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Gassy Baby? Here's What You Need to Know
April 20, 2022

Gassy Baby? Here's What You Need to Know

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Gassy Baby? Here's What You Need to Know.
Gassy Baby? Here's What You Need to Know

Written Dr. Seran Kim, board-certified Emergency Physician

There is nothing more humbling than a match of parent vs. fussy baby when it comes to gas. The unrelenting cries of a newborn who is gassy, and the subsequent sleep deprivation that ensues can feel like an all-out (often losing) battle.

For some babies, this is a rite of passage, yet others grow into babyhood untouched by gas pains. Regardless, all babies have some amount of gas—the difference is how your baby responds to it. In most cases, infant gas is nothing to worry about.

What is Gas in Babies?

Gas in babies can be described as air bubbles that become trapped in the maturing stomach and/or intestines. Gas is also produced by normal bacterial flora, as food is broken down and converted into hydrogen and carbon dioxide gas. In some babies, this causes much discomfort, pressure and pain. In others, it is asymptomatic.

Gas symptoms can begin in the first few weeks of birth, and usually decline significantly by month 3 or 4.

What Causes Gas in Babies?

Gas is acquired by drinking and sucking in air simultaneously. If breastfed, your baby might not be latching on right, have difficulty keeping up with an overactive letdown or overabundant milk supply or is sensitive to maternal dietary compounds in breastmilk.

If bottle-fed, your baby might be getting air from the bottle or from certain feeding positions.

Babies can also trap air in their digestive tract when they cry excessively (which then starts the cycle of crying because of the gas discomfort, which then leads to more crying). This is known as colic.

Babies can also exhibit symptoms of gas when they are constipated or have reflux (when food moves back up the esophagus from the stomach). This is usually normal as your baby’s digestive system is maturing. Sometimes, a viral gastrointestinal infection can cause gas, or in older infants, new foods.

What are Symptoms of Gas in Babies?

A baby with symptomatic gas might exhibit crying while passing gas (or soon after). They may squirm and pull up their legs.

Sometimes, they can have associated fussiness, or do not sleep well (not that this is easily discernible in a newborn). Regardless, a baby will exhibit immediate relief once the gas has passed.

How Can You Relieve Gas in Babies?

There are many home remedies to tackle gas buildup and make your little one (and you) more comfortable. While none are fool-proof alone, trying a combination of the following methods may help decrease fussiness:

  • Burp your baby. Be sure to burp after each feeding, by holding your baby upright and gently patting them on the back. Also consider a mid-meal burping, to try and get rid of air before it hits the bowels.
  • Ensure an adequate seal when feeding. If breastfeeding, make sure there is an adequate latch, to minimize the amount of air swallowed during feedings. If bottle feeding, make sure the lips are sealed around the bottle, and that milk fills the entire nipple as your baby feeds. If needed, consider trying out different nipples to see what works best with your baby.
  • Check the positioning during feeding. Be sure that your baby’s head is higher than the body during feedings.
  • Slow the flow. If you are breastfeeding, you may have an overactive letdown, where your milk comes out faster than your baby can comfortably feed. Your baby may end up gulping the milk down just to keep up, trapping air. To prevent this, try pumping or manually expressing this initial forceful letdown. If you have an overabundant supply, try solely feeding from one breast (versus switching to the other side mid-feed), to ensure that your baby has a good foremilk/hindmilk balance. If bottle-feeding, consider different bottle options (such as vented, angled or collapsible) that are aimed to decrease the rate of milk flow. If you’re using formula, be sure to let powder formulations settle after shaking, as this can increase the number of air bubbles, or switch to premixed liquid formulations.
  • Encourage tummy time. Placing your baby on their tummy, while supervised, can help expel unwanted air. Another option is moving your baby’s legs in bicycle motion while they’re laying flat on their back.
  • If breastfeeding, review your diet. Maternal diet can sometimes be a cause for infant gas, as what a mother eats contributes to the composition of their breast milk. There are some studies that have identified potential foods in the maternal diet that may contribute to increased gas (and subsequent colic) in babies. These include milk products, eggs, wheat and nuts. However, studies have also shown that formula-fed infants have just as high of an incidence of colic, when compared with their breastfed counterparts. Breast milk is also easier to digest than formula, and breastfed babies have been found to have less gas. Be sure to discuss this with your pediatrician, and keep a log of your diet (and eliminate only one food group at a time), if you are breastfeeding and a specific food is truly suspected.
  • Consider gas drops containing simethicone. Simethicone is a safe, over-the-counter medication for decreasing gas. Studies have shown that these gas drops may not be much better than placebo for colic, but they are very well-tolerated and are not harmful. Many other solutions that are marketed towards gas relief include gripe water, which can contain a variety of herbal teas (such as chamomile, licorice and fennel). Although these might seem safe, some of these products have been found to contain unsafe ingredients, even if they are homeopathic. Be sure to check with your doctor before considering any herbal remedy.

When Do You Need to Call a Doctor about Gas?

Keep in mind that no matter what you do, some babies are inherently more gassy. This may be a battle that you may not “win.” Most symptoms will resolve when their gastrointestinal systems mature with time. However, contact your doctor if your baby has any of the following symptoms, which may indicate to an underlying medical problem:

  • Poor weight gain
  • Associated rash, such as hives
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in stool
  • Constipation
  • Fever
  • Excessive crying

Remember that most often, this painful stage will resolve as your baby’s digestive system matures. Take a deep breath, as this too shall “pass.”

Factually reviewed by Dr. Seran Kim, board-certified Emergency Physician, on June 9, 2021.

Seran Kim

Dr. Seran Kim is a board-certified Emergency Physician, cancer survivor and mom to three rambunctious boys, and she’s one of the doctors who helped develop the Babylist First Aid Kit. When not working, she can be found hiking, reading or embarrassing her kids with her hip-hop dancing. She has a weakness for milk chocolate and succulent plants that don’t need regular watering. She cannot live without GooGone and her power drill. She is adamant about helmets and seatbelts—and coffee. She believes the key to parenting survival is surrounding yourself with other families and raising kids as a village.

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