As a new parent, navigating the unknown territory of caring for your little one can be challenging. One common issue you may encounter is when your gassy baby struggles to sleep soundly.
It’s entirely normal for babies to experience gas. But seeing your little one uncomfortable and unable to rest peacefully is enough to make any parent feel helpless and frustrated.
We’ve put together some tips and tricks to help your gassy baby sleep soundly, so you can catch some Zzzs too.
What are the causes of gas in babies?
As they’re learning to feed from the breast or the bottle, babies may sometimes swallow air; they may also sometimes swallow air while crying. This leads to gas, which babies release in two forms — burps or flatulence.
Another factor that exacerbates gas in babies is their immature digestive system. Since a baby’s digestive system is still developing, it may take some time for their body to adjust to processing food efficiently. The gas produced by digestion can get trapped in your baby’s system, leading to discomfort.
The causes of gas can vary, and it’s important to note that some degree of gas is normal and to be expected in babies.
According to Dr. Kimberly Langdon, an MD with 19 years of clinical experience as an obstetrician and gynecologist, “Gas is caused by the breakdown of certain foods by bacteria in the gut. Any food that can cause gas in an adult can do the same to a baby.”
However, excessive gas can cause discomfort and fussiness in babies. Here are some other potential causes of gas in infants:
- Overfeeding: Feeding a baby too much, too quickly, or not burping them properly after feeds can cause excess gas.
- Food sensitivities or allergies: Some babies may have sensitivities or allergies to certain foods, such as cow’s milk protein in formula or specific foods in the mother’s diet (if breastfeeding). This can cause digestive issues and gas.
“Many breastfeeding parents report a relationship between some foods they eat and their baby’s gas,” says Dr. O’Shea, “This makes sense. Some foods are harder to digest than others and require a more mature gut microbiome to assist in that digestion. Each parent figures out what foods are problematic. Some common ones are broccoli, onions, garlic, dairy, and onions.”
- Incorrect feeding technique: Improper positioning during feeding or using a nipple with a fast flow can cause babies to swallow air along with their milk, leading to gas.
- Gastrointestinal issues: Certain gastrointestinal conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) or colic, can cause increased gas and discomfort in babies.
- Introduction of solid foods: When solid foods are introduced, it can take time for the baby’s digestive system to adjust, leading to increased gas production.
What are signs that my baby is gassy?
If your baby is gassy, they may show their discomfort through crying, fussiness, and restlessness.
You may also notice that their tummy is bloated or that they are passing gas frequently. Additionally, your baby may have trouble sleeping and wake up frequently at night.
Here are some signs to look out for that suggest that your baby may be gassy:
- Fussiness and irritability: If your baby is experiencing gas, they may become unusually fussy or irritable. They may cry more than usual and have difficulty calming down.
- Pulling legs to chest: Babies with gas often find relief by pulling their legs up toward their chest. This movement can help alleviate discomfort caused by trapped gas.
- Excessive burping and spitting up: If your baby is gassy, they may burp frequently or spit up. Burping helps release trapped air from the stomach, providing some relief.
- Abdominal discomfort: Babies experiencing gas may exhibit abdominal discomfort, such as a tense or distended stomach. They may squirm or arch their back in an attempt to find relief.
- Difficulty feeding: Gas can make feeding challenging for babies. They may pull away from the breast or bottle, fuss during feeding, or have a decreased appetite.
It’s important to note that these signs can also be associated with other factors, such as hunger, tiredness, or discomfort from other sources. If you suspect your baby is experiencing gas or if their symptoms persist or worsen, consult with your pediatrician.
How to help your gassy baby
To help your gassy baby, Dr. Langdon suggests that you can massage their belly, try a warm bath, or move their legs in a gentle bicycle movement.
If your baby is older than 4 months and has control and balance in their head and neck, you could also try laying your baby on their back and then gently pulling them upwards by the arms.
Here are some other things you can do to help your baby relieve gas:
- Burp your baby: Make sure to burp your baby after each feeding. Hold your baby against your shoulder or sit them upright and gently pat or rub their back.
Burping helps release any trapped air in the stomach and can alleviate gas.
If your baby is showing signs of gassy discomfort during a feeding, it may help to try to burp them during the feed as well, for example, when switching between breasts, or when your baby pauses during a bottle feed.
- Adjust your baby’s feeding position: If you’re bottle-feeding, hold your baby in a slightly upright position to prevent them from swallowing excess air.
If you’re breastfeeding, experiment with different nursing positions to find the one that works best for your baby. With some trial and error, you’ll figure out what works best for your little one.
- Slow down feeding: Babies tend to gulp a lot of air when feeding if the “flow” of fluid is high. If your baby is bottle-fed, consider using a slower-flow nipple or paced feeding technique.
If you’re breastfeeding, express your milk a few minutes before nursing. Since the flow of your breast milk is fastest at letdown, this will slow down the flow when your baby feeds.
- Avoid overfeeding: Feeding your baby smaller, more frequent meals instead of larger ones can help prevent gas buildup.
Remember, your baby’s digestive system is immature and can only take a small amount of milk at a time. Overfeeding can often lead to increased gas and discomfort for your little one.
Pay attention to their fullness cues, such as turning their head away or slowing down their sucking. Offer smaller, more frequent feedings to prevent overloading their digestive system.
- Gentle tummy massage: A gentle tummy massage can help relieve gas by stimulating digestion.
Lay your baby on their back and use gentle, circular motions with your fingertips around their belly button area.
Be sure to use a light touch and observe your baby’s comfort level throughout the massage.
- Bicycle legs: Lay your baby on their back and hold their legs at the ankles, then gently bend and straighten their legs in a cycling motion.
Gently moving their legs in this motion helps stimulate digestion and relieve gas.
Finally, if your baby is breastfed, some experimentation with the nursing parent’s eating habits could also help your gassy baby. “Keep track of what foods the mother eats that may lead to gassiness,” suggests Dr. Langdon, “and then change your diet as needed.”
How to help a gassy baby sleep
Many parents notice that their baby is more gassy at night.
During the day, your baby can release gas by moving their body, but when they’re about to sleep at night, they’re more still, which restricts them from relieving gas. Gas can lead to restlessness and interrupted sleep for your baby (and for you.)
“ The most effective way for parents to help their gassy babies sleep is to make feeding time as calm and easy as possible. By doing what you can to have a calm, confident approach to feedings, your baby may be calmer too, and swallow a bit less air.
You can help your baby relieve gas throughout the day by giving them lots of tummy time and burping them after each feeding.
Burping helps release any trapped air in their stomach, reducing the likelihood of discomfort caused by gas during sleep. Hold your baby upright against your shoulder or sit them on your lap, gently patting or rubbing their back until they burp.
If your baby has gas, avoid laying them flat on their back immediately after feeding. This can contribute to gas buildup.
Allow some time for digestion by keeping your baby upright or slightly elevated for around 30 minutes before putting them to sleep. This will help prevent acid reflux and allow any trapped gas to escape more easily.
“If babies could sleep on their stomachs, it would help with gas, but it is such a high risk for SIDS, it is not safe. Getting through the gassy phase while still sleeping on their back is worth it, given the risk of SIDS,” says Dr. O’Shea.
Q: Why is my breastfed baby so gassy?
A: Breastfed babies can be gassy for several reasons, such as swallowing air while feeding or having a sensitivity to certain foods in the mother’s diet. Ensuring proper latch and positioning during breastfeeding is important to minimize air intake for babies who breastfeed while using a slow-flow nipple can help minimize gas for babies to bottle-feed.
Q: Do gas drops for babies help?
A: According to Dr. O’Shea, “Many babies do seem to get some relief from gas drops, which are safe, so they are worth a try!” They contain simethicone, which can help break down gas bubbles in the stomach, providing relief. However, it’s recommended to consult a healthcare professional before using any infant medication.
Q: Can breastfeeding cause gassiness in babies?
A: Breastfeeding itself usually does not cause gassiness in babies. However, certain foods in the mother’s diet, such as cruciferous vegetables or dairy products, may increase gas in some infants. Experimenting with dietary changes may help identify potential triggers.
Q: What is the best position to burp a baby in?
A: The best position to burp a baby is typically by holding them upright or placing them over your shoulder while gently patting or rubbing their back. This position helps release trapped air from the stomach and reduces the likelihood of regurgitation. You can also have the infant be placed on the leg, well supported by one hand near the neck with the baby leaning forward and the other hand gently patting the back of the baby.
Q: How often should I burp my baby?
A: It’s generally recommended to burp your baby after each feeding session, especially if they seem fussy or gassy. However, some babies may not always require burping, so observing their comfort level during and after feeding can guide you in determining the frequency.
Q: Does gripe water help with gas in babies?
A: Gripe water is an herbal remedy that some parents find helpful in relieving gas and colic symptoms in babies. It contains various ingredients, such as fennel or ginger extracts, which are believed to soothe the digestive system. However, its effectiveness can vary, and it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional before using it.