Does your baby start to fuss after feeding? Do they keep crying despite efforts to settle them? If so, you could be dealing with gas.
Gas is totally natural in babies. When it’s obvious your child is in pain or distress, though, it’s tough to remind yourself of this.
Monitoring your child’s reactions to potential triggers is a great way to narrow down and avoid what’s causing your baby’s tummy troubles.
Every child is unique — there isn’t one solution that relieves all. With this in mind, I’ve put together a guide to help you understand how gas can affect your baby and some tips on how you might deal with it.
What Causes Baby Gas?
As babies get older, it’s easier to understand what’s bothering them. My toddler used to say: “Mommy, I no feel much better,” and point to the area that was hurting.
For newborns and infants, however, finding out what’s wrong is more of a guessing game. If your baby has gas, there are a few physical signs you can look for. Babies’ tummies are so tiny, even the smallest bout of gas can be obvious from the outside.
- Bloating: If gas stays too long in their system, your baby can become bloated.
- Hard tummy: Gas can cause your baby’s belly to become harder and slightly swollen.
- Burps and farts: If your baby is burping or passing wind, it could be a sign there’s more gas waiting to come out.
Sometimes, however, you won’t be able to tell if it’s gas just by looking at your child. In that case, it’s helpful to be familiar with the causes.
Understanding how gas forms, and why, may help you respond better to a child suffering from its effects.
1. Swallowing Air
Breathing is one of our most critical involuntary functions. While we may not notice it, we suck in air whenever we eat and drink (1). Babies, especially newborns, are still learning how the whole eating and drinking process works, which may cause them to take in more air than adults do.
Once the air enters our bodies, it has to be released somehow. If you can find a burping method that works for your child, he or she should be able to release the air before it reaches their intestines.
Babies have more opportunities to swallow air than adults. If you think this might be part of the problem, you may want to ask yourself these questions:
Have They Cried Recently?
Crying can be a major source of gas, particularly if the baby cries for a considerable length of time, taking in lots of air. If your baby has cried in the past few hours, it might be a reason they’re now suffering from gas.
Feeding too quickly
Is your baby gulping at the breast or with a bottle? This can cause them to take in more air than a slower flow.
Do They Use a Pacifier?
Pacifiers can cause babies to suck in air. Once, when my baby had a terrible case of gas, I later discovered it was all down to a cracked pacifier.
Gas can also be produced internally. The human digestion process is super-complex. Things your stomach can’t digest will move on to your intestines and be broken down by bacteria.
These bacteria create gas while they break down certain foods. Because this gas is produced in the intestines, it will most likely be released as flatulence.
A baby’s digestive system is still developing. As they grow up and start on solid foods, this milestone can be a shock to the system — and the period of adaptation could be a gassy one.
If it seems like your baby is cranky a few hours after meals, you may want to try and recall what they last ate. Food can take several hours to work through a baby’s body, so you should also consider the previous meal they had.
There are some foods that you may want to limit during your child’s first year (2). These foods can lead to gas, stomach problems, or allergies for younger infants, even if you feed them as a puree. They include, but are not limited to:
- Nuts: Peanuts, almonds or other varieties.
- Seafood: Shellfish, swordfish, tuna.
- Dairy: Cheese, ice cream, yogurt.
- Drinks: Carbonated beverages, fruit drinks, cow’s milk, drinks with high-fructose corn syrup, caffeine.
How to Prevent Baby Gas
Unfortunately, gas is just a part of being human. Every baby will suffer with it at some point, no matter how hard you try to avoid it. That said, there are some things you can do to help minimize its occurrence.
1. Breastfeeding Babies
Moms might not realize that their actions while breastfeeding could have an impact on gas. Here are a few scenarios and some ideas which may help.
If you think the position your baby feeds might be contributing to gas, you might like to try some biological nurturing, also known as the “laid-back” position.
This simple technique involves leaning back on your couch or bed in a semi-reclined position. Your baby lays on top of you and finds their own angle to latch on. This allows for a natural molding to your body and can minimize awkward positions that may encourage excessive air inhalation.
While this position may not be as sleep-friendly as others, it does have a relaxing feel about it — plus, your baby might just fall asleep on your chest!
If you don’t feel comfortable reclined, at least be sure baby’s head is much higher than his bottom when eating. If his head is at breast level with his bottom in your lap, he can handle a fast flow more easily, taking in less air.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
Breastfeeding can be tricky until you get the hang of it. Generally, it takes a while to find a position that works for both mom and baby. Even then, teaching the baby to latch properly often comes with a learning curve.
We’re all familiar with the consequences of breastfeeding incorrectly. Any mom that has ever had nipple soreness after a bad latch knows exactly what I’m talking about (3).
As well as the nipple pain for mom, babies who don’t form a proper seal around the nipple are much more likely to take in excess air, leading to a gassy tummy.
When helping your baby latch during their early days, it’s a good idea to encourage them to open their mouth as wide as possible when starting to feed.
Doing so will ensure their mouth is full of breast tissue, which should reduce areas vulnerable to air intrusion. They’ll use their nose to breathe and find a rhythm that works for them.
When I was breastfeeding, my monster-in-law was adamant I shouldn’t eat spicy foods. The only problem was, I just couldn’t get enough of them. She reasoned that whatever I eat, my baby will eat too, and the jalapenos might be too much for a one-month-old tummy.
While the logic seemed water-tight, in reality, not all foods make their way into your breast milk. There are a few common foods that can affect a baby’s reaction to breast milk, but the list is probably not as extensive as you might have thought.
- Cow’s milk-related products: Dairy products can be one kind of food that affects your breast milk (4). Some babies have milk allergies, while others are milk intolerant. If this is the case for your child, you’ll likely see other signs in addition to gas, such as rash vomiting, or diarrhea.
- Foods that cause allergies in your family: Allergies can be genetic. If someone in your family is allergic to shellfish, for example, you may want to monitor your baby closely after you eat it and breastfeed.
- Peanuts: Peanut protein can be transferred through breast milk. Most doctors recommend you don’t give your child nuts until they are at least 2 or 3 years old. Now, some doctors say breastfeeding mothers should also avoid it (5).
- Some vegetables: Certain vegetables, like cauliflower or cabbage, can cause gas in both mom, though it won’t be transferred to baby through your breastmilk. Once your baby is eating solids, however, these veggies can make baby gassy, too.
2. Bottle Feeding Babies
Bottle fed babies are vulnerable to the same kind of gas problems as breastfed babies — only from a different source. While most people don’t think about it, bottle-fed babies can also latch on incorrectly to bottle nipples, or react badly to certain kinds of formula.
If you think your baby’s bottle might be part of the problem, here are some things to check:
- Feeding position: Try not to let your baby lay in a horizontal position when feeding. Keep the body at an angle while they feed, with their head above their stomach, and let gravity help the digestion process.
- Bottle angle: When your baby feeds, make sure to hold the bottle diagonally. The nipple should be full of milk, and all of the air should be at the top end of the bottle.
- Feeding speed: If your baby is drinking too quickly and gulping the milk, it might cause gas. Bottle feeding should take as long as breastfeeding, between 20 minutes to an hour. Replace the nipple with one that has a smaller size hole.
- Formula: Formula brands for sensitive tummies are available. If your baby seems to be reacting badly to the milk, switching brands might be worth a shot.
3. Babies on Solids
Weaning your baby is an exciting time. After months of milk, I was so excited to share the joy of fruits, soups, and vegetables with my little one. And, given that my husband is a great cook, he couldn’t wait to make his favorite pasta dish.
However, what’s easy to forget is that babies’ bodies aren’t used to all of this. Each spoonful of something new represents a different challenge for their bodies to take on. Many babies do just fine, but others can be sensitive.
When you first start with solids, limiting your baby to one ingredient at a time is deemed best practice. This will help you identify any problem foods in the event of a gassy reaction.
Fruits and legumes are the biggest culprits when it comes to gas. However, you don’t want to cut them out completely. Start with small portions, or switch to something else and then try again in a few weeks if your baby seems gassy after a particular food. Your baby’s system will eventually mature and you don’t want to encourage picky eating habits later on.
How to Relieve a Gassy Baby
If it’s obvious your infant has gas and is showing signs of discomfort, there are a few things you can do to help. Some can be done at home, while others may require a quick trip to your local pharmacy.
Could Baby Gas Be Something More Serious?
In most cases, gas is just a sign that your baby’s digestive system is working and maturing. However, there’s a slight possibility that serious discomfort caused by gas can signal a larger problem.
Every parent knows that babies are poop machines. Newborns can poop six to eight times per day or more. While infants gradually poop less and less, they should still be very regular.
If your baby has gas and seems very uncomfortable, you may want to think back to when they last filled their diaper, and its consistency — a baby is thought to be constipated when they haven’t pooped for more than three days or they’re passing hard stools (9).
Constipation happens, but if it continues and is left untreated, it can cause problems. If you suspect your baby has constipation, call your pediatrician. For older babies or toddlers, the doctor may suggest high-fiber foods, like prunes, or more liquids to ensure they’re hydrated.
If your baby seems fussy and gassy, and is also spitting up often and seems generally uncomfortable all the time, it could be GERD. Most babies grow out of GERD by age one as their digestive system matures. In the meantime, your baby’s doctor may prescribe medication to make your baby more comfortable.
Despite being infamous in the parental community, medical experts still don’t know a whole lot about colic. There is no way to test for the condition, except that your child will typically be very fussy for long periods.
Usually, doctors will diagnose a child with colic if they cry for three hours or more a day, at least three days of the week, for a minimum of three weeks.
Although doctors aren’t 100 percent sure what causes colic, gas may be part of the problem. Passing gas is one symptom, and some believe it may also be the source of the discomfort associated with colic (10).
There are a few methods you can use to calm your baby. Most babies react well to tummy rubs and being carried or rocked. If you call your doctor, they might also be able to advise some over-the-counter remedies.
4. Lactose Intolerance
Children who are lactose intolerant don’t have enough of the lactase enzyme to break down the lactose — a sugar in milk and dairy foods (11).
When you start to wean your baby, their digestive system has to adjust from a “milk only” diet to new foods. This triggers the body to slow down production of lactase, so baby can’t process as much lactose (12).
If your child is lactose intolerant, you’ll notice signs soon after they consume products that contain this sugar. There will be gas. However, there will also be cramping, bloating, and possibly diarrhea.
Symptoms can also develop later on in childhood. If your child has always done well with lactose products, then suddenly appears to have issues, it’s possible they’ve developed an intolerance.
5. Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes your body to attack itself when you eat food containing gluten (13). It tends to be genetic, so if you have it in your family, you may want to monitor your child for symptoms.
After eating gluten, your child may become irritable and have gas, severe bloating, vomiting, or diarrhea. Long term, it may cause severe problems, like malnourishment, or growth problems.
If you suspect gluten is causing problems for your child, you should discuss your concerns with your pediatrician. Although there is currently no known cure for this condition, switching to a gluten-free diet can help relieve these symptoms in your child.