Babies are naturally gassy, but you can take preventive measures to keep your little one comfortable. Find out how.
New parents are often surprised at 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.” Here’s how to spot a baby with gas and help her pass it.
Why Do Babies Produce Gas?
You’ve no doubt figured out by now that every person on the planet produces and expels gas. As food moves through the GI tract, the small intestine absorbs the usable ingredients, and 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 farts, poofs, or whatever you call them in your house.
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 have it the worst, but breastfeeding doesn’t make a baby immune. Ultimately, a newborn baby may pass more gas than a grown man.
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 and a lot more enthusiasm. “She may seem uncomfortable or just downright fussy when she’s got some 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.”
Gassy Newborns: What to Look For
If you suspect that your fussy baby is genuinely uncomfortable, and she keeps squirming and pulling up her legs, she might have some gas that refuses to pass. The best way to confirm your suspicions is to try some gas-relieving techniques. “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 coauthor of Food Fights: Winning The Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor, and A Bottle of Ketchup.
For some children, even normal amounts of gas can cause abnormal discomfort. That is because they 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.
Dealing with a Gassy Baby
If you have a gassy baby on your hands, there are several things you can do to help coax the gas out. Start by placing your baby on a flat surface, belly down. Lifting her up slightly on her stomach, gently massage her belly. Or place her on her back and “try moving her legs and hips around as if she [were] riding a bike,” Dr. Brown says. Often these kinds of motions break up bubbles and give gas that little extra push it needs to work its way out. “You can also try a nice, warm bath to relieve the discomfort,” Dr. Brown adds.