Parents have recently seemed full of hot air complaining to me about their children passing gas in public. Let me see if I can pass judgment, rather than wind, on the topic of passing gas.

What causes gas? When you eat, you do not just swallow food, you swallow air, too. Air contains gases such as nitrogen and oxygen, which have to escape once they are in your body. They can do that via a strong burp or belch, or through an equally memorable body function.

In addition, as bacteria in your intestines breaks down your food, it releases other gasses, including sulfur and ammonia. These two can produce the not-so-pleasant odor we’re all familiar with.

If your child’s body tends to be more vocal about passing gas than you would like, try the following:

  1. For babies: burp your baby in a vertical position. This will keep the air upright and make the burps easier to get out.
  2. Try a different bottle or nipple if you are not breast-feeding. The change may reduce the amount of air your baby is swallowing.
  3. For older children, your children will take in more air than they should if they eat fast. Try to get them to slow down.
  4. Chewing gum or drinking carbonated beverages increases the amount of air or gas in the body. Certain foods can increase gas as well, including onions, fried foods and some vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli. Dairy products are a problem only if your child is unable to digest the milk sugar lactose properly.
  5. Then there is the perennial favorite: baked beans. All you need to do is soak them for a few hours in water. The soaking will reduce the gassiness and not change the protein content in this nutritious food.
  6. Excessive gas with loose bowel movements or diarrhea for more than a few days can be a problem. If you observe this in your child, speak with your child’s health care professional. Do the same if your child’s belly appears distended and there is stomach pain, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Otherwise, as they say, this problem too shall pass.

Hopefully, tips like these will allow you to celebrate the passing of this onerous, or should I say odorous, habit.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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