Breast milk is the best nutrition source for most babies.1 And while it has important nutrients your baby needs2 and helps support their immune system,3 it does not make your little one immune to gas. But take heart—gas is an expected and normal occurrence in infants.
Why does a baby consuming this natural “liquid gold” experience gas? It’s a common question many breastfeeding mamas have. Let’s take a look at gas, the possible causes of it, and how to ease your little one’s discomfort.
What is gas?
Gas is small air bubbles that develop in the intestines or stomach. Everyone—babies, children, and adults—has gas. And you probably already know that it’s primarily relieved through burping and flatulence. Some big belches can come out of your baby’s tiny mouth! But when gas builds up in your little one’s belly, they may experience bloating, pain, and pressure. The good news? In the majority of cases, it’s harmless, and most babies grow out of the excessive gas stage by six months.4
Causes of baby gas
Both breastfed and formula-fed babies can have gas. A few possible causes include:
- An immature digestive system. Your baby's tummy is still developing and learning to digest, so food doesn't break down completely yet.
- Swallowing air. Babies often swallow air when sucking on the breast or a bottle, especially if they drink too quickly or don’t have an optimal latch on the nipple. They can also swallow air when crying.
- Food sensitivities. Hypersensitivities or allergies to certain types of food in mom's diet are less common causes of baby gas. Cow milk protein sensitivity may cause gas, along with other issues such as rash and diarrhea.
- Underlying health conditions. Reflux and other digestive problems are rarer causes of gassiness.
Signs of a gassy baby
- Crying and arching their back
- Squirming after feeding
- Pulling legs up toward their belly
- Clenched fists
- Bloated belly
- Trouble sleeping
- Passing gas
How to ease baby gas
Burp your baby
Since your baby may be swallowing too much air while nursing, burp them during and after feeding to help release gas pockets. Try to hold your baby upright for 20-30 minutes after feeding. Gently pat their lower back and work your way up.
Switch burping positions from time to time. It may take some trial and error to figure out which one works best for your baby.
- Sit your baby on your lap, supporting their head and chest with one hand while patting their back with the other.
- Hold your baby against your chest, facing your body with their head on your shoulder.
- Lay your baby belly down, flat against your lap. Support their head and make sure it’s higher than their chest. Gently pat or rub their back.
Identify possible food culprits
No matter what you eat, your baby will have gas. It’s a natural part of the gastrointestinal (GI) system. As of now, there hasn’t been any conclusive research that shows a correlation between mom’s diet and baby gas. However, as they say, moms do know best. If you notice that your baby is showing sensitivity after you’ve eaten a particular type of food, try eliminating that food from your diet for a week and see if you notice a difference. Some foods that you may want to keep an eye on include:
- Dairy (eggs, ice cream, milk, cheese)
- Cruciferous veggies like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts
- Spicy foods
- Beans and lentils
- Onions and garlic
Give them a spin class
Place your baby flat on their back and make a bicycling motion with their legs. Then gently push their knees back to their chest and hold for a few seconds. It’s a great bonding activity, too. The movement may help push gas out and turn the giggles on.
Try tummy time
Tummy time is important for strengthening the muscles your baby will need to lift their head. Another benefit? It puts gentle pressure on their belly, which can also help them pass gas.5
Soothe with a warm towel
Placing a warm towel on your baby’s belly may help soothe gas discomfort and possibly help with relieving the gas itself too.
If the above methods are not working, consider asking your doctor to recommend an over-the-counter medication like gas relief drops that may help.
Preventing excessive baby gas
- Try to nurse your baby in a more upright position, with their belly facing yours and their bottom lower than your breast.
- When feeding, check to see that your baby has an optimal latch on your nipple and the surrounding areola to help them avoid swallowing too much air.
- Burp your baby throughout their feedings.
- Try to calm your baby before nursing. An upset or excited baby is more likely to gulp air or eat too fast.
Should you call a doctor?
In the majority of cases, infant gas is normal. However, be on the lookout for signs that could warrant medical attention to rule out an illness or other more serious digestive issue:
- Persistent gas along with a rash, diarrhea, or green stool with mucus or blood. This could signal a milk protein allergy.
- Severe or chronic gas
- Gas accompanied by a fever
- Refusing to eat for several hours
- Your baby seems constipated
Every baby is different, and not every gas-relieving strategy will work with every child. Try different remedies, speak to your doctor if necessary, and in time, that tiny tummy should start feeling better.