Although a baby cannot express the symptoms like nausea, stomach ache and cramps associated with excessive gastrointestinal gas, it is only logical to assume that the level of discomfort expressed by crying is related to these sensations. Gas problems in babies are not just a uncomfortable experience for the child but due to the neediness of an infant, especially a newborn baby, a gas problem can put undue stress on the parent.
Gassy Baby Signs & Symptoms
The problem may occur only for a short period or it may persist much longer. The severity can vary from one child to another.
- Flatulence. It is normal for a newborn baby or infant to pass gas 15 to 20 times a day. Due to the lack of inhibition and ignorance about social customs, children may flatulate (pass flatus) loudly. This may be misunderstood by the parent as excess gas. Flatulence can occur due to swallowed air or as a result of gas in the intestines. Other causes could be gastroenteritis or side effects of some medication. There is usually no pain or discomfort due to the gas or while passing it. Excessive flatulence can however, be distressing.
- Burping or belching is the expulsion of accumulated gas from the upper gastrointestinal tract (esophagus or stomach especially) through the mouth. Burping is normal in infants and is encouraged during and after breastfeeding or bottle-feeding to remove excess swallowed air. However, if the baby seems to be belching more than normal and is inconsolable then it may need attention as crying tends to increase air swallowing thereby exacerbating the belching.
- Abdominal distension may be due to gas accumulation, however, it is important that a pediatrician excludes other causes of a abdominal bloating as it may not be due to gas. Pockets of trapped gas, especially in the colon, may cause small, hard “bumps” which may be felt upon gentle pressure on the abdomen. This is sometimes visible as a bulge in just one quadrant of the abdomen.
- Crying may be a result of trapped gas causing some degree of abdominal pain and discomfort. This can vary in severity and may be continuous, but is more likely to come on in spasms. The crying will therefore be episodic and the child is often inconsolable despite the parent’s best efforts to satisfy all the baby’s needs (feeding, diaper changes, attention). Some babies may not cry but be fussy and irritable and even experience sleep problems.
- Hiccups may be caused by gas pockets in the stomach and will be episodic. If however, it is constant, a neurological assessment needs to be done.
- Possetting (repeated, effortless, regurgitation of small quantities of milk) may be normal but is more often associated with swallowing air (aerophagia) or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- Vomiting or diarrhea may be due to a milk intolerance or as a side effect of some medication. However, gastroenteritis (stomach bug infection) has to be considered as a cause of sudden vomiting and diarrhea, especially if there is a fever (refer to Baby Fever).
- Constipation may be associated with gas in infants as the decomposing waste stays longer in the gut. An obstruction in the small intestine (refer to Blocked Bowel) or large intestine (refer to Blocked Colon) needs to be excluded as a possible cause of both constipation and gas accumulation.
Gassy Baby Prevention & Treatment
Avoiding and treating excessive gas in a baby requires first identifying the cause of the gas problem. A list of likely causes in babies is discussed under Baby Gas.
Some tips to possible prevent gas problems in babies includes :
- Ensuring a correct feeding posture and proper latch-on during breastfeeding.
- Burping a baby during and after a feed is usually effective in preventing gas formation caused by swallowed air.
- A gentle massage may be helpful.
- A breastfeeding mother may consider dietary changes if certain trigger foods have been identified or are suspected.
Medication should be given to a baby only after consultation with the pediatrician. The appropriate medical treatment is necessary if a pathological cause for the gas problem has been identified.
Simethicone may help reduce gas and while it is available over-the-counter (OTC) in many countries under various trade names, it should only be used after consulting with a pediatrician. Attempting to manage the condition without medical supervision could mean that more serious, and even life threatening ailments, like gastrointestinal obstruction may be missed in the early stages.
Some spices like asafetida, dill and fennel may help in reducing gas buildup and small amounts could be incorporated into the food. This should only be done after verifying with a pediatrician. Other home remedies, natural concoctions and complementary medicines should only be considered if a pediatrician has approved its use for the baby. Many myths abound with regards to home remedies that can “cure” gas problems in babies. Some of these could jeopardize the health of the infant.