Farts don’t hurt: The truth about gas

The Pediatric Insider

© 2012 Roy Benaroch, MD

“My baby seems gassy. Should I use Mylicon drops? My doctor says they don’t work, and I don’t want to give medicine unnecessarily. What else can I do?”

I wrote about this recently, though the post was a little bit silly. I’ll try again, seriously this time.

Little babies do seem gassy a lot. They squirm and fart and kind of ball up, and sometimes getting pretty upset. But one thing I know for sure: farts don’t hurt. They just don’t. They don’t hurt me, and they don’t hurt you, and I can’t imagine why they would actually cause pain in a little baby.

Though farts don’t hurt, they might feel kind of weird. To a little baby, all sorts of sensations are new: the feel of air on the skin, breathing, seeing, stretching out little legs– all of that’s new, and all of that might feel weird and surprising. I’m surprised, honestly, that newborns aren’t more upset, more of the time. Think about how you’d feel with all of this new stuff going on. Add on to that the perfectly normal (but new) feeling of gas burbling around and passing out, and you might get one worried little baby.

When little babies get upset, parents wonder what’s wrong, and what they ought to do about it. No one likes to see a baby cry! Drug companies know that, and are happy to provide a remedy. In this case, it’s a product called “simethicone”, the so-called “active ingredient” in Mylicon and dozens of other “gas medicines.”

Simethicone has been around a long time, as an anti-foaming agent. Add simethicone to a sudsy bath, and all of those little bubbles coalesce into a few larger bubbles. It can’t make the gas actually disappear or go away. But it can reduce the surface tension on the little bubbles, turning them into fewer, larger bubbles. (Simethicone, you’ll be happy to know, is used in industrial applications as an agent to reduce foaming from some soaps and detergents.)

But think about it: what possible good would it do to turn a bunch of foamy, little bubbles into a few larger bubbles? Are larger bubbles easier to pass? Would one large bubble “hurt” less than 100 small bubbles?

There are no human studies– none, ever– that have shown that simethicone helps with any symptoms in any people of any age. It does seem to help, some, with endoscopy procedures by reducing the little foamy bubbles that might make it hard to see through a scope. But that’s it. That’s the only situation in medicine where it might conceivably help in any way.

Simethicone does seem safe. There are no reported side effects, though at least one report suggests that giving simethicone to a baby might interfere with the absorption of other medications. Other than that, though, since it doesn’t do much of anything, it’s not surprising that there are no side effects. (As an aside: any ‘real’ medicine that has real, genuine biologic effects must have at least some side effects. If any sort of herb or homeopathic stuff is promoted as being free of any side effects, it’s because it has no biologic effects whatsoever.)

If it’s safe, why not try it? I suppose it’s OK to try, but my biggest problem with simethicone (and other placebos) is that it sends the wrong message to parents, and seems to contribute to a long-term philosophy of health and illness that I think is a big mistake. Gas,  farts, and most cases of newborn fussiness are not a medical problem. Babies with these symptoms should be evaluated to make sure there is nothing medically wrong, and then parents should be reassured and taught good soothing techniques. By encouraging the use of medicine for gas (and other benign, normal things humans put up with), we’re perpetuating the idea that all symptoms need medicineand all problems need a medical approach. This is wrong, wrong, wrong. Parents shouldn’t be taught that their kids need medicine for every problem. What parents need is to make sure their kids are OK, and how to help them feel better when they’re upset, and the warning signs to look for that might mean the doctor needs to be contacted. What we don’t need is more parents relying on the medicine cabinet to solve their problems.

What about herbal and other more “natural” cures for gas? Those are, at best, just different placebos, and possibly something worse. Since there’s essentially no regulation of the market for “supplements”, parents have no idea what’s in those bottles. It’s probably just a nothing-safe-placebo, but who knows? If you’d like a placebo, at least choose one you know is safe. How about plain water? That’s exactly what homepathic products are.

Better yet, save your money. Stay away from Mylicon, and stay away from the “alt-med” cures too.

If you’ve got a fussy baby, your first step is to try to figure out if there’s a medical problem that needs to be addressed– I’ve written about that before. As long as there’s no medical issue, your best bet is calm, soothing things to help your baby relax. Often a tight swaddle, gentle rocking, a pacifier, and/or a white noise machine can be a big help. You’ll also need to make sure you get some rest and have someone else who can help give you a break during those long evenings! If mom (or dad) is having an especially hard time handling baby fussiness, they ought to talk to their own doctors about their own health problems—postpartum depression is very real, and can certainly contribute to making babies fussy and difficult. Fortunately, the weird feelings of “gas” go away by the time babies are about 3 months old, once they’ve gotten used to the normal sensations of their bodies. Until then, gentle & calm reassurance is the best “medicine.”

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14 Comments on “Farts don’t hurt: The truth about gas”

  1. Jack Says:

    Oh Dr. Roy!

    I have to humbly disagree. I have had plenty of times where I have had gas pains that I thought might kill me, had me bending over double. Usually after eating something too rich or greasy or both. But if a baby experienced even a tenth of what I was feeling, I can imagine it was worth crying about.

    Unless there was something else going on that I mistook for gas pains, but it felt like I could feel it making its way through me. painful at the turns in the small intestine, or so I was envisioning.

    Good column though!



  2. Dr Roy Says:

    Jack, I’m not sure whether or not belly aches attributed to “gas” is really caused by gas or not– it’s one of those things that we say, but is it really gas itself that hurts, or cramping of the muscles in the gut, or who-knows-what?

    What I meant was: farts don’t hurt. And I stand by that! In fact, if gas does hurt, farts ought to help you feel better!

    Even if gas is causing pain, there’s no reason to think Mylicon would work. Once gas is there, it’s got to be expelled out, one way or the other. Parents should celebrate little baby farts, instead of worrying about them or trying to medicate them away.


  3. Casey Says:

    The Windi really works… a little fart tube from the makers of the Swedish Nosefrida… Check it out on Amazon. Good luck!


  4. Dr Roy Says:

    Casey, I’ve actually written about the Nosefrida before: https://pediatricinsider.wordpress.com/2009/05/26/373/.

    That Windi thing has great Amazon reviews!


  5. Sunshine Says:

    You didn’t mean farts don’t hurt. That’s what you said, but you clearly meant “gas doesn’t hurt.” Ummmm… do you eat like a zero carb diet or something? You’ve never experienced the painful feeling of being full of gas, which was then relieved by passing said gas?

    No one thinks their baby’s farts are hurting them. No one thinks that. Everybody thinks “gee, my baby was crying, and now he’s farting, maybe he’s like a tiny human experiencing things I’ve experienced, like painful gas.”


  6. Araikwao Says:

    I disagree with this at least impart, too, as we know that the visceral innervation of the gut makes distension = pain (although not cutting, crushing, burning stimuli, if I remember correctly). The passing of gas relieves the distension of the gut, and therefore eases the pain. The passing itself isn’t painful, I agree, but the distension that precedes it is.


  7. Mike B Says:

    I’m with Jack, 100%. I’ve only had major gas pains a few times in my life, but Dr. Roy you are out of your mind if you think gas can’t hurt. 🙂 Farts don’t hurt, sure enough, but that’s the whole point, the gas is stuck in there and it hurts like hell until you actually CAN fart. I’ve also been doubled over with gas pain before (it can be excruciating!!), and simethicone was a godsend.

    Actually, the first time it happened to me I had no idea what it was and I ended up in pain for hours. Finally someone suggested simethicone (Phazyme/Gas-X) and the problem cleared up within an hour or so. Now that I can recognize the specific pain, I always reach for the simethicone if I feel it coming on.


  8. pat tobler Says:

    I agree. Gas can hurt when it’s rumbling around in your belly and not making it’s way out. I’ve had 2 bouts with diverticulitis in the past 3 yrs and sometimes I will get gas pains after eating to big of a meal and think I’m having another diver flare up. The cramping can double you over in pain but the last two times I’ve had gas like that I’ve taken simethicone and it’s worked wonders! a few big painless farts and the trapped gas causing the pressure and pain vanish. So yeah….. Gas CAN HURT!!!!!


  9. actually farts can hurt too, the week after I gave birth, farting sucked so bad

    Liked by 1 person

  10. kentopolis Says:

    I may be late to the party, but I too disagree on two levels, one, I’ve had that gas pain (farting relieved the pain, but as a child, the gas would build up, and sometimes it would be hours before I could physically relieve myself). Second, we (as parents) have found Mylicon to be very effective, but we use it Pre-ingestion. I agree to some extent about 1 bubble verses many inside the stomach, although the difference in how long it takes for those small bubbles to be released verses the large could be debated. We found by forming them into one large bubble in the bottle, that the bubble popped and we experienced MUCH less of a problem with fussiness and gas pain. Yes we still had to burp, but one or two burps and we were done!

    As a post script, we were unable to breast feed – my wife simply did not produce milk, and believe me, we tried EVERYTHING!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Sherrie D Says:

    I totally disagree with your view on simethicone. In short, one or two 125mg pills have been a lifesaver (pain saver) for me on more occasions than I can count in the past 20 years! There is no doubt in my mind that the rapid abdominal pain relief I experience from taking simethicone has saved me many a trip to the ER due to the excruciating gas pains I sometimes experience from diverticulosis. I’m not sure how it works, I just know, thankfully, that it DOES.


  12. YouAreDumb Says:

    Dr. Roy you are an idiot.
    No, farts don’t hurt and Simethicone is NOT for farts. It’s for gas trapped in the intestinal tract which CAN be painful.
    I bet you are not even a real Dr.


  13. Erika Says:

    Well, I have to disagree with you on farts not hurting. I have major gas issues that cause me to fart everyday, all day. These can be some very powerful sounding farts also. I found your page because I was looking up painful farts, because to ugh my farts are actually hurting me as they are coming out. It’s a pain that only last a second, but it hurts. I’ve had every test under the sun as to why I’m so gassy no results can explain why. This is an obvious problem I’ll be having for the rest of my life. But tonight my farts are painful.


  14. harriet Says:

    I must say i agree with you about not ‘medicalising’ every little baby issue. I am currently searching the interent for help with 5 1/2 month old who squirms all night and wakes regularly while apparently trying to fart but being unable to, and yes sometimes he does seem in pain. As soon as morning comes so do the farts LOTS of them. Ive tried everything like colic drops etc and no they dont seem to work. If you are right and normal baby gasines passes by three months do you have ideas or advice for this?


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