Your poor babe. She has a full, rumbling belly and she’s crying that cry that you know means she’s uncomfortable, but otherwise she seems well. These are just a few of the signs that she might be suffering from gas. So what can you do to ease her tummy?
Like adults, babies swallow air every time they eat. “In an otherwise healthy child, gas is caused by air swallowed during feeding, especially when babies gulp quickly with large milk letdowns,” explains Dr. Henry Ukpeh, associate professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of British Columbia. Ensuring that your baby has a good latch on a breast or bottle (low-flow) nipple can help lessen the amount of air she gulps in. You can help your baby rid herself of gas by stopping a feed to burp her in an upright position for a few minutes, says Amanda Spakowski, a Toronto birth doula. “If she settles or passes gas, try continuing the feed — her fussiness may have been because of gas and not a sign that she was done feeding,” she says. Dr. Ukpeh advises moms to try shortening feeding periods to five minutes at a time.
To figure out gas issues, David Brulé, a Toronto-based homeopath, begins with the diet of the nursing mom or the contents of the formula being provided. “I usually recommend starting with the elimination of onions and garlic,” which may be potential culprits, he says. “I then ask the mother whether there is any pattern to the baby’s gassy times, whether there are worse periods after certain foods,” he adds. “Moms may need to keep a food diary.”
Spakowski notes that many of the babies she sees who are uncomfortable due to excessive gas have been sensitive to the cow’s milk mom is consuming. Nursing moms can replace milk in their diet with an alternate calcium source (fortified soy or rice beverages, some vegetables) to see if that helps. For parents who are formula feeding, milk-based proteins can be difficult for some babies to digest. Both Brulé and Spakowski suggest a lactose-free mix or one that contains goat or soy rather than cow’s milk.
An abdominal massage can often give relief from gas and help with digestion, says Spakowski. She recommends this technique, which can also be done by Dad. “Massage your baby’s belly in an upside-down horseshoe shape that follows the placement of her large intestine. With your baby on her back, place your fingers firmly on the bottom left (your left) side of her belly, run your fingers up her side to the bottom of her rib cage, across to the top right (your right) of her belly and down to the top of her leg.” A firm downward rub on her back or raising your baby’s knees to her chest and stretching the legs back out again can also accelerate the movement of gas.
When her daughter was a newborn, Ottawa mom Tamara Sing’s now eight-month-old daughter, Lily, had gas. “She was fussy so we bought gripe water, but after speaking with our doctor, we found out gas was normal.” Dr. Ukpeh says these products may be very good for the parent’s psyche but do little for the child. “There are no over-the-counter products that have been demonstrated to be useful in treating gas,” he notes.
Brulé says he recommends over-the-counter homeopathic remedies that have been approved by Health Canada for gas or colic in infants aged one to six months. “Check the labels at your local drugstore or health food store and look for the DIN-HM (homeopathic medicine) designation. If problems persist, see a qualified homeopath or naturopath who can prescribe a homeopathic remedy more specific to your child’s gas or colic symptoms.”
As your baby’s digestive system matures and she learns to sit upright and eat solid foods at around six months, gas will become less of a problem as she starts burping spontaneously. If she appears ill, refuses to eat or drink or has any other symptoms like fever, vomiting or distension (tightening) of the abdomen, see your doctor.
This story is part of our New Baby Guide. Check it out for more info on bringing home, planning for and surviving having a new baby.