Gas is unavoidable among babies. There’s probably not a single baby who has never had a gassy tummy—both my kids and every other kid I know experienced gas at some point in infancy.
It’s totally normal and even expected. That’s why part of every baby’s routine after feeding is burping. It’s also why baby tummy massages are a thing.
However, just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it isn’t hard to deal with. Babies experience a lot of discomfort and distress with gas, and what little sleep their parents have is further cut down with all the crying.
If you are breastfeeding, you might be wondering: “Where is all this gas coming from? Surely breasts do not produce gas!” While that is true, several other factors may contribute to a gassy breastfed baby.
What causes gas among breastfed babies?
As stated above, there are no gas bubbles in the breast, unlike how it can be for many baby bottles. That means that if your exclusively-breastfed baby is having some gas problems, it might be coming from something else.
These are some of the most common causes for gas among breastfed babies:
This is a common cause of gas among breastfed babies. Your baby ingests air while feeding at the breast. However, the air does not come from the breast but rather around it.
What does this mean?
Ideally, if a baby latches onto the breast, she should flange out her lips around the flesh of the breast or areola, sealing the tissue around the nipple with her lips. This seal prevents any air from entering while the baby suckles.
With an incorrect latch, a portion of the lips or the mouth’s sides may not be sealing around the entire areola. As the baby sucks, some air might get through, which they may suck in and ingest.
Crying for long periods may cause your baby to ingest some air too. They may be crying because they are hungry, cold, or uncomfortable. This could also happen during growth spurts when babies are usually a lot fussier than usual.
No matter what the cause of the crying is, some air will eventually get swallowed if it goes on for prolonged periods. This dilemma is like a double-whammy where the gas’s discomfort further exacerbates the prolonged crying for whatever reason.
While constipation is also a digestive tract issue, you might not think of it as a culprit that can cause gas in your baby. However, the mechanism by which constipation causes gas is quite straightforward.
Hard stools cause blockages in the gut and the rectum. Because of these blockages, intestinal gas has no way out and nowhere to go. The gas eventually builds up and causes distention and discomfort, thus leading to a very fussy baby.
Constipation is not a common problem among breastfed babies. I probably only deal with one or two bouts of constipation in an entire year while my babies are still breastfed. That’s because breast milk is a lot easier to digest compared to formula.
You’ll know that your baby is constipated if she goes several days without pooping, is grunting, crying, and sweating. You’ll also see that the stools that she manages to pass are clay-like, hard, pellet-like, or dry.
This reason is the epitome of reasons why babies often have gas. Their git is simply not mature enough to handle all the tasks of digesting food and milk, eliminating waste material, and passing gas.
It’s a lot to do for a young digestive tract. It needs a lot of practice and growing up to do. Luckily, breastmilk contains all the components needed for healthy gut development. That means you’re on the right track in managing your baby’s digestive health.
Baby’s sensitivity to mom’s diet
This is the last on the list because although milk protein allergies still happen with breastfeeding, it’s not that common. Therefore, it’s important that you tick off all the probable causes mentioned above before assuming the possibility that your diet might be causing it.
The most common misconception with mother’s diet relating to the breastfed baby’s gas is that if a mom eats gas-causing foods, the baby gets gas.
The problem with that is that the list of gas-producing food is almost endless: nearly all fruits, green veggies, broccoli and cauliflower, starchy foods like yams and even pasta. Limiting a mother’s diet to exclude all gassy foods is not practical. Besides, it’s not even proven to be effective in reducing baby’s gas.
However, if your baby has an officially-diagnosed milk-protein allergy then you should adjust your diet accordingly. Certain proteins that your baby is allergic to may appear in your milk after a few hours.
These foods usually include dairy, nuts, soy, eggs, and wheat -certainly not gassy foods but can cause gas and tummy problems with your sensitive baby.
Symptoms of gas among breastfed babies
Sometimes, especially for new parents, it is hard to identify gas from other discomforts or needs that your baby might cry or fuss about. Here’s how you can tell if it’s gas:
- Excessive burping
- Spitting up more than usual
- Excessive farting
- Bloating or having a swollen belly
- Having a hard time sleeping, coupled with the symptoms listed above
Some babies may not be bothered too much by the gas, especially if it’s not that much. However, as it builds up, so does the discomfort.
Watching out for the other signs even if your baby is not that fussy yet can help you catch it in its early stages so that your baby won’t get too uncomfortable.
What to do if your breastfed baby has gas
Burp your baby during and after a feed
It is customary to burp a baby after feeding. It’s taught in all parenting resources, seen on television and movies, and passed between generations. However, burping only at the end of a feed may be too late.
Think of it this way, do you only ever burp at the end of a meal? Sometimes you need to burp in between bites, right? The same concept applies to babies too.
When breastfeeding, you can burp your baby between switching breasts. Also, when your baby unlatches, don’t be too hurried to pop the boob back in. Take that opportunity to burp her as well.
Do baby massage and tummy pressure
The relaxation from a massage coupled with the light pressure on the belly can help the gas move along. While your baby is on her back, rub your hand around her belly in a clockwise motion.
You can do this with her clothes on so that your hand glides over her belly through the cloth. You can also do this before dressing her and with baby-friendly massage oil.
If you’re not so confident about your massaging skills, simply putting your baby on her belly for some tummy time can help a lot. Carrying your baby on your forearm facing down will also have the same effect. Just make sure to wait at least an hour after feeding to do tummy pressure.
Keep your baby upright
Avoid putting your baby down right after a feeding session -even after you’ve burped her. Make sure to wait at least 15 to 13 minutes before putting her down. Keep her upright against your chest for the meantime.
When feeding, make sure that your baby is positioned so that her head is always higher than her belly. Propping a pillow under your arm while you support her head can make this more comfortable for you and ensures that the angle is maintained throughout the feeding.
Consult a lactation consultant
As mentioned above, latch issues can easily cause gas. You might get an inkling that this is the cause if you experience some discomfort while nursing or if your baby often fusses at the breast.
Getting that latch corrected will do wonders for your baby’s gas problem and might even help your milk supply. Even if the latch is not the root cause of the gas, seeing a lactation specialist can put your mind at ease and improve your breastfeeding relationship with your baby.
Keep a food journal
If you’ve made all of the suggestions mentioned above and the problem persists, try looking into your diet. Watch out for reactions or gassy incidences within the day if your meals including dairy, eggs, nuts, or soy.
If you see a consistent correlation, talk with your baby’s pediatrician to get her tested for allergies so you can be sure if a diet modification is in order.
Aside from your own diet, try to take note of the baby’s diet too. If she’s on solids, watch out for constipating foods like bananas and rice cereal as constipation can lead to gas too.
If there’s no physiological problem at all, all there is left to do is to hunker down and wait it out. Your child’s gut development will improve as the weeks go by, and you’ll likely notice the incidence of gas decreases.
For me, it was at the six-month mark that my babies’ gas problems waned. They were already sitting up and moving around so much that they could basically burp themselves whenever they needed to.
Gas can be a major issue for most parents since it puts their baby in such distress and can cause many sleepless nights. However, it would help if you remembered that gas among babies is totally normal. Even if it is uncomfortable, it is usually very harmless.
Personally, all I had to do was to wait it out until my baby’s digestive tract was mature enough to do its thing. In the meantime, focus on providing comfort measures through massage and frequent burping until you see that your baby does not need help anymore.