Gas pain is no fun for anyone, adults and babies alike. And if your baby is screaming in pain from gas, there’s a good chance that they’re not the only one in pain — it’s so hard to see your little one struggling.
It can feel terrible not knowing what to do to soothe your baby. But how can you tell whether it’s gas versus something else? And what are the best and safest methods that are proven to give your little one relief?
Here are some tips for how to determine whether your baby is experiencing gas pain — and how to deal with it.
When an adult has gas, it can be an uncomfortable experience. But most of us don’t holler at the top of our lungs because of it.
Babies, on the other hand, can’t explain their feelings, so crying and screaming are the only tools they have to tell us that something is wrong.
Babies cry for a variety of reasons, so it’s important to be sure that your child has gas before you attempt to source a remedy.
According to some experts, babies — just like adults and children — are constantly passing gas. In a healthy baby, gas is usually caused by swallowing air and shouldn’t be a source of pain or distress.
However, babies have new and somewhat immature digestive systems. This means that from time to time, things might not move as smoothly as they should. The result can be a bit of uncomfortable gas.
Gas can happen at any stage, but it’s incredibly common in the first 3 months of life (also known as the newborn stage). Gassiness usually subsides with time.
Some babies may also be born being extra sensitive to gas, which could make it more uncomfortable for them. This can occur in both formula-fed and breastfed or chestfed babies.
Your baby may get gas as a result of something in your diet if you’re nursing.
While crying can be a telltale sign, there may be other signs that your baby is experiencing gas.
For example, they may:
- seem especially grumpy
- fuss for around an hour every day
- have trouble eating and sleeping
- seem uncomfortable after eating
- become red in the face or seem like they’re in pain when crying
- be very squirmy and pull their legs up to their chest
Gas vs. colic
Colic is different than gas. While gas is a temporary issue that usually has a cause, colic is a cluster of symptoms marked by intense periods of crying without one known cause.
Colic symptoms can be similar to gas. But colic is also associated with a high-pitched cry or scream, and babies with the condition tend to be hard to soothe. The crying often worsens in the evening and is very loud and incessant.
While the medical and scientific communities still can’t pinpoint the causes of colic, some doctors think it’s the result of digestive issues or sensory overload.
Colic can begin to appear when a baby is only a few weeks old (though symptoms peak at around 6 weeks old, typically) and usually subsides by the time they’re 3 or 4 months old. Diagnostic criteria include crying for at least 3 hours per day for 3 or more days per week.
Although gas isn’t a cause of colic, gas pain can make colic worse. If you think your baby has colic, talk with your doctor about ways to manage it.
While no official medical remedy exists for banishing baby gas, there are things you can do to make their little tummies — and your ears — feel better.
Burp your baby correctly
We can’t stress enough that your baby’s digestive system is still developing — so don’t skip the burping stage! In some cases, you might want to burp them twice.
This means that midway through a feeding session, let them take a break and burp them. Then you can continue feeding them, and burp again once you’re done. Be sure to follow different positions for burping and always work the gas from the bottom up.
If you’re breastfeeding or chestfeeding, you may not need to burp your baby as frequently, since nursing babies usually swallow less air — which results in less gas. Babies with lots of gas may need to burp more often.
Feed in an upright position
Feeding a baby in a supine position (lying on their back) can encourage more air intake, which can create more gas.
To avoid that, try feeding your baby in a more upright position. For bottle-fed babies, look for nipples that help to better regulate air and liquid flow.
Avoid the tears
Don’t wait until your baby is having a serious meltdown to feed them. At that point, they’re gulping down air and food, which only helps to contribute to their gas woes.
This simple exercise can help to manually release gas. To perform it, lay your baby on their back and gently cycle their legs in a bicycle motion towards their tummies.
Alternatively, you can simply gently push your baby’s knees towards their tummy and hold the position for 10 seconds. Release and straighten their legs, then repeat multiple times.
Don’t skip tummy time
Tummy time can do more than improve your baby’s neck and back muscles. A good tummy session can also provide enough gentle pressure on their stomachs to help relieve gas.
Avoid tummy time immediately after a feeding. Instead, wait at least 20 to 30 minutes after your baby eats.
Adults aren’t the only ones that can benefit from the soothing power of touch. You can perform a massage on your baby to help relieve gas.
Gently massaging their tummy in a clockwise motion may be particularly useful.
Check your diet
If you’re nursing, you may need to consider whether a part of your diet is causing stomach upset in your baby.
The best way to find out is to cut out each food one by one and see whether it makes a difference.
If you suspect something in your diet might be the culprit behind your baby’s gas pain, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends cutting out some common foods that cause discomfort, such as:
Try baby drops
The AAP cautions that there isn’t much evidence that over-the-counter baby “gas drops” really work to relieve baby’s gas. However, if nothing else works, they may be worth trying.
Talk with your doctor before giving your baby gas drops and look for one that contains simethicone, which the AAP considers safe to use. And avoid drops that contain sodium benzoate or benzoic acid, as those ingredients can be harmful to your baby in large quantities.
For very young babies, crying is the only means of communication they have.
So, while gas or colic might be the reason for their tears, there can be other reasons that your little one is having a bad day. These include:
- Early teething. The general age for a baby getting their first tooth is around 6 months of age. But in some cases, babies can cut their first tooth as early as 4 months. Along with fussiness, teething is associated with extra drooling, swelling of the gums, increased biting or gumming of items, and sometimes even ear-rubbing.
- Pain or illness. Especially in newborns, incessant crying can sometimes be a sign that your baby is in pain due to illness or injury. Check your baby over for bruises or other injuries — including a stray hair that could be wrapped tightly around a finger, toe, or penis. Schedule a visit with your baby’s pediatrician to have them assessed, just in case.
- Discomfort. Just like older kids and adults, those little humans might not always love every outfit you put on them or every place you stow them that’s not in your arms. Sometimes, they’re just bored and want to have a change in scenery. Before you assume it’s gas, see whether picking them up, changing their clothes, or going outside helps.
- Tiredness. Babies can very easily get overtired and ironically, resist going to sleep even more. Try to create some kind of consistent sleep routine such as creating a dark and comfortable environment or reading the same book for naps and night time.
While most baby gas cases are fairly harmless, there are times when you should seek professional help.
If your baby exhibits excessive crying, has long crying bouts three or more times per day, or just recently began crying after reaching their first month, contact your pediatrician.
Also call the doctor or seek medical help if your little one isn’t eating, peeing, or having regular bowel movements.
Gas is just as frustrating for your baby as it is for you to watch them experience it.
While there isn’t one official scientifically backed remedy that’s guaranteed to banish gas for good, there are things you can do to help your little one get more comfortable.
Try taking steps such as:
- feeding your baby in an upright position
- burping them correctly
- examining your diet if you’re breastfeeding or chestfeeding
- talking with your doctor to check if anything else could be going on
But also take heart knowing that like most baby woes, this too shall pass.