Most mornings, Toronto mom Rana Solianik wakes up to a symphony of gaseous sounds coming from her nine-week old son's bassinet. “It starts around 5 a.m., and Theodore grunts the entire time, sometimes crying as he pulls his legs in and out,” says Solianik. “It can keep us awake for up to two hours.”
Gas is a normal part of infant development. “All babies are gassy at some point,” says paediatrician Catherine Pound, who practises at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa. Young babies eat almost constantly, and their digestive systems are still immature, so a fair bit of flatulence and burping is expected as they become more proficient at digesting breastmilk or formula. But when it’s keeping your baby (and you) up at night, or causing fussiness, you might want to try to solve this common problem quickly.
Solianik’s doctor recommended baby probiotic drops each morning to help with Theodore’s tummy trouble, which has been attributed to gas. She also occasionally gives him Ovol (an over-the-counter remedy containing simethicone, which breaks down gas bubbles in the stomach and intestines).
“There’s very little evidence that those things help, but there’s also no evidence that they hurt,” says Pound. “If parents feel they are making a difference, that’s great.”
Gently massaging the tummy can also help baby work out the gas. You can learn some useful techniques (either online or in a class), such as massaging the abdomen in a clockwise motion to ease digestive discomfort, or just do what seems to feel good for your baby, says Pound. “Pulling their legs in and out in a bicycling motion sometimes helps as well, but again, it’s not a magic cure.”
Being vigilant about burping after feeds can help to prevent gas pains from developing in the first place. If your gassy baby drifts off to sleep while nursing or taking a bottle, consider waking them to burp. With any luck, they’ll go right back to dreamland when you’re done. There are different burping positions parents can try, including holding baby with their chest against your shoulder; laying them chest-down on your lap; or sitting them on your knees, with one hand supporting their neck and head while you pat her back firmly.
Andrea Cheung has mastered the art of burping her five-month-old son, Gilbert. “I’m pretty sure that has helped him a lot with gas,” says Cheung. “He had some trouble [with] when he was younger, but not now, because he’s burping so well.”
If you’re bottle-feeding your baby, changing the style of bottle or nipple may help. “Some do better with nipples that have a slower flow,” says Pound. Switching the type of formula can also help with gas. “The only time changing the formula makes a difference is if the baby has an intolerance to milk protein,” she says. (Most brands contain milk, just in slightly different formulations.) If the gassiness is severe and accompanied by colic (defined as crying that lasts three hours a day for more than three days a week and continues for more than three weeks) or a dramatic change in their stools, including green or bloody poops, it may be a sign of cow's milk protein intolerance or allergy. The baby may require a hypoallergenic or extensively hydrolyzed formula made with protein that is easier to digest. If you suspect a cow’s milk protein allergy, talk to your doctor before making a switch.
Moms who are breastfeeding may be told to eliminate dairy from their own diets because a breastfed baby with diagnosed cow's milk protein allergy can be exposed to the protein through mom's breastmilk. “This is one of the only cases where a reduction or elimination of a food from mom’s diet may be beneficial,” says Nishta Saxena, a registered dietitian and paediatric and family nutrition specialist. But typically gassy foods like broccoli, beans and lentils consumed by mom aren’t likely to cause gas in a breastfed baby. “We just don’t have a lot of evidence that shows an improvement in gassiness with the removal of foods from the mom’s diet,” says Saxena.
For the most part, babies just need time for their tummies and digestive systems to mature, and then gas issues will subside. However, if the intensity of crying has increased, if you’re unable to settle your baby for a sustained amount of time, or if his or her abdomen appears overly distended or feels hard to the touch, call your doctor. "Reflux or an allergenic response can also be mistaken for gas, so it’s important to check with your doctor."