Not everything that comes out of a baby can be scooped up, wiped off, or thrown away. There are some intangibles that still make themselves known by sound or smell. To start, let’s talk gas.
Understanding your precious little gasbag
When it comes to the stuff that comes out of babies, gas is one thing that can make every parent crazy. Here’s why:
- It comes out of nowhere.
- It makes babies cry.
- We can’t control it.
- It smells.
I can come up with others, but the preceding are probably reasons enough to make baby farts (or the inability to fart) one of parenting’s key preoccupations. So where does gas come from and what can you do about it? When I read parenting literature on baby farts (which is how I spend a lot of my time these days), I’m always surprised that few ever approach the core issue of where gas originates. There’s no shortage of folksy remedies, but nothing addresses what makes gas come from your cherub’s behind. Stick with me, and I’ll help you do the seemingly impossible: get a handle on the baby fart.
Start with the understanding that babies are gas machines
So much of my work as a pediatric gastroenterologist is managing expectations. And one thing that you’ve got to expect from your baby is gas. It’s just what they do. They eat air and make air as part of their new, emerging fourth-trimester physiology. Do yourself a favour and accept that gas is part of your baby’s life, and then work from there.
Fart physics 101: Gas comes from only two places
Before I went to medical school I had to take physics. Physics is a scientific discipline covering the universal laws that govern the physical world around us. As it turns out, gas has some universal laws as well. In fact, it’s one of the few things that come out of a baby that we can boil down to absolute, unequivocal principles. I’ll cut right to the chase here and tell you that your baby’s gas can only come from one of two places: Gas comes from swallowed air.
- Gas comes from swallowed air.
- Gas is made by bacteria.
There is no other source of gas in your baby. Period. Let’s call this the universal law of baby farts. You won’t read about this in the New England Journal of Medicine or the Journal of Pediatrics, but the nice thing about being a parenting author is that you can create your own laws.
When thinking about the bottom, take it from the top
When facing a gassy baby, the first thing to think about is whether that baby may be sucking air. Air swallowing is the most overlooked problem in fixing gas. Here’s what’s behind it.
- A BUM LATCH
If you’re breast-feeding, you should start by looking at your baby’s latch. An open-mouth latch with a nice seal is what we’re looking for. Squeaking, squawking, and dribbling may be signs that your baby’s got a bum latch and she’s suckin’ and swallowin’ wind. If there’s any question about this, an evaluation by an experienced lactation consultant can settle the issue and offer solutions if need be.
- A BUM NIPPLE
If you’re bottle- feeding your baby, think about the nipple. A nipple with a flow that’s too low will result in a desperately hungry baby who will suck and pull, only to take in air from around the nipple. A nipple with a flow that’s too high will deliver too much milk, with resulting sputtering, gagging, and air ingestion. Notice that I didn’t say anything about your bottle system. When your baby has a bad connection at the nipple, investing in some cockamamie bottle system with voodoo claims about gas is like rearranging lounge chairs on the deck of the Titanic. It’s the wrong place to put your energy. You can change bottle systems, but be sure to put your attention on the nipple and the latch.
- POOR POSITIONING
In nearly all respects, babies do better feeding in a semiupright position. This also allows milk to go down and air to come up as much as possible. Although positioning isn’t a deal breaker, it’s a small thing that can have big results. If you don’t believe me, try drinking from a sports bottle while lying in bed and report back.
- PAINFUL SWALLOWING
As we talked about in Chapter 6, if a baby experiences pain when she swallows, she’s likely to exhibit what I like to call chaotic feeding. That’s the phenomenon where the baby sucks, feels pain, pulls away, and then realizes that she’s still hungry. This is not good for you or your baby. If you’re breast- feeding, it will ultimately tear the daylights out of your nipples and potentially corrupt your ability to breast- feed. Most important, when a baby breaks her latch or pulls from the bottle, she swallows air. Fixing painful feeding means understanding and addressing the source, and reflux and allergy are a couple of the prime suspects. If you haven’t already, check out Chapters 6 and 10 for more information.
- SHAKEN FORMULA
When it comes to powdered formula, babies prefer their formula gently stirred, not shaken. I can’t count the number of times I’ve evaluated a terminally gassy baby only to watch mama fill the bottle with powder and water and shake it over her shoulder like some kinda showy bartender making a martini. James Bond preferred his martinis shaken, not stirred. But your baby’s no 007. Shaken formula is loaded with mini microbubbles that gang up to make megabubbles. If you feel compelled to shake, let it settle before feeding. Otherwise stir gently or use ready- to- feed formula.
- THE BIG VICIOUS GASSY CYCLE
Perhaps the biggest source of gas in the screaming baby is the screaming itself. When babies scream for whatever reason, they swallow air. I see this every day in my busy practice: parents fall into the trap of thinking that a baby is suffering from gas when, in fact, they’re suffering from something different that causes screaming and air ingestion.
And the more they scream, the more air they swallow, which makes them scream more and leads to the Big Vicious Gassy Cycle. To break the BVGC, you have to get to the root of why a baby may be so dang unhappy. In most cases, this involves going after the king and queen of baby irritability: reflux and allergy. But you should consider constipation and other problems with number two as well. Starvation as a means of controlling reflux is another biggie, because (spoiler alert), hungry babies cry.
- LACK OF BURPING
What you can’t prevent in terms of swallowing you might be able to catch before it goes beyond the tummy. Don’t forget to help your baby make a great, big burp while feeding. Frequent burping represents one of the most basic forms of gas prophylaxis.
Extract taken from Looking out for Number Two by Bryan Vartabedian, published by Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins.