How Massage Therapy Can Help Infants With Gas Pain

Newborn babies must adapt to a world of air after spending months in a watery womb. Many babies struggles with gas pains, which can prevent them from eating or sleeping well. It's hard to treat these pains with anything other than mild medication when a baby is very young. Therefore, many parents look for natural remedies. Fortunately, massage therapy can be one of the most effective remedies for newborns who are deemed "colicky" or fussy because they are having trouble adapting to a world of air.

What causes gas pains in infants?

Even adults get gas pains occasionally, but the digestive system of an infant is extraordinarily sensitive. Some babies may gulp down air during feedings, especially if they use bottles or latch incorrectly when breastfeeding. Some babies are lactose intolerant or sensitive to ingredients used to create infant formulas, which can also lead to gas problems. Also, gas pains themselves create a vicious cycle. The pain causes the infant to cry for relief, but crying allows the baby to swallow more air, leading to more pain in the future. The immature digestive tract has difficulty passing the gas effectively, so it builds and causes pain.

Usually, parents simply have to wait until their baby matures enough to more effectively rid himself or herself of swallowed air; it's just a stage.

How does massage help?

Gentle massage techniques help your baby to do what he or she is struggling to do alone: move the the air through the digestive tract. To make sure you are massaging your baby correctly, you can contact a massage therapist to show the gentle techniques, which are different than those used on adults. Common techniques include:

  • rubbing the tummy in a circular motion to help gas move through the intestines.
  • using long strokes down the back to help your baby relax. People naturally tense when they are in pain, but relaxation actually helps promote speedy relief. Stress hormones move blood away from the digestive tract, which slows your baby's ability to relieve himself or herself of the pain. These hormones also slow weight gain. 
  • bicycling the legs against the lower abdomen. This movement keeps your baby from tensing his or her muscles in the pelvic area, which hold gas inside when not relaxed. 

​Besides physically helping gas symptoms, massage can also help this phase become more bearable for your baby emotionally and developmentally. When parents administer infant massage, they develop a stronger bond with baby. Loving, firm, deliberate touch between parent and child helps a baby to build strong attachment ties to parent. Therefore, when you are near or when you have direct skin-to-skin contact with your baby, he or she will automatically feel more calm and relaxed.

Furthermore, increased blood flow and muscle stimulation help the systems of the body, including the digestive system, to mature more quickly. You can also count on massage helping development of respiratory health, which will aid your baby in moving past the "colicky" stage more efficiently as they learn to swallow less air while eating. 

For best results, it's best to wait at least thirty minutes after feedings before massaging your baby-- any earlier could trigger reflux, which can increase your baby's discomfort. It's also good to watch your baby for signs of discomfort before the tears start-- grunting, straining, or fussing are early signs of gas pains. You can prevent future crying (and therefore future gas) by employing massage preventatively. 

Gas pains are a reality for many parents and their new babies, but massage is one of the best ways for your baby to get through this stage with ease. And don't forget the benefits it can have for you as a parent—if you're a little tense from the stress of a newborn, consider reaching out to a local clinic, like Health Atlast Fountain Valley, to see how they can help.