There’s nothing more wonderful than witnessing a baby’s first smile — until some seasoned parent takes the liberty to explain the baby just has gas. Suddenly, it’s not a smile at all. It’s the twisted grimace of a kid trying to figure out how to expel gas from their tiny butt. For babies, this is a miserable and constant process. That doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes smile out of joy, but that gas is a big factor and that helping them pass said gas is the nice thing to do once you learnt to recognize the signs.
“Obviously, you can hear the farts,” says Dr. Linda Palmer, author of Baby Poop. “That’s the first clue that a baby has gas.” Parents can use their hearing more deliberately, too, and investigate the buildup at the source. “You can put your ear to their tummy and listen for growling,” Palmer adds. Any bubbling or growling sounds coming from a baby’s stomach indicate that something is boiling up.
How To Help a Baby Get Rid of Gas
- Move around. Any activity that involves torso movement will help push the gas through and provide some relief.
- Get upright. Moving baby from a supine position to an upright position can help move things along, with the added benefit of being more comforting.
- Belly down. Tummy time is fun and distracting and can help massage that stomach to help gas find its way out.
- Snack time. Although not a direct fix for gas, a quick feed can help soothe baby as things work their way through—so long as there are no air bubbles in the bottle and baby is burped often.
Another sign of trapped gas is, of course, a grumpy baby. If a baby stops “smiling” and is visibly uncomfortable, there’s a good chance that there is something inside that needs to be released. For really little babies, though, moving the gas bubbles from inside the digestive tract to the open air is no mean feat. Their undeveloped organs are ill-equipped for pushing that air out, and their lack of motor skills make any deliberate attempt almost futile.
Luckily, there are a few things parents can do to help ease the passage.
“Jiggling and bouncing can really help gas that wants to go this way or that way,” says Palmer. Gentle movement can move air bubbles through the passages and bring everything together, naturally expelling the gas and bringing some instant relief. This jiggling can include knee bounces or bicycling a baby’s legs. Anything that includes torso movement, or combines leg extensions with bringing knees up to the belly.
A change in position can set the gas on course to the outside world too. If a baby has been on its back for a while, lifting baby up into an upright position can move gas around enough to escape. Holding a baby up can have additional soothing effects too, says Palmer. “Skin-to-skin contact and just holding the baby in your arms can override some pain signals.”
If a baby is strong enough to support their own head, then a spot of tummy time can get things moving. It also has the added benefit of a solid neck and core workout with the added benefit of some distracting fun that can take everyone’s mind off the challenging task at hand. If a baby is not experiencing any relief, sometimes a quick feed can alleviate the pain associated with trapped gas.
“Some formula or mommy milk can also have a pain reducing effect,” Palmer says.
As with many things, prevention can often be better than the cure. Regular burping during feeding is beneficial (and kind of fun) and prevents air getting pushed down into the stomach. Palmer says that when babies start eating more solid foods, constipation can often be a culprit as it is harder for air to get around the stool, building up in pockets.
But all gas eventually passes, and Palmer says that there is almost never a reason to intervene with drugs or over-the-counter remedies. And all babies get gassy, in much the same way that all fathers are. Eventually, babies grow and develop the muscles and control to start ripping on their own. Babies who seem to be in constant pain from gas may be suffering from colic—a nebulous diagnosis that has no definitive cause—but this passes too after a few months.
Alleviating gas is about making a baby comfortable. And, if done right, it can be an extremely satisfying end to an episode of fussiness.