This is a very personal question, but, do you fart? I bet you do. So does the Queen of England (and her husband). We pass gas an average of 13 to 21 times per day. That’s quite a bit of tooting and, although it seems like a lot of cutting of cheese, it’s normal.
Having gas is normal – for you and your baby
The National Institutes of Health website says, “Everyone has gas. However, many people think they burp or pass gas too often and that they have too much gas. Having too much gas is rare.”
All babies have gas. But many new parents are surprised at just how much gas their tiny infants seem to have and how fussy it can make them. Infant gas symptoms include burping, flatulence, bloating, cramps, and, of course, crying… Most often, infant gas is not a sign of a bigger problem. And what may seem to parents like too much infant gas may not be.
Why do we think a gassy baby is abnormal?
So why are we fixated on this idea that our normal, healthy, natural bodily functions—and, by extension, our babies’—are abnormal? I’m guessing that we’ve all been socialized to be civilized individuals who don’t talk about answering the call of the wild burrito with our friends (at least not if we’re proper ladies). We don’t talk about a whole lot of things that are normal for fear that we’ll be judged or shamed, and, because we don’t talk about it, there’s no way to know what is normal.
Is it possible for burps and bottom burps to be abnormal. Sure, but it will likely be accompanied by other symptoms, such as a change in stooling patterns, weight loss, and blood in stool. Gas alone might be uncomfortable, but it is unlikely the sign of a larger problem.
Babies have entered a strange, new world
Let’s do a little mental exercise. Imagine that you were transported to a planet where you don’t breathe and don’t eat. You’re suspended in a warm fluid and all of your nutrition and oxygen will come through a cord attached to your belly. Is this transition easy for you? Or does it seem weird, uncomfortable, or even painful for awhile? Eventually, you’ll get the hang of it, but in the meantime, it’s not going to be fun. How do you think babies feel? They lived their entire existance without eating, pooping, or breathing, and now they’re expected to do all of these things in a loud, cold, hard, dry, smelly, bright new place. Babies have not experienced gas before; it is not comfortable for them. It can also be uncomfortable for them to deal with the various physical means we’ve designed to help a baby pass gas, such as being patted/pounded on the back, bounced around, flung over our laps or arms, or put on our backs to have their legs bicycled around, because this is not their natural environment and not their preferred position.
Eating is new too
Not only is all of this new, but they’re learning how to breastfeed (or eat from a bottle), and that takes a little getting used to. If a baby gulps too much air because he’s practicing his latch but not quite getting it right, or the milk is flowing copiously but he can’t quite handle that flow yet, he might feel that air in his tummy later. It is part of the natural order of things. There are sometimes things you can do to help; I suggest holding your baby upright on your chest for a few minutes after she nurses from one breast and pops off. Just hold her, no thumping her on the back, and see if you get a belch. (Keep a burp cloth handy, because you probably will.)
It’s probably not your fault
“But what about what a mom eats? Can’t that cause gas?” It’s rarer than you think, and some of the culprits that you’ll hear mentioned (even at the WebMD link above), such as broccoli and beans, just plain cannot give a baby gas unless a baby is eating them. Gas is caused by the digestion of carbohydrates (which a mother’s milk will always have the same amount and kind of no matter what she’s eating) and an individual’s own intestinal bacteria.
Gripes about gripe water
Some people suggest gripe water or other kinds of gas drops or tea, but I would rather not use those things on an exclusively breastfed baby. And probiotics? Why? Breastmilk is full of them. Maybe these things can’t hurt, and might help, and you get to make the decision if you’d like to try these remedies.
Comfort is the best medicine for a gassy baby
I do know, though, that a grown-up caretaker of a baby knowing this is normal does not take away the discomfort for a baby. You will hear lots of suggestions for how to rid a baby of gas, but here is my possibly revolutionary and off-the-wall suggestion: Offer the breast and hold your baby skin to skin. That’s it. Your baby might still be gassy. You might still hear some thunder from down under. Your baby might even cry. But what is usually happening is a normal process that takes some time to get used to for all parties, and the best place for a baby to get used to the world is from his mother’s chest, his natural habitat, without intervention.
A version of this article was originally posted at The Boob Geek Blog.