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Jennifer L.W. Fink
Registered Nurse

Gas Pain In Babies

Is it “just gas?” Here’s how to know—and what to do to make baby feel better.

What is gas pain in baby?

We’ve all had gas pain. It’s that uncomfortable, crampy feeling you get when a gas bubble is trying to work its way through your digestive system. Ouch! It’s no wonder gas pain is often blamed when baby’s fussy and squirmy. But gas pain is far from an official diagnosis, and a lot of what parents call “gas pain” in babies might actually be something else.

“I think about two things when parents mention gas pain in their babies: a baby that cries a lot, and babies that seem to struggle a lot when they’re having a bowel movement,” says Katherine O’Connor, MD, a pediatric hospitalist at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City. It’s actually perfectly normal for a young baby to writhe and grunt while having a bowel movement. “We call it infantile dyskinesia,” O’Connor says. “The baby is basically practicing how to poop. They're using their muscles to push the bowel movement out, and as long as the bowel movements are coming out soft and not in hard little balls, it’s totally normal.”

Babies who cry a lot—hours a day—are often said to have gas pain. But is it really gas? O’Connor says that colic is often a more accurate term for the problem. Babies who have colic often cry in great distress and may draw their legs up and clench their fists, as if their bellies are hurting. Colic may or may not be related to belly pain; some parents and pediatricians think that colicky babies only appear gassy because they swallow so much air while crying.

Colic, though, is also perfectly normal. If baby is gaining weight and otherwise thriving, “gas pain” is nothing to worry about. If baby's not gaining weight, or if something else seems wrong, contact your doctor so he or she can perform a complete medical evaluation to rule out other possible issues, such as a dairy intolerance.

What are the symptoms of gas pain in babies?

Baby might pull up his or her legs, clench his or her fists or squirm around like he or she’s uncomfortable. Baby also might cry a lot. If baby truly has gas, you might notice flatulence and burping.

Are there any tests for gas pain in babies?

If gas pain persists, baby's doctor may perform a complete physical to see if there are any serious abdominal issues, such as a blocked intestine. Depending on the child’s history, allergy testing may also be in order. Most of the time, though, gas pain isn’t a serious issue and doesn’t need any tests.

How common is gas pain in babies?

Very common! Almost all parents worry about gas pain in their babies. About 20 to 25 percent of infants cry enough to be considered colicky.

How did baby get gas pain?

Swallowing air while crying can cause gas pain. A buildup of gas in the intestines can also cause gas pain and pressure. Some experts think gas pain and colic might be related to babies’ underdeveloped digestive or nervous systems.

What’s the best way to treat gas pain in babies?

Some babies respond well to swaddling. Others prefer to be rocked or bounced. Almost all babies will find some relief by sucking on a pacifier. Infant massage—or simply rubbing baby’s belly—may also be helpful.

Despite the fact that there are a ton of products on the market that claim to help relieve gas pain, there is “no evidence to suggest that any of them work,” O’Connor says. “The concerning thing about using some of the herbal or over-the-counter remedies is that they’re sometimes mixed with ingredients that can cause severe reactions in babies. If you want to try an over-the-counter product, show it to your pediatrician first before you give it to your baby.”

What can I do to prevent my baby from getting gas pain?

When you feed baby, make sure his or her head is higher than his or her belly; that will make it easier to get any air bubbles out when you burp baby. If you’re bottle-feeding, consider switching to a nipple with a smaller hole. Large holes let milk flow through quickly, and baby may swallow a lot of air in an attempt to keep up.
Burp baby immediately after a feeding. If baby doesn’t like the traditional over-the-shoulder burping position, try laying him or her facedown over your lap and patting his or her back.

Try the “baby bike ride” during severe episodes of gas: Lay baby on his or her back and move the legs in an up-and-down pedaling motion. That may help pass gas.

What do other parents do when their babies have gas pain?

“My pediatrician said to give baby Mylicon drops prior to his feeding rather than after, since Mylicon works in the gut. If the milk gets to the intestines before you give the drops, it won't help.”

“I’ve been using gripe water before every other feeding, and it seems to be making a difference. Bicycle legs also help!”