Understandably, new mums are worried about what they eat and its effect on their breastfed babies. Yes, it's true that what we eat, including the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in our foods, pass through our breastmilk, but studies show that any adverse effects of this food on our little ones is actually relatively minimal.
Human breastmilk is the optimal source of nutrition to support early life. It's crazy to think that breastmilk alone supports all nutrition, growth, and developmental needs for the first six months of an infant's life. But many mothers' stress that breastmilk is causing their little one's discomfort, particularly gas.
Although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting foods cause gas in breastfed babies, scientific research suggests most babies will be fine with any foods mum is consuming. So, although yes, mums might notice that certain foods have a direct effect on their bub, there's no universal list of foods to avoid. This is why it's important to seek advice from your medical professional if you suspect something you are eating is causing your baby distress, rather than cut out whole food groups.
Causes of Gas in Breastfed Babies
We all experience gas now and then, and usually, it's nothing to worry about; this is often also true for babies. Below are some causes of intestinal gas in babies that aren't necessarily harmful, just a little uncomfortable.
1. Fast or forceful letdown
If you have a fast or forceful letdown, you may find your baby gulping, gagging, coughing, or gasping while feeding. They might also regularly pull off the breast, clamp down on the nipple or spit up/become gassy after a feed. Imagine having a drink but having no control over how fast the liquid is following into your mouth, it’s a bit like that.
Although it might be a case of waiting it out until your milk supply regulates, there are things you can do to reduce the effects of a fast letdown, including:
Feed bub in a reclined or side-lying position. This will slow the speed at which the milk is released.
Nurse regularly – shorter feeds more often will stop too much milk accumulating in the breasts.
As the letdown occurs, remove bub from the breast and place a nursing pad on your nipple to catch the milk. Then, pop bub back on to feed on the slower flow of milk.
2. Swallowing too much air
Sometimes due to latch issues, babies can swallow air while they're feeding. So if you ever notice a clicking sound or bub often falls off the breast, you may want to have them checked for a lip or tongue tie. Alternatively, a big crying session could be to blame. Babies tend to gulp in a lot of air when they're upset, and this can also result in gas.
3. Immature gastrointestinal tract
Babies' gastrointestinal tracts are teeny tiny, and sometimes little ones are more susceptible to experiencing gas. But as they grow and their digestive systems mature, they often grow out of it. So if your baby seems to be happy most of the time and isn't overly bothered by the gas, it might just be a case of waiting it out for a couple of weeks.
4. Oversupply in mother
When a mother has an oversupply, it means they have 'too much milk'. And although you hear most mothers complaining of the opposite (not enough milk), too much can pose many problems. And one is increased gas in babies. The reason being that there's so much milk; the baby only ever feeds on the watery foremilk and hardly on the fatty hind-milk.
5. Slow bowel movements
Some babies have multiple bowel movements a day, and others will go numerous days with nothing. Babies who have slower moving bowel movements are more prone to experiencing gas. A daily gentle tummy massage with some baby-friendly moisturiser can help to keep things moving along.
6. Bottle feeding
Bottle-fed babies are much more likely to swallow excess air as the flow of a bottle is usually a lot quicker than the breast. If you feed your baby with a bottle, there are a few tips you can follow to slow the flow.
Hold baby upright at a 45° angle, rather than lying flat in your arms.
Choose a bottle with a slow-release teat.
Burp your baby throughout the feed. For example, feed 50ml, burp and repeat.
7. Sensitivity or allergy to something in mum’s diet
A small number of mums will notice a direct correlation between the foods they eat and the effect on their baby. And this is likely due to food sensitivity. The most common cause of food-related illness in babies is dairy products. An indicator that your little one has a milk protein allergy is they may have persistent gas, be highly fussy after a feed, have dry/irritated skin, experience constipation, diarrhoea or vomiting, presence of blood in their stool, or break out in a rash. The other common foods that cause allergies are soy products, wheat and eggs.
Always speak to your doctor if you're concerned, as they will assist you in finding a treatment plan that works for the individual needs of you and your baby. In cases where a milk allergy exists it’s most likely the mother will need to cut dairy products out of her diet for a period.
Does Formula Cause Gas?
You might be wondering if it’s worth swapping to formula-feeding your baby to reduce the occurrence of gas. Unfortunately, formula tends to cause more gas and create more severe digestive issues than breastfeeding. One of the most common reasons is that little one’s swallow excess air when feeding from a bottle. Other factors that contribute to gas include the bubbles formed when shaking the bottle, and in some cases, babies can be intolerant or allergic to ingredients in the formula.
One of the best things about breastmilk is that it contains hundreds-thousands of bioactive molecules that protect babies against infection and inflammation. While at the same time, it helps to create strong immune systems and healthy guts in babies. So, even if your baby is experiencing gas in the first few months, it’s important to remember the lifelong benefits your little one will gain.
How Do I Relieve Gas in my Baby?
Gentle tummy massage (draw little circles with your fingers, while pushing lightly on bubs belly).
Create bicycle movements with bubs legs.
Burp your baby regularly – if they’re prone to gas, burp them mid-feed and afterwards.
Encourage tummy time every day – when babies lay on their tummy’s, they experience a pressure that can assist with gas.
If you notice that bub has a lot of gas, consult the list above, but most importantly, seek medical advice before cutting out foods. If you’re fuelling your body with plenty of nutritious foods, you’re doing the best thing by yourself and your bub, and in most cases, the gas should pass in no time.
If you’re looking for support, join our Facebook group – the In Shape Mummy Breastfeeding Support Group. Here you’ll meet like-minded women who are passionate about breastfeeding, nutrition, health, and wellness.
Shevi is a qualified nutritionist with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and food sciences. As a new mum herself, she is passionate about postnatal-related nutrition. Shevi has worked alongside some of the most famous leaders and celebrities in the fitness industry throughout Australia and the UK.
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