When your infant looks uncomfortable, you want answers – and sometimes, that answer comes by way of passed gas. But does a baby burp or flatulence mean something is wrong?
The good news is gassiness is completely normal, says Dr. Asha Shajahan, medical director of community health for Beaumont Hospital in Grosse Pointe.
“Every baby is gassy,” she says. “It’s actually very normal for babies to be gassy because their digestive tract is not developed yet.”
Some kids are gassier than others, of course – and there are a variety of reasons, she says. But it’s not usually due to a breastfeeding mother’s diet.
“It’s kind of a misconception that foods that make you gassy like broccoli and cabbage (will make your baby gassy). The way that it’s metabolized is different in the person ingesting it.”
Although dairy in a mother’s diet is sometimes linked to gassiness, “that’s usually the least reason for the baby to be gassy,” she says.
Meanwhile, the real leading cause of gassiness in infants is related to the actual mechanics of feeding.
“There’s a misconception that if you breastfeed versus bottle feed that you’ll have less gas. That’s not necessarily true. It’s really more so how the baby feeds,” Shajahan says. “If you’re breastfeeding, you should really see if the baby is latching on properly. The whole reason you get gas is because of excessive air. If the suction isn’t right, you can have air go through.”
The same principle applies with bottles.
“If the nipple is too big or if they’re being fed too fast, you can have gas,” she says. And if you’re shaking the bottle to mix the formula, make sure air bubbles are all settled before feeding baby.
Positioning is also important. Always feed your baby at an angle while breast- or bottle-feeding, and consider burping baby mid-way through each feeding.
“Most doctors tell their patients the head of the baby should be above the baby’s stomach,” Shajahan explains. “Other people are not burping their babies right after they feed. The gas will stay in unless you burp the baby.”
Fussiness related to gas should be fairly limited, she adds, with any discomfort – like crying, a red face or grunting – happening just before the gas passes.
“If your baby is fussy all the time or falling into the category of colic, it’s more likely something else,” she says.
While many parents confuse acid reflux with gassiness, when it comes to the former, “They’ll cry until they spit up,” Shajahan says.
What can you do when gas is the culprit? Changing baby’s position or tummy time can be helpful, she suggests, or some gentle baby massage. “Moving the legs in the bicycle motion helps move the gas a little bit better.”
Seek your pediatrician’s advice if you’re concerned about fussiness, excessive gassiness or other symptoms.
“If the baby is starting to lose weight, that’s a red flag that something’s up,” Shajahan says. The same applies “if the baby isn’t feeding at all or not having any bowel movements, or if they look like they’re losing weight.”
Overall, remember that gas is normal. Over-the-counter remedies aren’t usually recommended. “Even though (the product) might say this helps, it may not necessarily be the safest thing. It’s normal for babies to have gas. Try not to panic.”
This post was originally published in 2019 and is updated regularly.