Before I became a mom, I thought having a gassy baby would be unpleasant because, you know, who wants to be around someone with gas? Then I had a baby, and I realized a gassy baby is unpleasant because they can act like they need a full-fledged exorcism. Seriously, the amount of ear-piercing shrieks that something as simple as gassiness induces is shocking. If you’re struggling, it’s helpful to know the best breastfeeding positions for a gassy baby, along with other things you can do to help alleviate their pains.
But honestly, the thing that helps many babies with perpetual gassiness is, unfortunately, just time. “Remember that their tummies are immature and this is the first time it’s having to digest food, so some gas is expected,” explains Alicia Lilly, Registered Nurse, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and creator of the Think Like a Mom program, in an interview with Romper. This is why burping a baby during and after a feeding is so important. However, burping your babe religiously can’t always prevent those gas pains.
For a breastfeeding mom, a gassy baby can bring up a lot of questions and doubts, too: did I eat something bad? Am I doing something wrong? Is there something wrong with baby? Trying to console a writhing, miserable baby can make you feel totally helpless, and you are probably willing to try just about anything to ease their discomfort. From cutting dairy to adding in gas drops, there are plenty of potential remedies you can try — but adjusting their breastfeeding positioning and latch might be the place to start.
Signs Your Baby Is Gassy
For many babies, the telltale sign that they’re gassy is fussiness. Of course, all babies cry, so what are some accompanying symptoms to watch out for? Marissa Reyna, Certified Lactation Consultant and the breastfeeding guru behind the lactation support Instagram page @marissathemilkmom, says there are a few other telltale signs that a baby is gassy. “Are they pulling their legs up to their chest often? Grunting? Writhing around? Is their belly tight and hard? They are likely experiencing some digestive discomfort if you notice them doing these things,” Reyna tells Romper in an interview. “If they pass gas or burp and seem to be relieved, then that's your sign!”
While some gas is inevitable in babies, there is a point where it’s excessive and may need some help beyond the typical home remedies. If your baby seems inconsolable for over an hour every day, or seems generally unhappy most of the day, it definitely warrants a check-in with their pediatrician. Additionally, if they are having trouble eating or sleeping, gas might be behind it. In general, I’m a believer that if something doesn’t seem “right,” talk to your pediatrician. They might tell you it’s completely normal, but when it comes to your baby, it’s always better safe than sorry.
Positioning Your Baby
While there’s nothing you can do about your baby’s immature digestive system, there are a few things you can do while breastfeeding that may minimize their gassiness. Burping your baby throughout a nursing session can help tremendously; I typically burp when switching baby from one breast to the other, and when they’ve finished. “A lot of newborn discomfort is caused by swallowing air during feedings,” states an article from What to Expect. “In addition to burping after feedings, try giving your baby a gentle back pat mid-feed to get rid of swallowed air before it travels to baby’s bowels.”
The way you hold your baby while nursing can also help the gas situation. An upright or semi-upright position allows baby to better control the flow of milk, simultaneously reducing the amount of air they take in. By holding baby more upright, with their heads higher than their bellies, you’ll help the milk get to the bottom of their stomach while any trapped air rises to the top. Then, a good burp should be extremely effective at relieving that gas.
Two other things that can cause gas, and often go hand-in-hand, are an oversupply of milk or an overactive letdown (meaning your breast milk is released quickly or forcefully into baby’s mouth). In this case, “laid-back breastfeeding can be a game changer. It allows gravity to do some work for you and lessen the flow for baby!” says Reyna. Other effective positions include cradle or football holds with you reclined, or a side-lying position where baby can easily let extra milk flow out of their mouth. Slightly older babies can also sit completely upright on your lap while nursing. If these positions don’t seem to be helping, you can unlatch baby during your letdown (make sure to have a towel handy!), re-latching them when the milk flow has slowed.
Double-Checking Their Latch
Equally important to finding a good position for baby is ensuring they have a proper latch. If they are latched onto your breast incorrectly, they’re liable to swallow air while feeding (which, as we’ve discussed, is a major reason why they might experience gassiness). “Are they guzzling? Gasping? Clicking? These can all lead to extra air being taken in,” Reyna says.
A glaringly obvious sign that a baby is latched incorrectly is if you’re experiencing pain while nursing. Often, this is caused by a shallow latch. Check that their lips are flanged out, with as much breast tissue as possible inside their mouth. Their nose should be gently touching the upper part of the breast, and their chin pressed against the underside.
If you are feeling any discomfort or notice that their latch doesn’t look right, you can gently correct it by pulling on their chin or rolling their top lip outward. If this doesn’t work, “stick a finger in the corner of your baby’s mouth to break their seal and try latching again,” Lilly instructs. Reyna adds that one way to ensure a baby’s latch is strong is by keeping their head higher than their stomach.
Dealing with a gassy baby is no fun for any party involved. Before you rush to change your diet or begin gas drops, however, try simply adjusting the way you’re feeding your baby. By nursing them more upright, ensuring they have a proper latch, and burping frequently, you may be able to reduce the amount of gas they’re dealing with, and the amount of fussiness you’re dealing with.
Marissa Reyna, Certified Lactation Consultant, @marissathemilkmom