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My Baby’s Got Wind

By Dr Howard Chilton, Neonatal Paediatrician – babydoc.com.au

WARNING: This article may upset you if burping your baby is “essential” for him or her to settle. You may want to stop reading here!
But when I follow the science and my professional experience the picture’s a little different, and perhaps unexpected.

When babies get upset or tense for whatever reason, they get draw their knees up to their chest; they arch and strain and push out the bowel gas. “He’s suffering!” say his parents. “He’s got wind!”
It’s a rare day I make it through to lunchtime and nobody has mentioned his or her baby’s ‘wind’. It seems to be the ‘go-to’ diagnosis whenever a baby is unsettled, hungry, tired, upset, or wishing everyone would leave him alone, please!
See the x-ray above? This is a normal x-ray of the abdomen of a baby just a few hours old. All the black parts are gas and there’s lot of it.

Burping
Newborn babies swallow lots of air, which passes straight to the stomach. The valve between the oesophagus (gullet) and the stomach is a ring of muscle, which in babies is hopelessly ineffectual and hangs open: it can hardly trap a feed (hence most babies posset or vomit regularly), let alone trap air. So when the baby swallows air, he can then easily burp it up.

There are two take-home messages from this:

1) All babies reflux. Studies show that contents of the stomach are refluxed up into the oesophagus on average about 20 times a day.

2) Babies don’t need burping. It happens quite naturally on its own. That is not to say babies do not like to be sat up and patted (at maternal heart rate) but for them it’s a comfort, not a way to help them burp.

Crying babies swallow more air, so if when you pick them up they may burp. But don’t think he’s crying because he needs burping – he’s burping because he’s crying.

And at the other end….
Once babies start milk feeding, the germs in the large bowel ferment the lactose in the milk to produce litres of hydrogen gas as a by-product. This fills the lower bowel. Hence babies tend to fart like troopers (apologies to our Armed Forces) and can have up to 20 gassy explosive stools a day.

In conclusion, all babies are windy. But they don’t SUFFER from it.

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