Causes and how to relieve gas in a baby

Children
Gas is simply air in the stomach or intestines, but for some babies, it seems to be very painful.

When a baby has gas, tiny bubbles develop in their stomach or intestines, sometimes causing pressure and stomach pain. Many gassy babies are not bothered by their gas, but some become restless and cannot sleep until they have passed their gas. Others cry for hours.

A handful of simple home treatments can usually soothe a baby and relieve their gas pains. In most cases, infant gas is nothing to worry about. However, discussing gas with a pediatrician can offer reassurance and help a parent or caregiver to determine why the baby has gas.

In this article, we look at causes of gas in babies, its symptoms, and how to help relieve the trapped gas.

Causes

Gassy baby being held by mother
Babies often swallow air when feeding, which can cause gas.

Almost all babies get gas. Gas happens when air gets into the digestive tract, such as when a baby sucks on a bottle and swallows air. Gas does not usually mean anything is wrong.

Reasons a baby may become gassy include:

Swallowing air

Babies can swallow air if they latch onto the breast incorrectly, or if they nurse or drink from a bottle in certain positions. They can even swallow air just from babbling a lot.

Excessive crying

Babies tend to swallow air when they cry. If this causes them to have gas, you may hear them passing it after crying. It can be hard for someone to tell if gas is causing their crying or if crying is causing their gas. Either way, it is important to promptly tend to a crying baby’s needs and soothe them in the best way possible.

Minor digestive problems

Babies may get gas when they are constipated.

Less commonly, gas may signal a gastrointestinal condition, such as reflux. Talk to a pediatrician, especially if the gas happens a lot or is severe.

An immature digestive tract

Babies’ bodies are learning how to digest food, so they tend to get more gas than adults.

Gastrointestinal virus

Sometimes a virus causes stomach problems, such as gas, vomiting, and diarrhea.

New foods

In older infants who eat solids, new foods may cause gas. For some infants, frequent gas may be one of the signs of a food sensitivity.


Symptoms

The most common symptoms of gas in a baby include:

  • crying while passing gas or soon after, especially if the crying happens when a baby is unlikely to be hungry or tired
  • arching the back
  • lifting the legs
  • a swollen-looking stomach
  • passing gas or belching

Diagnosis

Gas is not a medical condition. For most babies, it is a temporary but sometimes painful symptom.

There is no need to see a doctor for minor gas, though it is important to discuss all symptoms at the baby’s next check-up.

If the gas is severe or there are other symptoms, a pediatrician may recommend testing to determine the cause.

Doctors may use the following methods to diagnose the cause of gas accompanied by other symptoms:

  • asking the caregivers to keep a food log for the baby and, if the baby is breastfed, for the mother
  • examining the baby to look for signs of illness or another problem
  • examining the baby’s stool, usually by asking for a dirty diaper

If the doctor suspects a serious problem, they might order imaging studies of the baby’s digestive tract to help rule out more serious conditions.


Home remedies

Baby having tummy time crawling on front to treat gas
Allowing a baby to crawl on their stomach may help relieve gas.

Simple home remedies can help soothe a baby and possibly help gas bubbles move more quickly out of its body.

Positioning the baby so that their head is above their stomach can help.

Try the following methods to relieve gas in a baby:

Moving their legs in a circle

Lay the baby flat on their back and lift their legs with their knees bent. Move the legs in a bicycling motion to help the baby relieve trapped gas.

Raising their head

Elevate the baby’s head above their stomach. Try holding them in an upright position for burping.

Going for a car ride

If the baby likes riding in the car, go for a ride. The gentle rocking may ease pain and calm the baby.

Swaddling

Swaddling newborns and young babies can help. However, not all babies enjoy this.

Cradling them face down

Cradle the baby in your arms, but face down instead of face up. Support the baby’s head, elevating it slightly, and ensure nothing covers the baby’s face or nose.

Massaging their belly

Gently rub the baby’s stomach. Try pressing down in gentle clockwise or counterclockwise motions. Let the baby’s reaction guide the pressure.

Burping them

Burp the baby by rubbing or gently patting their back.

Distracting them

Older infants might cry more from pain when they are bored. Singing, dancing, toys, and interactive play can help distract the baby from the pain of gas.

Tummy time

Give the baby tummy time while awake and supervised. Tummy time involves placing them on their tummy and letting them move around. This strengthens their upper body muscles and encourages them to elevate their head. This can free trapped gas, while also helping boost healthy muscle development.

Giving gas drops

Simethicone gas drops help some babies and are safe to give up to 12 times a day, as long as parents or caregivers follow the dosage on the bottle. However, most studies suggest these drops might be no better than a placebo at reducing crying or gas.

Probiotic supplements

A 2011 study suggests that babies with severe colic may get better with a probiotic supplement. If home remedies do not work and a baby’s gas is very bad, talk to a pediatrician about using a probiotic.

Researchers have not established the safety of probiotic supplements for infants, and there is no evidence to suggest appropriate infant dosing or which probiotic may work best.

How does a baby’s diet affect gas?

Breast milk is the biologically normal food for babies and usually, the healthiest choice. There is no need to stop breastfeeding because a baby has gas. Try keeping a food log, which might help identify whether particular foods trigger gas in a baby.

Infant formula may also be a culprit. Mixing up infant formula can cause air bubbles to appear in a baby’s food, increasing the risk of gas. Try a pre-mixed liquid formula instead, or give formula a few minutes to settle before feeding the baby.

Some babies may be sensitive to formula ingredients, such as soy or lactose. A small-scale 2011 study suggested that feeding babies an easily digested low-lactose formula may ease gas and colic. Talk to your baby’s pediatrician before changing formulas.

When a baby starts eating solids, keep a food log. This can help with identifying food sensitivities that trigger gas.

Prevention

Many people who breastfeed may worry that their diet is the culprit. However, a 2017 study found that women often needlessly restrict their diets. There is no need to avoid any specific food when breastfeeding because most babies get gas.

Some strategies that may help prevent gas include:

  • Changing the feeding position. Try changing the baby’s position while they eat to ensure their head is slightly above their belly.
  • Improving latch. Sometimes a weak latch causes a baby to swallow too much air. If breastfeeding is painful, the baby seems frustrated, or frequently unlatches from the breast, talk to a lactation consultant. Going to a La Leche League meeting can also help.
  • Slowing down feeding. Try slowing down the rate at which formula-fed babies eat. Some babies drink bottles very quickly, causing them to swallow air. Try using a slow-flow nipple. People can find various brands online.
  • Trying different bottles. Some babies get less gas when using different-shaped bottles, such as curved bottles. Regardless of the type of bottle, make sure to hold it up enough, so that the base of the bottle is full of milk rather than air.
  • Burping the baby more often. Try taking a break in the middle of each feed to burp the baby. Burp the baby after each meal, too.


Summary

Though many babies do not seem bothered by their gas, for others, gas can be frustrating and upsetting to both the baby and their caregivers.

When a baby does not sleep well, the frequent crying can be especially exhausting and overwhelming. However, gas is a normal part of babyhood that usually goes away on its own.

The days of gas will soon be history as the baby grows, develops, and turns into a toddler. In the meantime, gentle management and a few home remedies can make stomach pain more manageable for babies and caregivers.

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