Published on in Health Tip of the Week
Gas. It’s a topic most people avoid thinking about until they have a newborn. Then, suddenly, baby burps and farts become a huge source of parental distress.
Why is my newborn so gassy?
Got a gassy newborn? You’re not alone. According to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Pediatricians, Julie Kardos, MD, and Naline Lai, MD, all babies are gassy in their first two months of life. Yes, all.
Having just spent nine months as fetuses developing in fluid, newborns have no experience with air until they take their first breath. Then, if they swallow some air when they cry or feed, eventually, some of the air comes up as a burp.
Gas expelled from below (farts) comes from a different source. As babies drink formula or breast milk, farts in the first few days can be a good sign that their guts are waking up. As time goes on, some liquid in the intestines may remain undigested, and the normal gut bacteria “eat” the food. The bacteria produce gas as a byproduct of their eating. Thus: A fart is produced.
Either way, the gas wants desperately to escape, but young babies are not very good at getting it out and they are not accustomed to the sensation. So, newborns ball up, grunt, turn red, wake up from a sound sleep, or scream until they eventually produce thunderous burps and farts.
Gas is part of life
If your infant is feeding well, gaining weight adequately, passing soft mushy stools that are green, yellow or brown (but NOT bloody, white or black), then the grunting, straining, turning red, and crying with gas is harmless and does not imply that your baby has a belly problem or a milk or formula intolerance. As reassuring as that may be, Dr. Kardos and Dr. Lai acknowledge how difficult it is to see your infant appear uncomfortable.
How to help infants with gas
Try these tips if your young baby is bothered by gas:
- Start feedings before your infant cries a long time from hunger. When infants cry from hunger, they swallow air. When a frantically hungry baby starts to feed, they will gulp quickly and swallow more air than usual. If your infant is wide awake crying and it’s been at least one or two hours from the last feeding, try to start another feeding.
- Burp after your infant is done feeding. If you are breastfeeding, hold your child upright before switching breasts to give them a chance to burp. Avoid interrupting a feed to check for a burp. Your baby will make a switch from vigorous nutritive sucking to comfort sucking/pull off when they need to burp.
When bottle feeding, hold your infant upright for a few minutes after feedings to allow for extra burps. You can also experiment with different nipples and bottle shapes (different ones work better for different babies) to see which one allows your infant to feed without gulping too quickly and without sputtering.
If a burp seems stuck, lay your child down for a minute and then bring them upright and try again.
- Pay attention to positioning. Unlike you, a baby cannot change position easily and may need a little help moving the gas out of their system. Some positioning tips: Feed your baby as upright as possible; lay your child on their back and pedal their legs with your hands to help expel gas from below; if your child is awake after a feeding, place them on their belly.
- Increase tummy time. Give your child plenty of tummy time throughout the day while they are awake.
Common gas questions & answers
As CHOP Primary Care Pediatricians, Dr. Kardos and Dr. Lai have fielded many gas inquiries from parents of newborns. Below are some common questions they get asked and their insights on each.
Q: Will changing a breastfeeding mother’s diet or trying formula changes help decrease a baby’s discomfort from gas?
A: There is no absolute correlation between a certain food in the maternal diet and the production of gas in a baby. However, a nursing mom may find a particular food “gas inducing.” Be careful about avoiding too many foods, a nursing mom needs nutrients from a variety of sources to make healthy breast milk. If you are bottle feeding, try a formula change for a week at a time; if there is no effect on your baby’s gas, go back to the original formula.
Q: Do gas drops help? (And are they safe?)
A: For farting, if you find that the standard FDA-approved simethicone drops help, then you can use them as the label specifies. If they do not help, stop using them.
Q: Do probiotics help?
A: Unfortunately, there is not a lot of data about using probiotics to treat gas in infants. Probiotics may help other pediatric conditions such as the duration of acute diarrhea, and while deemed mostly harmless in otherwise healthy infants, they have not been shown to affect gas.
There’s good news
This piece ends as it began: with reassurance.
The discomfort from gas will pass. Gas discomfort from burps and farts typically peaks at six weeks and improves immensely by 3 months of age. At that point, even the fussiest babies tend to settle.
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