Gas happens. Older kids and adults do what they gotta do to relieve it (and follow it up with a well-mannered, “Excuse me,” if you’re lucky). Newborns, however, rely on their caregivers for just about everything. Sometimes, that includes getting out the burps and farts, too. Ah, the beauty of early parenthood.
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We talked with pediatrician Amy Sniderman, MD, about recognizing gas in babies and how you can help your little one get gas relief.
“Some babies just make a little more gas than others, and some may be working on learning to coordinate their bodily functions,” Dr. Sniderman says. “There’s a spectrum of what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to babies passing gas. Not every baby needs help, but some do, and that’s very normal.”
Gas is a natural bodily function that’s usually caused by swallowing extra air. Infants may take in extra air when drinking from a bottle or breast, crying or sucking on a pacifier.
A baby with built-up gas is usually a less-than-happy baby. A belly full of bubbles just doesn’t feel good, and they’ll probably let you know it.
Babies who are trying to relieve their gas or move their bowels might:
Gas discomfort is most common for their first four months or so; though, Dr. Sniderman says some babies will need help with their gas for their first year.
A newborn or baby having gas isn’t something to worry about in itself. Gas is simply part of life, from day one. But a baby who’s showing discomfort because of gas is asking for some help from their caretakers.
“Some babies will be able to pass their gas without much intervention, if any at all. Others need a little help,” Dr. Sniderman says.
She suggests a few ways to relieve gas in babies.
When babies drink, they swallow air in the process, which can lead to gas. Dr. Sniderman suggests keeping your baby on a slight incline during feedings. And take the time to burp.
“Typically, we suggest pausing about halfway through feeding to try for a burp, and then again at the end of a feeding session,” she continues. “For babies that are more prone to gas, we might suggest burping more often — after each ounce or so.”
There are two positions she recommends most for burping:
Not every baby will burp with every feeding. Give them a chance to get it out, but if the burps aren’t coming, don’t sweat it, Dr. Sniderman says.
For babies who need to let out some gas from down below, get their legs moving to bring some relief. Dr. Sniderman suggests lying your baby on their back and moving their legs in gentle circular motions, as if they were riding a bicycle. Alternatively, place your baby on their back and hold their feet in your hands. Bend their legs at their knees, and gently bring their knees to their bellies.
These methods may also help to bring on a poo.
“Some babies don’t know how to coordinate their anal musculature just yet. They’ll be pushing and crying out, but they’re actually clenching,” Dr. Sniderman explains. “Developmentally, they figure it out. But bicycling and flexing their legs to their bellies can really help in the meantime.”
Commonly known as gas drops, the medication Simethicone has been used for years to relieve gas in infants. It can be bought over the counter and is U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved to relieve gas in infants. The effectiveness of gas drops can vary. They may not work for all babies and all gas, but they’re a safe option that may be worth a try.
Dr. Sniderman says she recommends the drops for some babies who are extra gassy. She also says gas drops should be used as a preventive measure, as they’re less effective after gas has already built up.
“Gas drops work by breaking up gas bubbles in babies’ tummies. If you’re going to use them, it’s best to use them about four times a day, regularly, to prevent gas, rather than use them reactively,” she explains. “If baby already has uncomfortable gas, it’s probably too late for gas drops to work.”
If your baby drinks formula, you might consider trying new kinds to see if it helps relieve their gas. Some babies find relief from gas from a change in diet.
“If it’s just gas, and the baby is otherwise doing fine, then sometimes, we recommend using a ‘sensitive formula’ with lower lactose or a partially hydrolyzed (broken-down) lactose formula. Those are still milk-based, so they’re not for a baby with an allergy or intolerance to milk, but they sometimes can help babies who just have straightforward gas,” Dr. Sniderman says.
Some babies don’t tolerate typical formula. In those cases, a specialized formula that contains different proteins or carbohydrates may work better. These products often say something like, “May help with gas, fussiness or colic,” on their packaging. If you suspect your baby is having difficulty digesting their current formula, talk with your baby’s doctor about your options.
If you’re breastfeeding (chestfeeding), you may have heard that what you eat affects your breast milk and that certain foods should be avoided. Proper nutrition is important when breastfeeding. Scientific research, however, hasn’t conclusively proven a link between your diet and gas or other discomforts for your baby.
When breastfeeding, some people benefit from cutting back on gas-causing foods or dairy products. This can be especially helpful if they’re feeling gassy themselves. Dr. Sniderman says if it works for you, great, but she doesn’t suggest a restrictive diet for most people who are breastfeeding.
“Some people will come up with a long list of foods you should cut out of your diet if you have a gassy baby,” Dr. Sniderman notes. “That’s a lot to ask of someone who’s probably already stressed and taking care of a new baby. When you’re breastfeeding, you need to eat a lot. You literally have to eat enough to feed you and the baby. So, I am usually not of the camp that eliminates a lot of things from a breastfeeding diet.”
Gripe water is a liquid herbal remedy for infant gas. As a natural remedy, the FDA doesn’t regulate it. Dr. Sniderman also cautions that its safety and effectiveness haven’t been well researched.
“There are a lot of families who use it, and I haven’t personally seen any problems with gripe water, but I generally don’t recommend it,” she says. “Without solid research to back it up, I can’t confidently say, ‘Yes, that’s fine.’”
A baby who cries more often than is typical and is highly difficult to soothe may be experiencing colic. Colic means more crying. More crying means more air is being swallowed. That means, you guessed it, more gas.
“A baby with colic may well be a gassy baby, but a baby who is gassy isn’t necessarily a colicky baby,” Dr. Sniderman says.
About 10% of babies have colic. Babies with colic will cry often and for long stretches of time. A rule of thumb, Dr. Sniderman says, is that babies with colic are less than three months old and will cry for at least three hours a day, at least three times per week. Babies with colic are generally not consoled by feeding, diaper changing, rocking or other go-to baby soothing methods, including gas relief.
Dr. Sniderman says you should consult your baby’s doctor if gas is keeping your baby from doing their happy baby things.
“If gas is interrupting your baby’s ability to have a bowel movement or it’s interrupting their sleep or their feeding, then it’s a problem, and it’s time to reach out to your doctor,” Dr. Sniderman says.
When you were pregnant, you probably daydreamed of the special moments you’d spend with your baby — feeding them, bathing them, snappy share-worthy snuggly newborn pics. You probably thought less about the joys brought on by a thunderous burp or a noisy fart. But soon, you’ll see that when your baby is happy and feeling relieved, those post-gas smiles may just be some of their cutest moments. Get your camera ready.