“My baby is gassy. Is it something I ate?” As a lactation consultant, this is a question I hear frequently from mothers of young babies. Many babies who are less than 3-4 months old can be gassy and uncomfortable, during, after or between feedings. This leaves many mothers wondering if something in their diet is contributing to their baby’s discomfort.
Most newborns and young babies have periodic episodes of crying, and many seem to show signs of painful gas. Most babies seem to start having these fussy episodes around 2-3 weeks of age. The fussiness often peaks around 10 weeks, and then subsides by 3-4 months. There can be many contributing factors: These young babies have a brand new digestive system, and passing gas and bowel movements is a brand new sensation and experience for them. They have also just made one of the biggest lifestyle transitions of their lives - going from the snug intrauterine life with the comfort of mom’s heartbeat, having their nutrition and oxygen served directly to their bloodstream through their umbilical cord, and not needing to eat or breathe - to their new environment where they have to breastfeed 10-12 times a day, have their diaper changed, wear clothes and so on. It must be quite a culture shock!
Many mothers spend these early weeks experimenting with eliminating foods from their diet, attempting to find out which food is making their baby gassy. Many times around 2-3 months a mom has removed a particular food from her diet, and her baby seems suddenly to be having fewer of these gassy episodes, so the mom draws the line from the food to the gassiness and continues to avoid that food for months. Often though, there is some coincidence involved, and the baby was maturing and outgrowing the fussiness anyway, and moms end up needlessly avoiding foods that they enjoy.
There are, of course, exceptions to this. Some babies truly are reacting to something in their mother’s diet, and their comfort will improve significantly if the mom eliminates it. So how can you tell the difference between the typical newborn fussiness and a baby with a true sensitivity? It’s hard, but here are some things to look for - Babies who are truly sensitive to a food will usually exhibit more signs than just gassiness and fussiness. They may vomit, develop rashes or eczema, have green, mucousy stools, or blood in their stools.
If your baby has some of these symptoms, you might want to consider experimenting with removing one or more foods from your diet. Some foods that are common culprits in food sensitivity are cow’s milk, soy, wheat, corn, eggs and peanuts, but cow’s milk is the most common problem food. Babies who react to cow’s milk may also react to other animals' milks and to beef if they are very sensitive. A mother will usually need to eliminate any sensitive food, but particularly cow’s milk, for a couple of weeks before the proteins are out of her system, but will usually notice some improvement in her baby’s symptoms after a week or so. It may take up to a month for the cow’s milk proteins to be out of her and her baby’s systems altogether.
Often once the problem food has been out of the mom and baby’s systems for a few weeks to a few months, the mother can experiment with adding it back in to her diet again. Often as babies’ digestive systems mature, they become less sensitive to problem foods, and may be able to tolerate low levels of it, or may outgrow their sensitivity completely.
In the meantime, if you have a baby who is experiencing frequent gassy episodes, here are some things to try:
- Be sure your baby's lips form a good seal far back on the areola to reduce the amount of air your baby may take in during feedings
- Feed your baby smaller volumes of milk more frequently
- Keep baby in an upright position during and for about 30 minutes after a feeding - babywearing in a upright position can help with this
- Avoid prolonged sucking on pacifiers or empty bottle nipples
- Babies take in a lot of air when they cry, so respond promptly to your baby's cries
- Burp baby during and after feedings
- Try abdominal massage
- Try the magic baby hold
There are other things that can contribute to a baby's fussiness such as thrush, oversupply, and anything other than breastmilk in the baby's diet (such as formula, tea, medications, herbs, solids or juice).
And remember, these first 3-4 months can be very challenging, and the fussiness and gassiness is usually normal. Please get support from family and friends, your local breastfeeding support groups, and mother to mother support groups. Before you know it, your baby will be more mature, smiling and cooing, and this gassy phase will be a memory!