director of pediatric gastroenterology at NYU Langone Health. "Too much gas is usually a symptom that something else is going on." Here's how to recognize the signs of a gassy baby and help them pass it.
Why Is My Baby So Gassy?
Every person on the planet produces and expels gas. As food moves through the gastrointestinal tract, the small intestine absorbs the usable ingredients. Bacteria in the large intestine break down the leftovers, releasing hydrogen and carbon dioxide and producing bubbles of gas in the process. Burping allows some gas to escape from the stomach early on, and the rest travels from the colon to the rectum, where it's ejected primarily via bowel movements or farts.
But when gas doesn't pass easily, it collects in the digestive tract and causes bloating and discomfort. Babies are especially prone to this. "Newborn digestive systems are immature, so they produce a lot of gas, and this is normal. Infants also take in a lot of air while feeding and crying, which produces more gas," says Samira Armin, M.D., a pediatrician at Texas Children's Pediatrics in Houston. Bottle-fed babies have it the worst, but breastfeeding doesn't make a baby immune. Ultimately, a newborn baby may pass more gas than a grown man.
Frequency of gas is generally not a cause for concern, and a fussy baby might be perfectly normal, too. Unlike adults, babies pass gas with a little less decorum and a lot more enthusiasm. "She may seem uncomfortable or just downright fussy when she's got some gas that needs to come out," says Ari Brown, M.D., an Austin-based pediatrician and the author of Baby 411. "But it's rare that a baby will actually have discomfort due to gas."
Signs of a Gassy Baby
If you suspect that your fussy baby is genuinely uncomfortable, and they keep squirming and pulling up their legs, they might have some gas that refuses to pass. The best way to confirm your suspicions is to try some gas-relieving techniques. "If your baby seems much better after passing gas, then that's a telltale sign that the problem was gas," says Jennifer Shu, M.D., an Atlanta-based pediatrician and coauthor of Food Fights: Winning The Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor, and A Bottle of Ketchup. This applies to gassy breastfed babies and gassy bottle-fed babies.
For some children, even normal amounts of gas can cause abnormal discomfort. That's because they have an increased sensitivity to distension (the stretching of the intestines), says John Rosen, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist at Children's Mercy, in Kansas City, Missouri. Kids (and adults) experience sensations from intestinal pain fibers in different ways and have individual pain thresholds.
Gassy Baby Remedies and Treatments
If you have a gassy baby, there are several things you can do. Start by placing your baby on a flat surface, belly down. Lift them up slightly on their stomach, and gently massage their belly. Or place your baby on their back and "try moving their legs and hips around as if they were riding a bike," Dr. Brown says. Often these kinds of motions break up bubbles and give gas an extra push to work its way out. "You can also try a nice, warm bath to relieve the discomfort," Dr. Brown adds.
If you're still faced with an unhappy infant, you might want to consult with your pediatrician about trying some gas drops. "Some babies are said to respond well to over-the-counter anti-gas drops containing simethicone," Dr. Shu says. Another option is to consider what might be causing the excess gas and see if you can reduce the bubble intake from the get-go.
Gas Prevention Methods for Babies
Bring on the Burps. Feeding time can come with a lot of crying, gulping, guzzling, and suckling—in other words, a lot of air, which eventually manifests itself in the form of a burp or gas. "And while relief from a burp might be more immediate, air that turns into gas has a longer journey through the intestinal tract first," Dr. Shu says. Try being a little extra vigilant about burping your baby during and after a feeding to see if you can keep some of the gas at bay.
Settle Down. Bottle-fed babies can ingest a lot of bubbles. To combat this, tilt the bottle at an angle that fills the entire nipple with milk. "Otherwise your baby will suck in air," Dr. Shu says. "More swallowed air means potentially more gas." If you use powdered formula, let the bottle settle first before giving it to your baby. There's lots of shaking going on and the bottle is often piled high with bubbles on top of the actual formula. Also consider using ready-made formula for gassy babies, as well as specially vented bottles that may reduce the amount of bubbles.
Adjust the Angle. "When feeding your baby, make sure her head is higher than her stomach," Dr. Shu advises. You want to hold your baby in a position that allows the liquid to slowly sink to the bottom while the bubbles rise to the top. If you keep the bubbles closer to the surface, the natural—and easiest—means of exit is a burp. Trapped bubbles will likely pass in the form of gas.
Examine the Menu. Certain kinds of foods—those that are harder to digest—are known to cause excess gas, and the introduction of solid foods can be a definite game changer. So if you're contending with a particularly fussy or constantly gassy baby, it might be worth taking a look at their diet—and yours. The gas-causing food you eat (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beans) turns up in your breast milk, which might mean extra gas for your little one.
When to Visit the Pediatrician
When fussiness, squirming, and other gassy behaviors persist beyond your baby's first few months, it's reasonable to wonder if they have a food allergy or intolerance. The biggest clue: They're dealing with other significant health problems too. "A baby or child with a food allergy will also probably have skin rashes, vomiting, diarrhea or blood in her stool, and she may not be gaining enough weight," says Jean Molleston, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist with Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, in Indianapolis. Visit the doctor if you suspect this.
Gas pain is also a symptom of celiac disease, a serious intolerance to gluten. Children aren't born with this autoimmune disorder; it can develop at any point when something in their environment "turns on" the genes that cause it. Ask your doctor to test your child for celiac disease if they're also experiencing growth issues, abdominal discomfort, vomiting, chronic diarrhea, or constipation, or if celiac or any other autoimmune diseases run in your family.
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Finally, let your pediatrician know about any gas that's associated with fever, incontinence, diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, poor growth, blood in the stool, or other sudden symptoms. These symptoms might signal an underlying issue, whether you're dealing with a gassy baby at night or during the day.