Babies are gassy. They burp, hiccup, fart, shart, and poop. After twelve plus years of working with babies, I still giggle a bit when the silence of breastfeeding support group is broken with a loud wet fart that would put a grown man to shame. Exactly how does a sound that loud and gross come out of a six-pound creature?
Babies eat very frequently and they are therefore always digesting. They are also gaining weight at a break neck pace. Five to seven ounces of gain per week may not seem like a lot, but it works out to be a gain of about five percent of their bodyweight every week. That would be like a 150-pound adult gaining seven and a half pounds every week. Do you realize how much food you would have to eat to gain seven pounds in a week? Can you imagine how gassy you would be from eating that much food?!
So, yes. Understandably, babies are gassy. They have no awareness of what gas pain feels like. They have no body awareness at all (hence why they claw their own eyes out). So, babies are quite dramatic when they feel gas moving through their bodies. They writhe and squawk and scream when they feel gas pains. Top this off with the fact that babies can’t move. They can’t go for a walk or exercise or curl into the fetal position to help move the gas. All they can do is cry.
If you tell me your baby is gassy, my next question will be, “Is he a burpy and farty kind of gassy or an ‘I can’t seem to fart’ kind of gassy?” There is a difference. If your baby curls up, bears down, cries, farts, and is happy, you have a perfectly normal baby. There are no problems that you need to worry about. But if you have a baby who curls up, bears down, cries, curls up, cries, turns red, and cries, you may have a baby with trapped gas.
Here are some ways to help your bloated baby out:
(Note: I do not necessarily endorse the products associated with the videos I have linked below. Maybe Infantcol or the other myriad baby gas products on the market work. Maybe they don’t. Who knows.)
Burp the baby between breasts or more often. There is a nasty rumor out there in breastfeeding world that breastfed babies don’t need to be burped. True, breastfed babies don’t swallow as much air as bottle fed babies when they eat, but that doesn’t mean they don’t swallow any air at all, especially if they drink a lot of milk quickly. I always encourage moms to burp their babies between breasts or more often. It can never hurt to try and jiggle a burp out. If nothing else, it bugs the baby so that he finishes up his feed rather than sleeping through the last leg of his feed.
Little hint: if your baby screams every time you take the breast away and try to burp him, try burping him with a pacifier in his mouth. This works best in the forward leaning position so you can hold the pacifier in his mouth.
Beat the build up. Gas often doesn’t seem like a problem until afternoon, evening or, worst of all, middle of the night. Gas builds up throughout the day, but baby is happy, wiggly, and distracted and it may not seem to bother him. As night begins to fall, baby (and mom and dad) becomes exhausted. Baby is trying to sleep and the gas is waking him up. How horrible must that be to be awoken from a much needed nap with a stabbing gas pain? When the gas attacks occur, this is often the worst time to try to help the baby get the gas bubbles out. Baby is crying and bearing down, so he becomes rigid and tense. So, it can sometimes be helpful to preemptively move the gas before the gas attacks occur. Early to mid-afternoon is a great time to:
- Give baby a warm bath
- Massage his belly with coconut oil or lotion (clockwise)
- Do the Knee to belly maneuver (this works really well to make baby fart, but doesn’t work well if baby is upset or has recently eaten).
- Give baby tummy pressure with tummy time or skin-to-skin tummy time on your chest, laying on his tummy across your knees or across your forearm.
Consider baby may be overeating. Sometimes babies are gassy because they are simply stuffed. This is confusing because babies seem to want to eat more when they are gassy, but then pop on and off and cry. This is often because baby wants to suck, but doesn’t want milk. Non-nutritive sucking time is usually a part of breastfeeding, but babies with mothers who make a lot of milk may not get the opportunity to have non-nutritive sucking time. If this is the case, a pacifier is a great tool to use intermittently throughout and after breastfeeding. Another one of those silly things people say about breastfeeding that I disagree with: breastfed babies won’t overeat themselves. I happen to think babies are a lot like puppies. If you are offering it, they will eat it… especially if you make a lot of milk and they drink it faster than their brains can keep up with.
Product of the month. Mylicon, Gripe Water, Probiotics, Happy Tummies, The Windy, etc., etc. Since all babies are gassy, baby gas treatment is a big business. Maybe they work and maybe they don’t. Most of them are benign enough that they are worth a try, but none of them is a magic bullet, I am sorry to say.
Finally, and I do mean at the end of the list after you have tried everything else, you can consider removing things from your diet. Food elimination diets fall at the top of most breastfeeding troubleshooting lists, which frustrates me to no end. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that cutting certain foods out of your diet isn’t sometimes necessary. For some mothers and babies, it can be exactly what the baby needs. But undergoing a major diet change during a very exhausting and frustrating time in your life can be excessively stressful.
As your baby grows and matures, gassiness will naturally improve. His digestive tract will get more efficient and he will be able to roll, crawl, and walk to move his own gas. In the meantime, try to maintain an understanding of why your baby and every other baby works so hard at digesting. Growing up big and strong so fast takes a lot of work!