It’s normal for babies to have ‘wind’ or ‘gas’ but when it gets trapped or there’s too much it becomes painful and makes little ones unsettled.
Many bubs pass wind frequently without crying; some cry for a short time before they ‘pop-off ’ and become instantly happy afterwards; others are unsettled and squirm five minutes into a feed or at the end of a feed; and some seem to be in pain or discomfort most of the day and night.
Wind may or may not be smelly and can be relieved in different ways. The challenge is working out where along the digestive tract the wind is trapped and what has caused the excess wind in the first place. Finding a likely cause and locality is important as it gives carers an idea of how to relieve bub’s discomfort and help her feel more settled.
A difficult and complicated birth can result in compression trauma around the base of your newborn’s head. This compression can irritate the vagus nerve that is responsible for the body’s ability to rest and digest. This nerve irritation can cause poor digestion and unsettled behaviour.
If your littlie was born premature she is likely to suffer from wind discomfort due to an immature digestive system. Bubs born by caesarean are also susceptible to wind pain. This is because during vaginal birth bub ingests a mouthful of ‘good’ bacteria on the way through the birth canal, which does not occur during a caesarean-assisted birth.
The reduced amount of rich and diverse bacteria affects healthy gut microflora and ongoing bacterial colonisation in bub’s gut, which can cause wind discomfort. Breastfeeding is the best way to improve gut flora but often lactation is delayed for these mums and infant formula may become a milk of choice.
Formula is manufactured and scientifically tested to be as close to breastmilk as possible and is a suitable alternative to breastmilk. However, it is generally harder than breastmilk for bub to digest and undigested milk produces offensive wind. Bubs fed on formula are more at risk of wind discomfort from being overfed, becoming constipated, and gulping air.
Breastfed babies can overload with lactose (milk sugar), causing abdominal bloating and discomfort. This overload may be from an insufficient amount of the enzyme lactase, needed to break down lactose, or from ingesting too much foremilk containing lactose. It is recommended that you seek specific feeding advice from a lactation consultant or child health nurse in these situations.
Gas is formed as a by-product of some foods. If you are breastfeeding or your baby has started solids, the same foods that cause gas in one bub won’t necessarily cause gas in another.
For this reason, don’t withhold too many suspected ‘wind-producing’ foods for too long unless you find not having them helps bub settle.
Reducing and eliminating some foods from your diet (if you are breastfeeding) such as chocolate, milk, ice-cream, fruit juice, soft drinks, processed foods, and fruit have been found to reduce wind in many breastfed little ones.
Foods that produce painful gas may not continue to cause discomfort so it is important to rechallenge your child with foods as she matures.
How to help
When your bub has pain in her bowel it usually comes in waves. She will be happy and settled one minute and cry and curl her legs up the next.
She may benefit from warm baths, clockwise lower-belly massages, bicycle leg movements, and regular tummy time. A daily massage also helps your little one relax, which helps to relieve constipation and release trapped wind.
Babies are unique. How they get wind and how they get rid of it varies. For some, it is just a matter of waiting until they are around four to six months of age before discomfort improves, but for others, changing your diet (if you are breastfeeding) or changing the feeding routine helps.
Giving bub tummy-time, massages and leg exercises can be enough to give some bubs relief. Others may be helped by warm baths or off-the-shelf wind mixtures (seek professional advice for the suitable one for your bub).
If you are struggling to find answers, it can be a difficult time for everyone concerned because sometimes there simply is no answer.
That’s when wind is labelled colic. If this sounds like your life at the moment, try to relax and get as much support as you can. Bubs generally grow out of wind discomfort with no lasting effects or memory of these difficult days.