Excess gastrointestinal gas in babies is a common phenomenon and in most cases, it is not a sign of a digestive problem. Gas buildup in the gut may present with signs like excessive belching, flatulence, abdominal distension (bloating) and crying.
Baby Gas Problems – Causes
Gas accumulation or production within the gut of a baby occurs for the same reasons as in an adult – air swallowing, byproducts of chemical digestion and bacterial action. However, in babies the contributing factors resulting in excess gas being trapped or produced within the gut may be unique in that it may not be seen in other age groups. Swallowed air will be passed out as belches although some of the air could travel down the gut and mix with other gases to be passed out as flatus.
Air swallowing, also known as aerophagia, is when large amounts of air are swallowed and accumulates within the esophagus, stomach or first part of the small intestine. In babies, it may occur for the following reasons :
- Crying causes children to gulp air, especially if they cry incessantly. Infants will cry for feedings, diaper changes, attention and various unknown reasons. Infantile colic may be another cause for uncontrollable crying, with air swallowing subsequently aggravating the problem even further.
- Breastfeeding. It is normal for a baby to gulp in air while feeding, particularly in the case of poor latch-on. Even with bottle fed infants, varying amounts of air is swallowed, especially if the bottle’s nipple is not of the correct size. It is for this reason that it is so important to burp a baby every few minutes while feeding and once feeding is complete.
- Hyper-lactation syndrome is where there is an abundant and even excessive breast milk production. The baby may gulp in air while trying to take in the milk.
- Sucking vigorously on a pacifier can also result in swallowing of air.
- Emotion (shock, fear, anxiety, overexcitement) may cause a child to suddenly swallow air prior to laughing or crying. This is however more pronounced in an environment where these emotions are repeatedly elicited, especially if the homestead is noisy, tense and uncomfortable.
Gas may be produced within the digestive tract as a result of chemical digestion and bacterial action. While both of these processes are normal occurrences, there are certain situations where it may exacerbate thereby creating excessive gas which will more often be passed out as flatus.
- Indigestible foods, like fiber, can cause excessive gas if fed to a child in excess. If a child has any food intolerances or malabsorption tendencies, as with lactose intolerance and fructose malabsorption respectively, then other foods and substances can also cause excessive gas accumulation. This includes dairy, fruit juices, vitamin supplements and certain medication.
- Poor nutritional planning. Caregivers who are unaware of the manner in which solid foods should be introduced to an infant may also contribute to gas problems. The introduction of foods that are not suitable for the baby’s age may mean that the immature digestive system will be unable to break down certain substances. The residual nutrients will be consumed by bacteria in the gut and additional gas will be produced.
- Mother’s diet. It is often maintained that certain foods consumed by a mother who is breastfeeding may cause gas in the baby’s system. Various types of vegetables, legumes, acidic foods such as citrus fruits, tomatoes and strawberries, spices and even dairy products have been implicated.
- Gastrointestinal disorders related to infections, autoimmune causes, hereditary impairment, structural defects and chemical or mechanical trauma can impair digestion and impede normal gut motility. Excessive gas may be one of the symptoms present.
Other causes of gas problems in general is discussed further under :