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Gassy Baby - causes, prevention, treatment

Author Philippa Murphy

Gassy Baby - causes, prevention, treatment

As we all know, gas is a natural occurrence within our bodies and as adults, most of learn how to cope with this without too much pain. For a developing newborn it is quite the opposite – gas can be particularly bothersome! Trapped air throughout the digestive tract affects all babies significantly for at least the first six months of life, with the more negative effects continuing if the introduction of solid food is implemented in a way that pushes the digestive system beyond what it can cope with for the child’s age and stage. Some babies react more sensitively to trapped air in the body for genetics does play a part, but all babies need to burp and release swallowed air after each feed in order to nurture calm, while setting up advantageous feeding and sleep practices. 

While many of you reading this will be aware of the adverse effects of trapped air in your baby’s stomach, some of you may not know that it also creates positive mental and physical development for newborns and infants. In fact trapped wind in a baby’s digestive tract has now been clinically proven to play a phenomenal role in the development of eye sight, mastication, smiling, bodily movement and it’s even the catalyst to language! It is truly an amazing gift within nature and once we understand these gifts and nurture alongside them, we foster such a depth of response that goes a long way toward creating intuitive care that is based on a firm foundation of knowing.

In saying that, trapped wind, and overfeeding are, in my mind, two of the largest causes of discomfort and health issues for our young in this day and age. Why? Because parents are being taught care practices and beliefs that do not holistically nurture alongside the child’s natural digestive function and their full array of cues (inclusive of their Six-Wind-Cues, the positive gift of trapped wind). Until now, there has also been very little understanding around how to truly and appropriately burp a baby from birth. There are also far too many mis-teaching's and myths surrounding this subject, which I am currently writing another article about but in the meantime, let’s look at the symptoms that trapped gas can cause.

Symptoms of trapped gas

  • Refluxing
  • Pedalling legs
  • Arching backwards
  • Bopping on and off the breast and tugging at the bottle teat
  • Gulping during feeding
  • Not wanting to lay down for long
  • Increased need to suck from the discomfort, which is often mis-read and taught as a hunger cue only, thus overfeeding occurs
  • Frothy bowel motions
  • Constipation or explosive bowel motions
  • A copious amount of farts or trumping
  • Distended stomach
  • Hard stomach

Causes of trapped wind

When talking about a baby that is only just learning to breathe air, to feed, to process milk, to burp, to pass stools, let alone adjust to a foreign environment, there are so many causes of trapped air.

  • Birth
  • Not burping baby enough
  • Overfeeding – whether breast or bottle
  • Feeding off both breasts in one sitting
  • Over supply and/or fast let down
  • Breastfeeding diet
  • Formula ingredients
  • Latch - whether breast or bottle fed
  • Tongue and lip ties
  • High pallets
  • Deep suck mechanism
  • Constipation
  • Feeding a varied menu when baby is just starting solids

Treatment for the above causes

Whether you have a vaginal birth, or a C-section, babies can swallow a large amount of air into the stomach when birthed, which can then have them refluxing milk, small or large, from day one. To reduce the amount of air they may initially swallow, make sure baby feels secure as soon as they enter the world.

Ask your birthing specialist (if situation allows) to hold baby close to them from the moment of birth if you, as parents, can’t do this yourself straightaway. Cocooning bubs, so their arms remain tucked into their torso, with hands up close to the mouth, and legs remaining in the foetal position is ideal. As is skin on skin in the position just described. Doing this could decrease the incidences of mass refluxing within the first few days of life, and Digestive Overload symptoms that are caused by trapped wind in the digestive tract.  

Not burping baby enough

Most parents will probably hear that ‘a breastfed baby does not have to burp’ and/or, ‘ a few burps are enough.’ However, neither of these statements are actually true. All newborns need burping. How much depends on their age and stage.

  • Birth to two weeks: minimum of 10 burps after each feed
  • Two to six weeks: minimum 10 burps with 20 being highly beneficial after each feed
  • Six to 6 months: minimum 15 burps with 25 being highly beneficial after each feed
  • Six months onwards: minimum 15 burps

Now you may think, “Gosh, I only manage to get one or two burps. How do I get that many after each feed?” My answer – by using the step-by-step guide called Nature’s Wind Sequence that I have discovered and now teach in my BabyCues book and during consultations. This method has you recognising your baby’s Six-Wind-Cues, learning how to respond to these and babies other digestive cues like pedalling legs and arching backwards. 

It is also very helpful to follow the three P’s when learning how to burp your baby – patience, practice and perseverance. Baby is just learning how to release burps and you are just learning how to help them, so be easy on yourselves.

Sadly this is a common occurrence these days as many breastfeeding mothers are taught that you can’t overfed a breastfed baby and formula feeding mothers are provided amounts on formula cans that are often well-above what baby can process. These factors and the current teaching around demand feeding as it is known, and cluster feeding are some of the main contributors to colic and reflux – or what I call Digestive Overload, the cause of these behaviours.

When we overfeed a baby, or infant, we create tension and discomfort in the digestive tract for them. That tension then stops them feeling relaxed enough to release burps. When I work with parents in clinic I often say, “In order to have baby burp better, one must re-balance any feeding issues first. Feeding is always the first aspect that needs ‘fixing’, then burping begins to happen more often, and with both of these factors balanced, sleep begins to fall into place.”

So to help baby burp better, we basically need to feed baby in accordance with their stomach size for their age and stage. To do this when breastfeeding it’s important to understand you babies natural suck swallow ratio, and when bottle feeding, you actually feed to the stomach size, rather than what is on the formula can.

Feeding off both breasts in one sitting

Now sometimes in my clinical practice, I advocate feeding off both sides if Mum’s want to maintain breastfeeding and only have enough milk for baby at each feed by feeding in this way. However, if a mother has good supply, I recommend Mum’s feed off one side when breastfeeding – all the while monitoring supply and weight gains. The reason I suggest this is to avoid the trapped gas that lactose overload can cause for bubs. When we feed off both breasts in one sitting we automatically give baby an overload of lactose – the fore milk that is high in lactose. When the overload of lactose cannot be broken down appropriately in the stomach by the lactase enzyme, it then moves onward into the duodenum where it ferments and causes gas which then has to travel through the intestines and bowel – causing discomfort as it does so. You can read more about lactose intolerance, secondary lactose and lactose overload here.

Over Supply and Fast let down
Both of these aspects can be dictated by genetics, but they can also be formed by frequent feeding at birth, which is a common taught practice at present. To set up a healthy consistent supply from birth, and try to avoid the scenario of fast let down and engorgement, I recommend babies are fed 3 ½ hourly when colostrum is present for this sets up a healthy milk supply (if baby’s latch is not compromised) while also nurturing alongside babies natural digestive function.

Breastfeeding diet
Many health practitioners will say as long as your diet is a healthy one, breastfeeding mothers can eat anything. However, given the fact that many of the foods you eat as a mother are broken down and absorbed into the blood stream, thus filtering onward to bubs, it is advisable that certain foods are avoided. Dairy is one of these, as are onions, acidic foods (tomatoes, vinaigrette dressings etc) citrus, soy, and vegetables that produce high levels of wind, like cabbage. There are also food groups that should not be consumed in large amounts, like carbohydrates, sugar, windy vegetables (but you need some greens) and fermented foods. There is more information on this in my BabyCues book, or I go into this in greater detail in consultations. I will also be releasing a Breastfeeding Diet Booklet soon, so do keep your eyes peeled for that in the BabyCues Newsletters.

Latch - whether breast or bottle fed
When breastfeeding consistently follow these steps to create a latch that reduces air intake. If bottle feeding, these steps are very useful.

Tongue and lip ties
Often the focus of tongue and lip ties is the effect that it has on breastfeeding, when in actual fact, they can also increase the air a baby swallows when feeding. I advise all parents to get their baby checked for a tongue and lip tie after birth. It is not often included in the standard checks at birth so you may have to seek a consultation with a lactation consultant who can show you training in this area – for not all are trained to diagnose a tongue or lip tie. It’s also paramount that these procedures are not done at home. A sterile dentist clinic is the best choice as is using a laser rather than scissors. However scissors are often used if baby gets a lip tie snipped in hospital, which is fine.

High pallets and deep suck mechanism
Some newborns are born with high pallets or require a nipple or teat to be a long way back in the mouth to enable a positive sucking mechanism. In some cases both of these aspects can cause baby to take in more air when feeding.

A baby that is sore in the digestive tract from constipation, will hold onto their burps. In fact, any form of discomfort can cause a baby to hold onto the trapped air in their stomach – teething, reeving up for a bowel motion, trapped wind in the intestines, too much waste from overfeeding are some of these. Therefore, making sure baby is having one good bowel motion a day can aid burping. You can find out how to do this by watching my Facebook Live on Bowel Motions. On the other hand, if baby is having a bowel motion after every feed, thus potentially being overfed, this can also result in reduced burping.

Formula ingredients
Some of the gas producing ingredients in formula are coconut (for some), corn syrup (for those with a fructose sensitivity), sugar, carob bean gum, probiotics,1 and lactose, if overloaded with this from overfeeding or bubs has a sensitivity to lactose.

Feeding a varied menu when your infant is just starting solids
These days parents are being told to offer their infants a lot of variety along with amounts that often push their digestive system beyond what it can cope with. The tension formed from this discomfort and often the chosen foods can reduce burping. It is however, fair to say that from 6 months onwards, the majority of infants can cope with more air moving through the digestive tract. I teach a method of introducing solids called "Plain + Slow = Gain and Grow." This methods nurtures alongside your baby’s digestive development, while providing them all of the additional nutrients they need at each age and stage. If you would like to know more about this I offer Simplify Solids Consultations Worldwide and will soon be launching a Simplify Solids Webinar.

Other tips for releasing/reducing air for baby

Hiccups are your child's natural digestive reflex to expel an overabundance of wind. They are a good thing when they appear, however if your child hiccups a lot daily then this is an indicator that not enough wind is being released for them to be comfortable and learning Nature's Wind Sequence would be highly beneficial for them.

Rugby hold when feeding on right breast
Research shows that when we lay on the right-hand side, our digestive system works in a more fluid manner. In clinic I often have breastfeeding Mums say that bubs does not feed as well on their right hand side when laying in the cradle hold. On suggesting they use the rugby hold when feeding on the right breast – thus letting baby lay on their right side still, baby has started feeding better and I believe it’s because the food, waste and trapped air can flow easier within the system.

Last Updated: 26 April 2019