Infant Gas Causes & Prevention
Know what can trigger gas and how to help prevent it.
Just as crying is a fact of baby life, so too is infant gas. However, identifying the cause behind a gassy baby (especially what causes gas in newborns) can seem vexing. But similar to crying, answers to how you can help relieve your baby's gas can oftentimes be found through the process of elimination as to what’s causing it (more on that later).
Once you’ve identified the cause, you can take measures to help prevent (or at least minimize) it in the future, and be prepared by having the proper gas treatment on hand. Knowledge is power, so read on to learn about common causes of infant gas, as well as ways to help prevent it.
What Causes Infant Gas?
There are many potential causes of infant gas, some more prevalent than others. By ruling out the most common ones, you’ll be one step closer to figuring out how to help treat and prevent it. Below, check out several possible reasons your baby has a gassy belly.
Babies’ digestive systems are babies, too: Infants’ digestive tracts are immature, and therefore in the process of learning how to process food. And, just like any learning process, the road can be bumpy (or, in this case, gassy!) along the way. As long as it doesn’t seem to be causing your baby too much distress, such as provoking excessively frequent bouts of painful gas, give it time to allow the trapped gas to resolve on its own.
Swallowing too much air: One frequent culprit behind infant gas is swallowing too much air. This can happen while your baby is feeding or crying. For breastfed babies, this can occur if your little one doesn’t latch on firmly while nursing, or breaks the seal a few times during a meal—likewise if they’re bottle-fed. If you give your baby powdered formula, the process of mixing it up can also create tiny bubbles, which can get lodged in your infant’s belly and form larger pockets of gas. Instead, give the formula time to settle in the bottle to reduce the amount of post-mixing aeration.
A slightly more expensive, but less time-consuming, tactic could be to replace powdered formula with one that’s concentrated or ready-to-feed—especially in your baby’s early formula-drinking days—to lessen the chance of disruption in their fledgling digestive system.
[Editor’s note: Of course, always consult your pediatrician before switching your baby to a new formula.]
Food sensitivities and allergies: Whether your infant is nursing, on formula, or has graduated to certain doctor-approved foods, sensitivities and allergies to certain ingredients could be causing gassiness. Although it’s rare (only about 0.5% of babies, in fact), a small percentage of infants that are exclusively breastfed are allergic to their mother’s milk—and that’s mostly due to cow’s milk in their mother’s diet.
Some nursing moms may notice other things in their diet that seem to stoke minor and short-lived reactions in their infants, like spicy food; if you find it troublesome, you can try temporarily eliminating said food from your culinary repertoire. However, more often than not, most breastfeeding moms unnecessarily restrict certain foods in their diet. Research has identified no foods that nursing mothers should avoid altogether, unless their baby has consistent negative reactions.
That said, there are some food sensitivities and allergies that have been known to contribute to excess gas. While technically any food could cause a reaction, common offenders include cow’s milk, eggs, nuts, wheat, and soy, as well as some dyes and preservatives. If you suspect your infant’s gas is food-related, speak with your pediatrician and/or an allergist to have your baby tested for any sensitivities or allergies, and work with them to adjust your infant’s diet accordingly. Fortunately, 80-90% of allergies to cow’s milk, eggs, nuts, wheat, and soy will go away on their own by the time your child is around five years old.
Certain medical conditions: If you feel that none of the above apply or fully explain your infant’s gas predicament, always consult your pediatrician. Your baby may need to be evaluated more closely or tested for certain conditions that may be disrupting their digestive system. For instance, although there is no universally accepted reason why babies get something like colic, a condition that may contribute to belly gas and discomfort in the first few months of life, your pediatrician can work with you on infant gas relief. On the other hand, conditions like gastroesophageal reflux (GER) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may require more involved testing and treatment.
How To Prevent Infant Gas
Now that you’ve learned about a few possibilities as to what causes infant gas, it's worth knowing some tips for helping to prevent it in the first place. Read on for seven simple ways to help avoid (or at least limit) gassy baby bouts.
1. Start a baby feeding diary: As we discussed, certain foods and ingredients at mealtime may be causing (or at least contributing to) gassiness. Try writing down what you’re feeding your baby, what time they ate, and any occurrence of excessive gas to see if you notice any trends. You can also review what you’ve recorded with your pediatrician to see if they spot any common themes and potential causes. On that note . . .
2. Know what to look for in baby formula: The majority of baby formulas on the market are made from cow’s milk, which can cause gas in babies in general—but especially in infants that have a sensitivity or allergy to cow’s milk. You may want to talk to your pediatrician about different options, such as one made from soy milk (though keep in mind that about 50% of all infants who have milk allergies are also sensitive to soy). Other alternatives are tree nut milks, rice milk, and hypoallergenic formulas, some of the latter of which can be tolerated by at least 90% of infants with allergies.
3. Use gravity to your advantage: Whether you breastfeed or bottle-feed your little one, the position you hold them in matters. Get some help from good ol’ gravity by being sure that their head is positioned higher than their belly. Holding them like this can help encourage any forming gas bubbles to rise and come out as a burp (a much less intrusive exit than working their way out the other way).
Similarly, you can try making sure your baby remains in an upright position for 30 minutes after eating to help encourage burps, rather than toots.
4. Slow the flow of feeding: We know how busy parenthood can get, but taking a slower approach to mealtime can help reduce the amount of baby gas that builds up. If you bottle-feed your baby, try different bottles and nipples that better regulate the volume of milk or formula dispensed. That way, your baby is less likely to swallow as much air. These are typically vented, angled, or collapsible, specifically to help babies keep extra air out. Alternatively, if you’re feeding baby food, be sure to give your infant time in between bites so they’re not as prone to gulping air along with their mashed fruits and veggies.
5. Be careful not to overfeed: It’s always important to pay attention to the amount you're feeding your baby; you’ll want to stick to whatever your pediatrician or the product label recommends. An overfed baby can quickly become a gassy baby. Not to mention that an infant with an overly-full belly is more likely to spit up and have loose stool. So, avoid the chance of extra stress and mess; even for infants, portion control can be key.
6. Burping can be a blessing: We could never sing enough praises about burping before and during feedings, as well as after. It’s such an important front-line of defense against gassiness, we’d be remiss to not include it here. Get ahead of the gas and burp your baby frequently. It’s easier to release gas in the upper GI tract, than gas that’s buried deep down inside.
7. Promote a healthy gut: Gas can be a menace to your infant's tummy, but certain things, such as probiotics, may be able to help. For one, you can try this proactive approach to infant gas by using probiotics to support healthy digestion—which may lead to less gas. Our Infants’ Mylicon Daily Probiotic Drops can do just that, plus help support their immune system. Bonus: If your fussy baby has colic, our probiotic drops have been shown to reduce daily crying and fussiness in colicky babies by 50% or more. That’s a win-win for both you and baby.
Alas, all of life’s discomfort can’t always be prevented. So, if your baby is struggling with gas and you’re wondering what the best gas relief for newborns or older babies is, we’ve got you covered. Our Dye-Free and Original Infants’ Mylicon Gas Relief Drops are the #1 brand recommended by pediatricians to help relieve trapped gas. They gently break down gas bubbles in minutes, thereby helping your little one to expel them naturally. They’re also safe to use—even for newborns—since they’re not absorbed into your baby’s system like other gas relief options such as gripe water.
Simply shake the bottle and fill the integrated dropper to the recommended dose based on your baby’s age and weight. Then, dispense the liquid into your baby’s mouth, toward their inner cheek. (You can also mix it with a little cool water, formula, or breast milk.) They’ll quickly help soothe your baby’s gassy belly. And, they’re safe enough to be given after every feeding, up to 12 times a day.
Next: If your baby’s gas is upsetting them, here’s some tips on calming a crying and fussy baby.