Does your babe have what Lea frequently calls “a sad belly”? Sometimes it’s called colic, sometimes it’s called fussiness, and sometimes it’s just referred to as a gassy belly; no matter what it is called, it is a frustrating experience for parents and caregivers. We talk with people in the store frequently about their sad bellied babies and these are the tips we give over and over again (so often we’ve just created this page so those folks don’t have to try to remember everything we tell them when they are bleary-eyed-tired)……
Remember that pressure on their bellies will usually help a gassy baby to move the gas on out. “Draping” the baby over your shoulder seems to be the favorite position for most cranky babies, so that your shoulder is pressed firmly on their tummy. Other positions that can help are to hold the baby facing outwards with their backs along your midline, one hand firmly over their tummy holding them up, and the other between their legs (helping to cycle their legs up, pushing their knees towards their bellies seems to help move things along); or a football carry (with a babe small enough to fit!) with the baby’s belly along your forearm, their head up near your elbow and their legs and arms hanging down. Draping baby over your legs, with their bellies on your thighs or on top of a hot water bottle on your thighs is also a nice non-standing option. Add a bounce to your movement in any of these and you have a good arsenal of positions to shift around and use in combination.
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Sometimes people will tell you breastfed babes don’t need to get burped. Well, they’re not always right. If you have a gassy baby, burping them well and often can help get the air up and out before it gets well into the intestines where it causes discomfort. Sometimes burping a baby means doing more than rubbing or lightly patting their back–holding them high on your shoulder or sitting up in your lap with your shoulder or hand snug on their belly, patting determinedly (without smacking of course! 😉 can help to get that air up and out. Sometimes people will say to stop the feedings every couple of minutes to get the burps out but you have to be aware of how upset this makes your babe–if they are crying and getting frantic they are likely swallowing even more air! Here’s a nice article on burping, though they don’t mention putting the babe face-down across your thighs (making sure their faces are clear for breathing of course), patting or rubbing their backs. We’ve also recently heard of the tick-tock method (let us know if it works!) hold on by the chest under their armpits, leaving their legs to dangle, their face level with yours–gently tilt their lower body back and forth (tick-tock, like an old fashioned clock pendulum).
Wear your baby.
Natural movements help the baby to move the gas through their systems and by wearing them you are moving them with your natural rhythm–much like a walk after a big dinner helps us to digest better, so do the same sort of movements help your babe to better digest. Wearing them in an upright tummy-to-tummy position seems to help best as it puts pressure on their tummies and allows gravity to help work the bubbles up and out (or down and out ;). And if you have a super fussy babe (or a baby with reflux) nursing them in a carrier can help greatly as you can nurse with them sitting upright by lowering the bottom rail they are sitting on, positioning them so their mouth is at your breast.
Bounce your baby.
Most parents develop a bouncing swaying sort of walk to help calm an upset baby; you can take this a step further and bounce your baby on a birth/yoga/pilates/balance ball. Up and down bouncing seems to help gassy babies better than swaying movements. These balls are large enough that you can sit on them and have your feet on the ground, much like as if you were sitting on a chair. Bouncing baby on the ball can help to give your body a break from any constant pacing you may have been doing. This can be a nice one to do while wearing baby as you won’t need to do as much supporting with your arms. This is also a very nice tool for papas, as it is an all-around effective soothing and going-to-sleep tool that does not involve nursing.
I Love U massage stroke.
There is a particularly handy infant massage stroke that seems to work well to help push the gas on around the intestines. Using oil helps to assist in this stroke, though it is not necessary. Imagine and upside-down U on baby’s belly. Stroke up the left side of the baby’s body several times, making an “I”; continue on making an upside down “L” pushing up the baby’s left side and up over the top several times; complete the “I Love U” by massaging up the left side, over the top and back down the right side, making a “U”.
Lay the baby in your lap, with their head at your knees and their feet at your belly, and proceed to cycle their legs in a bicycling movement; alternatively you can push both knees up towards the belly and gently circle their legs clockwise and cycle them down and repeat in 20-30sec intervals. Do these slowly and calmly–it is easy to get frantic when your babe is upset, but being calm will better relax the babe, and help to move the air on out.
There are some products that just work really really well:
This is, first and foremost, a fantastic swaddling blanket; truly considered the best on the market. They take six feet of material and cut it on a bias, which makes it nice and stretchy (kinda like a good quality stretchy tee); you then wrap it around and around (and around) the baby, making a swaddle that is nearly impossible to get out of. The six feet of material also have the added bonus of wrapping directly around and around the babe’s belly, meaning that no matter if the babe is on their back (the preferred sleep position of the AAP for preventing SIDS) or not, they have pressure on their tummies. This is one where most of our sales fall into two categories of people buying: 1) sleep-deprived parents of newborns stumbling in because someone told them the blanket would save them or 2) those sleep-deprived-parents-of-newborns fast-forwarded a few months who then buy them for every expectant couple they know.
Probiotics are all those good things in yogurt–helpful bacteria that assists our own natural bacteria to colonize our intestines and help with digestive processes. We live stressful lives, and not eating well combined with stress, antibiotic use (which kills the good bacteria along with the intended bad), and exposure to toxins decreases our bodies natural ability to have a well-colonized gut. Probiotics (acidophulous and bifidous are the most common) can be ingested via yogurt, but a more concentrated dosage can be taken by supplementing with probiotics in pill-form. Good quality probiotics are not inexpensive ($20-30/mo), and you want to be sure to be getting them from the refridgerated section in a place like Happy Bambino (ask us for them–we keep them in the fridge in back!), Community Pharmacy, Willy St Coop, Whole Foods, or Green Earth, but they can work wonders for both mom and baby’s health. Breastfed babies are getting probiotics from breastmilk, but if our bodies are not colonized well, the breastmilk will not have a ton of the good bacteria. Supplementing directly for a breastfed mom is a simple start; otherwise opening the capsule and emptying the powder into a bottle for a bottle-fed babe is another option. According to a study published in Pediatrics (the official journal of the Academy of American Pediatrics), 95% of parents using probiotics reported significantly less crying after one month of use, versus 7% of parents using simethicone drops (ie Baby Mylicon).
Gripewater is good stuff. Rather than simethicone drops (ie Baby Mylicon etc) which are made of, um, polydimethylsiloxane and silica gel (you try saying it!), we recommend taking a look a Gripewater, which is a combination of ginger, fennel, and sodium bicarbonate–in other words a completely natural herbal alternative to simethicone. We’ve had customers call it “liquid gold”. One thing to understand, however, is that a baby’s system on only breastmilk begins to develop an almost perfect balance of gut flora and introducing anything (with the exception of probiotics) besides breastmilk into a breastfed babies diet disrupts that balance. If you have already had to use any sort of medication, formula or glucose supplement, or herbal supplements–probiotics do not count– this balance has already been affected; therefore considering Gripewater is a good option. If your baby has had nothing but breastmilk, you might want to do probiotics and other non-supplemental strategies before introducing Gripewater.
Other things to think about….
Overactive let-down or poor latch.
If the baby ends up swallowing alot of air along with their milk, they are bound to be a bit gassy. If you have an overactive let-down, experiment with positions that allow the babe a bit more control over their nursing, such as a football hold or nursing upright in a sling; also making sure to nurse the babe before they are ravenous, and if possible nurse them in a calm, quiet, and dim atmosphere so as to reduce the stimuli. If you are having latching issues, seeing a lactation consultant or coming in for our Nursing Mama’s Resource Station is a good idea. Lactation consultants can also help with positioning and other overactive let-down assistance.
Explore the possibility of food allergies.
Sometimes babies are sensitive to what mom is eating–and dairy seems to be the most common allergen. To help determine if dairy is an issue, cut out all dairy products for 7-10 days and see if it helps. Many babies are not sensitive to all dairy products, milk seems to be the most extreme allergen; if you do determine that cutting out dairy has helped, you can explore slowly adding back in dairy products other than milk (cheese and yogurt) and see if they are tolerated. Other possible allergens include caffeine, gassy vegetables, wheat, corn, peanuts, and soy. If you feel that your baby’s gassiness is severe, more deeply exploring food allergies is highly recommended. We are fortunate (in Madison) to have a phenomenal nutritionist that many folks in the HB community see–Nicole Fenske at Fenske Chiropractic. Alison’s life has changed because of Nicole, so if you are looking to speak more about doing non-invasive allergy testing, feel free to ask Alison about it ([email protected]).
A cranial sachral, chiropractic, or massage practioner might be able to give you or your baby some assistance. Many families in the HB community highly tout the services of Patti Smith (cranial sachral work), Melissa Murphy at Discover Chiropractic, as well as Katie Gletty-Syoen of Belly Massage and all the of the various services of Isthmus Acupuncture Center. Cranial sachral work is very non-invasive and the calm process can help to solve all sorts of issues your infant may be having (birth is hard on baby’s body too!). A number of studies have shown that chiropractic care can significantly help with colic–91% of parents reported a reduction of symptoms with chiropractic care; you just want to be sure that any chiropracter you work with is trained to work with infants. (Just go with Melissa, truly! 🙂 All of these body work practices will help to align your baby’s bodies in ways that will better facilitate digestion. Learning infant massage will help to give you some tools to soothe your baby as well.