Why I'm teaching my daughters it's OK to fart

One mom bristles at the expectation that girls don't pass gas with gusto—and seeks out some health reasons they should just go for it.

Photo: iStockphoto

Have you ever told a little girl to “act like a lady” when it comes to bodily functions?

Or found yourself laughing at a young boy that let one rip, but had a different reaction to a girl doing the same? Have you ever looked disapprovingly at a young girl who had passed gas and wondered why she didn’t mind her manners? Or even found yourself a bit disgusted that a little girl could have such noxious and loud farts?

I’d never given any of this much brain power until I recently noticed my husband gives my daughters a certain look when they cut the cheese, and then he’ll shake his head and chide them for it. Totally hypocritical, considering his near-constant flatulence. But more importantly, we are a pro woman household, so his targeting our daughters’ gas is unacceptable. If nothing else, we will be equal opportunity farters in our home. Or if not equal opportunity, then we will all adhere to being devout non-farters.

   Photo os a doctor feeling a little kid's tummy    
   What may be causing your kid's stomach pain
But even putting aside the gender stuff, our discussion of this topic lead to me to learn that there are plenty of legit, evidence-based reasons why it’s downright healthy to let ‘er rip—and unhealthy to constantly stifle the urge.

Wait. Are you asking yourself if I really went on a hunt to get added weapons in my argument with my husband? Yes, I did. Heck, this is how we solve most problems; I dig into the research and serve it up on a platter of righteousness. Doesn’t everyone?

So, let’s move on to the results portion. Without further ado, I give you: the health benefits of bottom burps.

Smelling them can fight illness
This seems crazy, but apparently, small doses of hydrogen sulfide gas—that rotten-egg smell your body produces and eliminates—can prevent damage to cells, which can have an impact on preventing strokes and heart disease. These findings stem from a study conducted by scientists at the University of Exeter. They looked into the impact of small amounts of hydrogen sulfide gas on stressed cells’ mitochondria and found that a stressed cell will draw in enzymes that create the compound hydrogen sulfide. Drawing in that hydrogen sulfide protects the mitochondria of the cell. Yes, we’re talking a study about cells here, and that’s not the same as a study involving real humans, but the groundwork is laid!

Farting can relieve bloat
Releasing gas makes some space in the stomach. And most people pass about two cups of gas a day to keep from being bloated, says Jenifer Lightdale, a pediatric gastroenterologist at the University of Massachusetts in Worcester who chairs the Section on Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (SOGHN) for the American Academy of Pediatrics. While that amount can certainly vary person to person, both kids and adults should be allowed to pass gas when necessary by farting or burping, says Lightdale. When those things are stopped, the bloat can actually become quite painful.

There are other physical symptoms caused by holding it all in, says Pooja Singhal, a gastroenterologist at St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City. “Retention of gas can lead to headaches, acne, abdominal pain, abdominal bloating, and in some cases diarrhea and constipation,” says Singhal. In a society where the feminine ideal means holding it in, is it any surprise that many of these physical complaints tend to be more common in women? (More on that later.)

Holding them in can lead to diverticula and other physical symptoms
Diverticula are weak spots in the colon that can make small pockets. They are caused by pressure on the walls of the intestine, and if you constantly hold in your gas, it builds pressure in the intestines and can create weak spots or make the ones that already exist very painful, according to a report in the 2013 The New Zealand Medical Journal, which compiled data from previous studies and research on flatulence.

Farting can warn of illness
Most of the time, farts are odourless, says Singhal. “But a particularly bad smell can warn of health issues.” For instance, one condition that can be associated with malodorous gas due to malabsorption is celiac disease, says Lightdale. If your child’s gas is persistently clearing a room, it might be worth seeing a doctor.

Preventing a doctor visit later
In reporting this story, I asked both Lightdale and Singhal about the breakdown of female versus male patients in terms of symptoms related to gas. Lightdale works in pediatric care and says that, yes, gas and bloating seem somewhat more common in girls, while Singhal (who sees only adults) confirmed that she sees many more women for bloating, belching, burping and irritable bowel syndrome. Could it be that years of fighting back our gas leads to a chronic problem when we age that require us to seek help from gastroenterologists later? There’s no evidence, but Singhal certainly thinks it could be a contributing factor, especially in light of our social culture and norms.

So there you have it. That’s why my daughters need to rip one. They are girls, hear them roarrrr… or whatever. Yes, it’s slightly silly, but I think it’s important! I don’t want them to be in any pain simply in an effort to become a fictional thing that doesn’t have bodily functions.

So from now on, being a lady in our house is going to represent being true to ourselves in every way. And that will include bodily functions. We will not do damage to ourselves (now or in the future) for the sake of outdated norms. We will not let the men have all the benefits attributed to allowing gas to pass. I’m more than OK if my daughters never celebrate and high-five over the loudest toot, but I do want them to be healthy and comfortable.

Read more:
What may be causing your kid’s stomach pain
Can we please stop using “girl” as an insult?

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