Does a mom need to watch everything she eats to avoid having a gassy baby?
The idea that certain foods in any mom’s diet will cause gas in her baby is incredibly persistent but is not founded in research. If certain foods in moms’ diets were an overall problem for most babies, we would expect that cultures that emphasize those foods would have more gassy and fussy babies, but this does not occur at all.
This is not to say that certain foods would not bother a particular baby – this does happen occasionally (and it’s more likely with very young babies). However, there is no list of foods that every mom should avoid while breastfeeding. In fact, most babies are fine with any food that mom eats, so there is no reason to avoid a food unless you notice an obvious reaction in your baby every time you eat a particular food.
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Most babies are gassy from time to time, some more than others. Gassiness is often worse at night. This is due, on the most part, to baby’s immature digestive system and has nothing to do with what mom does or eats. Because so many people promote the idea that food in mom’s diet causes gas, many a breastfeeding mom will immediately assume it is due to something she has eaten if her baby is gassy.
The list of foods that “might cause gas” is practically endless, and moms who try to avoid all these foods will (needlessly) have a *very* limited diet. Formula-feeding moms blame it on a chill, a draft, the formula type, the formula being too hot or cold, baby being overdressed, underdressed, jostled too much, etc. Formula-feeding moms never think it was what the cow ate the day she was milked, months ago!
Some causes of gas in babies
- Many young babies have a certain amount of gas and seem to strain as it is passed or as a bowel movement occurs simply because of the immaturity of their digestive system. This doesn’t always indicate a problem. Most babies’ bodies manage gas more easily with growth, maturity, and greater activity. As long as your baby is not overly bothered by the gas or has no other symptoms of food sensitivity or other problems, then “tincture of time” is likely the best solution.
- Too much milk too fast, so that baby gulps and chokes and takes in too much air along with the milk. See forceful let-down.
- Anything that causes baby to take in too much air may result in a gassy baby (what goes in must come out!):
- Crying – Babies swallow air when they are crying, so crying is more likely to be the cause of gas, rather than the result of gas. Respond to baby’s feeding cues promptly.
- Bottlefeeding – Babies usually swallow more air when drinking from a bottle. When using bottles, use the slowest-flow nipples so baby doesn’t get overwhelmed with the milk flow. To reduce air swallowing, keep baby at about a 45 degree angle (rather than lying down), make sure baby has a good seal on the base of the nipple, and keep the bottle tilted so the neck & nipple are filled with milk. There are also varieties of bottles that aim to reduce air swallowing. Don’t let baby suck on an empty bottle. Burp baby more often if he seems to be swallowing too much air.
- Overabundant milk supply. See Too Much Milk?
- Thrush can cause gassiness in babies.
- Babies who skip several days between stools tend to be gassier. Older breastfed babies (after the first 6-8 weeks) can go several days without a stool. Ten days or more is not uncommon! The long periods between stools in a baby who is obviously thriving is not a cause for concern if the baby’s abdomen remains soft, baby is content and alert, and the stool is soft and profuse if several days have gone by.
- Sensitivity to something in mother’s diet, including any vitamin/iron supplements, etc. See Dairy and other Food Sensitivities in Breastfed Babies. If this is the reason, you will most likely notice other symptoms, such as excessive spitting up or vomiting, colic, diarrhea, rash, persistent congestion or runny nose.
- Anything that baby is eating/drinking other than mother’s milk, including vitamins, formula, teas, medications or herbs, solids, juice. Any substance (other than breastmilk) has a much greater potential to increase gassiness rather than reduce it.
- Formula feeding tends to cause more gas and digestive upset for most babies because it is not specific to the human baby. Formula-fed babies overall tend to spit up more, be constipated more, have more gas, be more colicky, have more intestinal illnesses, etc. Remember, too, that supplementation most always undermines your milk supply and may result in premature weaning.
Frequently Asked Questions about breastfeeding and gassy babies
Breastmilk is made from what passes into mom’s blood, not what is in her stomach or digestive track. Below are a few common questions that moms have about breastfeeding and gassy babies.
Can drinking carbonated sodas cause gas in baby? No. For something to pass into your milk, it must first pass into your bloodstream. It’s the carbonation in sodas, etc. that can cause gas in mom. The bubbles in a carbonated drink cannot pass into your milk and affect baby. If this could happen, you’d have carbonated blood and carbonated milk!
If mom is gassy, can that make baby gassy? No. Gas in mom’s body cannot pass into breastmilk.
See also Can a nursing mother eat this food? which includes a discussion of How will eating “gassy foods” affect baby?
Popular treatments for gas in babies
For most babies, the number one most effective treatment for gas is TIME. Babies are born with an immature digestive system, and it needs time to mature. Until this happens, baby is likely to be gassy no matter what you do. Some babies “wake up” around 3-4 weeks to all the new GI sensations they are feeling and get really unhappy about it. If you cannot find an apparent cause for your baby’s gassiness, he probably just needs a little more time to mature.
Gripe water, fennel tea or other herbal remedies
Herbal remedies have been used for gassy babies for a countless number of years. I prefer to avoid using herbal remedies for gas in young babies. Here are my reasons:
- In a healthy baby, anything other than breastmilk is more likely to cause problems rather than solve them.
- Giving baby substances other than breastmilk can alter the intestinal flora and reduce the protective qualities of exclusive breastfeeding, thus making baby more susceptable to illness and allergies. See Why Delay Solids? for more on this.
- Many of these products contain mixtures of herbs or other substances, thus putting baby more at risk for adverse reactions. Some contain alcohol, so read labels very carefully.
- Most of these products have not been tested in infants for safety or effectiveness.
- It is more effective to look at treating the causes, rather than simply trying to treat the symptoms.
Note: Star anise has been associated with illness ranging from serious neurological effects, such as seizures, to vomiting, jitteriness and rapid eye movement.
Mint tea is sometimes used for gas and gas pains. Peppermint oil and tea can be dangerous if given directly to babies. Large amounts of peppermint or spearmint are known to decrease milk supply, and mint tea is traditionally used for decreasing milk supply – breastfeeding mothers should avoid drinking mint tea regularly or in large amounts.
Simethicone drops (Mylicon, Ovol)
This medication is considered quite safe, as it is not absorbed by the body. It breaks down bubbles of gas trapped in the stomach and the intestines. Whether this treatment is effective is a different story, however. In clinical trials, simethicone drops have been shown to be effective in reducing the total amount of gas passed. However, they have not been shown to be more effective than a placebo when the study focused on baby’s total crying time and the severity of colic-like episodes.
- Roberts DM, Ostapchuk M, O’Brien JG. Infantile Colic. Am Fam Physician. 2004 Aug 15;70(4):735-740.
- Garrison MM, Christakis DA. A Systematic Review of Treatment for Infant Colic. Pediatrics. 2000;106(1):184-190.
- Lucassen PL, et al. Effectiveness of treatments for infantile colic: systematic review. BMJ 1998 May 23;316(7144):1563-9.
- Metcalf TJ, Irons TG, Sher LD, Young PC. Simethicone in the treatment of infant colic: a randomized, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial. Pediatrics 1994 Jul;94(1):29-34.
- Sferra TJ, Heitlinger LA. Gastrointestinal gas formation and infantile colic. Pediatr Clin North Am 1996 Apr;43(2):489-510.
- Pharmacology information on Simethicone from FamilyPracticeNotebook.com
- Colic by Prashant G Deshpande, MD
So, what does work? My baby is unhappy and I am too! We don’t want to just wait it out.