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 by 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." So what causes baby gas and what are the signs of a gassy baby?

Learn more about what causes babies to be gassy, how to know whether your baby's gas is normal or a cause for concern, and how to help your little one cope with gas-related discomfort.

Why Is My Baby So Gassy?

Everyone, including your baby, produces and expels gas. As food moves through the gastrointestinal tract, the small intestine absorbs the usable nutrients. 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 flatulence.

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 tend to have it the worst, but breastfeeding doesn't make a baby immune. Ultimately, a newborn baby may pass more gas than an adult.

The 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 or restraint. "They may seem uncomfortable or just downright fussy when they've got 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."

In other words, the work of expelling gas may look more uncomfortable than it really is for your baby. However, if your baby seems to be in pain, particularly if it doesn't end after the gas is released, it's time to consult their pediatrician.

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 such as burping them and moving their body into different positions.

"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 co-author 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 babies, even normal amounts of gas can cause abnormal discomfort. These babies may 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.

How to Relieve Gas in Newborns and Babies

If you have a gassy baby, there are several things you can do to help relieve their discomfort. 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 your pediatrician about trying some gas drops or to see if a formula change or diet-modification for a breastfeeding parent is needed. "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—such as taking in too much air while feeding or eating gas-producing foods—and see if you can reduce the bubble intake from the get-go.

Gas Prevention Methods for Babies

Try these gas prevention methods if your baby is plagued by excess gas.

Bring on the burps

Feeding time can come with a lot of crying, gulping, guzzling, and suckling—in other words, a lot of swallowed 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.

Check the flow

If the flow speed (either from the breast or bottle) is high, your baby may be gulping a lot of air along with their meal. When breastfeeding, you can alleviate this issue by pumping or hand expressing for a few minutes before nursing as flow tends to be fastest at letdown.

If bottle feeding, you can switch to a slower flow nipple to decrease the rate of flow. This allows your baby to drink at a less hurried pace, which should decrease the amount of air they take in as they swallow.

Monitor your latch

If you're breastfeeding, check your baby's latch to ensure they are taking in the areola and have good suction. An improper latch can lead to the baby continually coming off the breast and consequently ingesting more air as they struggle to attach properly.

Consult a lactation consultant if you are having issues with your latch (or any other breastfeeding problems). Slight adjustments in technique can often make a world of difference both for your comfort and that of your baby.

Adjust your bottle technique

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. Shaking and mixing often causes the bottle to be piled high with bubbles on top of the actual formula. You may also consider using a ready-made formula for gassy babies, as well as specially vented bottles that may reduce the number of bubbles.

Adjust the angle

"When feeding your baby, make sure their head is higher than their stomach," Dr. Shu advises. You want to hold your baby in a position that allows the liquid to slowly sink to the bottom of their stomach 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

Foods that are harder for the body to digest are known to cause excess gas. These foods can include beans, onions, broccoli, cabbage, garlic, fried foods, and asparagus. If you're contending with a particularly fussy or constantly gassy baby, it might be worth taking a look at their diet—and yours, if you breastfeed. The gas-causing food you eat turns up in your breast milk, which might mean extra gas for your little one.

And if the introduction of solid foods has resulted in more gas, you'll want to take note of whether certain foods appear to bring on your baby's symptoms.

When to Visit the Pediatrician

As a parent, it's often best to trust your gut. If you have a concern or your child seems uncomfortable or in pain, check in with their pediatrician. Sometimes, other issues can be at play when a baby is gassy that merit evaluation and treatment.

Food allergies

When fussiness, squirming, and other gassy behaviors persist beyond your baby's first few months, it's reasonable to consider a possible 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 they 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.

Celiac disease

Gas pain is also a symptom of celiac disease, a serious intolerance to gluten. Children aren't born with this autoimmune disorder, but 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.

Overabundant breast milk supply

Producing an overabundance of breast milk can create a strong letdown and/or flow that causes your baby to gulp in extra air as they suck. This can result in excess gas in their tummy. You can often remedy this situation by pumping or hand expressing for a few minutes before breastfeeding.

Typically, an overabundance settles down as your body gets in tune with how much breast milk your baby is consuming. If not, consult with a doctor or lactation consultant to help you manage your breast milk supply.

Lactose overload

Another issue that can cause gas in breastfed babies is lactose overload. This happens when there is a foremilk and hindmilk imbalance. Foremilk, which contains less fat and more lactose, is the first breast milk the baby gets each nursing session. Hindmilk, which comes after the foremilk is drained, contains higher levels of fat.

If your baby gets full from foremilk and doesn't drink enough hindmilk, they may get gassy from the excess lactose. Possible signs your baby is experiencing lactose overload include watery, foamy, or greenish poop (indicating their food is moving through their system too quickly to be fully digested), persistent diaper rash (from contact with acidic stools), and gassiness.

This imbalance can happen if you switch sides too frequently before your baby gets down to the hindmilk. An overabundance of breast milk can also create a situation where the baby fills up on foremilk. Fully draining the breast before switching sides can help ensure your baby gets hindmilk at each feeding. You can also pump at the start of each session to drain off some of the foremilk. If needed, talk to your pediatrician or lactation consultant to help even out your supply.

Infection and other medical concerns

Finally, let your pediatrician know about any gassiness that's accompanied by fever, incontinence, diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, poor growth, blood in the stool, or other sudden symptoms. These symptoms might signal an underlying issue like an infection.

Updated by Stephanie Wood
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