For many people, the issue of passing gas is – for the most part – a non-issue. We don’t overthink it, and it really only concerns us in a public setting. Babies, however, have a whole different perspective on the gas issue. When a baby is gassy and uncomfortable they cry. Crying being their main mode of communication, it often creates a vicious circle as the more a baby cries, the more air baby swallows, and swallowing more air contributes to a gassy tummy. Peak problem times for gassy tummies are usually around the 2-4 week mark.
When It’s Colic, and What is the “Period of Purple Crying” Anyway?
When a baby cries for 3 hours, for more than 3 days a week, for more than 3 weeks health care providers call it “colic”. While a gassy tummy doesn’t cause colic, a colicky baby may swallow more air which – you guessed it – can cause a gassy tummy. Lately, the term colic and this definition have fallen out of favour.
It is now often referred to as the “period of purple crying” and is recognized as a developmental phase where all babies will increase their amount of crying starting around 2-4 weeks and peaking until 6-10 weeks and decreasing after that. This is obviously a more challenging period for those parents and babies who already cry a lot– up to three hours – and is less noticeable in babies who rarely cry.
Whatever name we attribute to it, colic remains a mystery. Ultimately, however, it’s no more than a general term applied to an otherwise healthy infant who is crying excessively. There is no known cause of colic nor is there a “cure.” Colic may rear its head around the 2-week mark and last as long as several months. Theories about the causes of colic include gas as well as over-sensitivity to light, sound or touch, hormones, muscle spasms or a not quite fully developed nervous system.
If your baby has not been diagnosed with colic but appears to be suffering from an excess of gas, there are several things you can do to help him or her out.
The ”bicycle legs” technique is fun for both parents and baby and relatively easy to do. When the leg motions achieve gas release it’s fairly satisfying too! Here’s how you do it:
Step 1) Lay Baby on a safe surface, like the bed or couch.
Step 2) With Baby on his or her back, gently grasp the ankles.
Step 3) Slowly alternating legs, move the ankles in an up and then forward motion… As though baby were pedaling an invisible bicycle. Those familiar with yoga practice will recognize this as gentle repetition of “wind releasing pose.”
Babies are ever so polite and won’t always let loose with a belch until invited to do so. After, and occasionally during a feeding, ensure that you are helping Baby expel gas by actively burping them.
Having a bit of tummy time can help push gas along through the abdomen, just be sure to keep a close eye on any baby enjoying tummy time.
While Baby is laying on his or her back, gently rub their tummy in a clockwise motion and then pull your hands down the curve of Baby’s belly. Using a pure oil such as sweet almond, olive or coconut oil can help your hands glide more smoothly over their gassy tummy and help them relax into your touch.
Or try the “I Love You” massage – use two or three fingers and apply mild pressure around the abdomen and spell out the letters “I”, “L”, and “U”. Repeat several times to help move trapped gas.
If you breastfeed, you may want to look at your latch or the position that you hold Baby in. Remember to keep Baby’s head and neck elevated above their abdomen: bottle-fed babies benefit from this position as well. Bottle-feeding parents may also want to experiment with a “slow flow” nipple to see if that helps.
On a similar note; you may want to take another look at your diet if you are breastfeeding. You may wish to consider removing things like dairy products, chocolate or caffeine from your diet to help Baby find comfort, as these have been demonstrated to be common irritants.