A gassy baby is an unhappy baby, and an unhappy baby makes for a sleepless, cranky parent. When my daughter was just a newborn, I was recommended by a lactation consultant to take an infant massage class so I could learn how to relive gas in babies instantly. But the consultant patiently explained to me that infant digestives symptoms are really a work in progress. So no matter what I did, I could expect spit-up, upsets, and yes, scrunchy-faced gas pains. The massage class was not cheap (like, I was desperate), but it turns out one trick was totally worth the cost.
"Gas is a big concern for new parents," explains Leigh Anne O'Connor, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), in an email to Romper. She notes that some level of gassiness is normal, but that if your baby is really uncomfortable, it might be from fast milk letdown — if you're breastfeeding — especially if you're in the "anti-gravity position" and baby is lying back. If you worry your baby is getting gassy because of something you're eating, she suggests keeping a food diary for a few days to figure out what the trigger is. She notes that "a very common gas-causing food is dairy."
According to Parents, babies also get gassy because their large intestines are working overtime, and because they tend to swallow a lot of air. However, the truth is that no matter what you do, your baby is going to be gassy sometimes. "Babies may be fussy for several different reasons," Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini, board-certified pediatrician tells Romper. "Sometimes they are fussy for no reason at all! If it is related to gas, you may notice that it happens in between or around mealtimes. Additionally, babies might scrunch their legs up if they are uncomfortable or having gas pains." So here's what I was told to do in my massage class: cup your hands under your baby's knees, and gently press their folded legs against their belly. If you hear a satisfying toot, you've done it. You've relieved your baby's gas, and saved the day — probably even the world.
Rubbing your baby's belly in soothing circles from time to time is another way to help digestion along, or so I learned in my infant massage class. Also, don't forget to "bicycle" your baby's legs. "Bicycling your baby's legs is a nice way to help move contents down the digestive tract and encourage the passing of gas," Cecchini says. While you can't entirely prevent gassiness — according to WebMD, babies pass gas 13 to 21 times per day, which any parent will easily believe — you can head it off at the pass, so to speak, by "burping frequently during feeding," Cecchini says. "It's a great technique to help avoid a build-up of gas."
WebMD also recommended keeping your baby's head higher than their stomach as you nurse or feed them to get everything moving in the right direction. Additionally, if you're using a bottle, look out for bubbles in the nipple (a surefire recipe for gassiness), and never let them suck at an empty one.
If nothing seems to help, you still have options. If you're nursing, you should look into whether your baby is tongue tied. "A baby with a tight tongue can be gassy as they take in more air when nursing. Having the tongue tie released can help a great deal," explains O'Connor. "Finally, torticollis can cause gassiness. This is when the neck is tight — typically the baby will favor turning their head more to one side than the other. To help, some physical therapy exercise or exercises and tummy time to loosen the neck. In severe cases, cranio-sacral therapy helps."
But there are some popular "methods" that get passed around baby forums that you should not do. "Gripe water is not recommended to help relieve gassiness," Cecchini says, because some of the ingredients could be unsafe. "Also, some parents think that changing formulas may have an impact, but little evidence supports this. In fact, if your baby is experiencing small amounts of spit-up and some gas, but still gaining weight appropriately, there is likely no need to change formula. Also, gassiness should not differ significantly if your baby is breastfed versus bottle-fed."
And don't try to place your baby to sleep on their stomach or side or in any kind of positional sleeper to relieve their gas. "Changing sleep position likely does not make a significant impact on gassiness," Cecchini says. "Additionally, it is important to remember to place infants on their backs for every sleep until he or she reaches 1 year of age."
Babies often look very uncomfortable when they're gassy. If you're really worried, don't hesitate to give your doctor a call. For most parents however, gas is just part of the newborn experience. Remember the magic trick — knees tucked up to belly — and know that as your baby develops, their digestive system will mature as well. As long as they're gaining weight with their gassiness and spit-up, they're doing just fine.
Leigh Anne O'Connor, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant
Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini, Board-Certified Pediatrician
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