Caring for a baby involves a steep learning curve. You will have many questions. Some relate to burping. How is it done? How long should you try? What if he doesn’t burp? Until what age do you need to continue? Find answers to your questions and more.
- RN, RM, CHN, MHN, IBCLC
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How to burp a baby
Your baby may feel a little uncomfortable if she swallows a lot of air during feeding. Burping can help her to expel some of the air that she swallows. There are a number of different ways you can assist your baby to burp.
With all burping methods you aim is to...
- Hold your baby in a upright or semi-upright position; and
- At the same time apply gentle pressure to her tummy.
Babies often bring up a little milk with a burp, so it may be helpful to have a burping cloth, cloth diaper or towel handy. If your baby often spits up large amounts of milk, we recommend burping method A described in 1 & 2 below, which will keep her in an upright position but apply less pressure to her tummy.
1. Over your shoulder
A) Hold your baby in an upright position against your chest, with her head resting on your shoulder. Gently pat and/or rub her back using a circular or up and down motion, with the heel of your free hand; or
B) Lay her over your shoulder. This allows you to position her so that your shoulder provides gentle pressure against her tummy. Hold her securely with one hand and pat or rub her back with the other.
2. On your knee
A) Sit your baby sideways on your knee. Support her head by placing your thumb and index finger under her jaw just below her ears. (Take care your hand is not pressing against her neck). Lean her forward slightly, resting her tummy against the heel of your hand. Gently pat and/or rub her back with your free hand; or
B) A slightly different method in this position would be to maintain your hold at her front (as described above) but at the same time support her back and neck with your other hand i.e. she's safely supported between your two hands. Then gently rock her back and forward or rock her in a large circular motion, moving her entire upper body from her hips.
3. Over your knee
Lay your baby face down over your crossed legs. Position her so that your upper leg provides gentle pressure to her tummy. Support her head with one hand and pat or rub her back with your other.
4. On your arm
Lay your baby face down along your forearm, with her head near your elbow and her arms hanging down either side of your arm. Your hand (of the arm she's laying on) supporting her diaper area. Her side is resting against your body. Once you feel you have a safe and secure hold of her, gently pat and/or rub her back with your free hand. (This method is only suitable for small babies.)
1. How can I tell if my baby needs to burp?
Your baby may stop feeding, squirm, fidget or fuss during or after feeding if she needs to burp. Contrary to popular belief babies generally do not cry because they need to burp (but they do cry for many other reasons). Swallowed air in a baby's tummy may provide a sensation of fullness, but it does not cause pain.
Babies cry for many reasons, most of which have nothing to do with physical discomfort (see crying baby). A newborn baby will automatically draw up her legs when she becomes distressed for any reason and this is not a clear sign of tummy pain.
2. Is it necessary to burp my baby?
This depends on your individual baby. Some babies swallow more air during feeding than others, so they may need burping more often. Bottle fed babies tend to swallow more air than breastfed babies. It is not always necessary to burp a breastfed baby, but his would depend on your individual baby. Bottle fed babies generally need burping. As a guide, try to burp your bottle fed baby mid way and at the end of her feed.
If your baby is swallowing a lot of air during feeding the reason may be that she's not latching-on to your breast deeply enough (see Breastfeeding basics for more on latch-on) or the bottle feeding nipple may not be suitable (see Feeding equipment for tips on choosing a feeding nipple) and/or she may be feeding too quickly (see How long should bottle feeding take?)
3. How long should I burp my baby for?
There is no set time frame to burp a baby and no set number of burps. Every baby is different. How long you would continue to try to burp your baby would depend on your baby's individual circumstances.
Parents generally spend too much time burping their baby rather than too little time. This may result in your baby being kept awake longer than she should, and in doing so increases the risk of her becoming over-tired. It can then become very difficult to tell if she is then crying because of gas (wind) or tiredness.
Your newborn baby will be ready for sleep very soon after feeding. It's important that you do not spend too long trying to burp her.
4. What if my baby doesn't burp?
It can be very difficult to get a 'sleepy baby' to burp! After feeding, if your baby is content but does not burp within 5 minutes of trying, there's no need to continue. She won't burp every time!
Some babies will cry if you stop during feeding to try to burp them because they want to continue feeding. If your baby is crying but does not burp within 1 or 2 minutes return to feeding.
5. If my baby doesn't burp will this cause any problems?
RARELY! Swallowed air may provide a feeling of fullness, which may mean your baby won't drink as much milk as she would otherwise, but the only downside to this is she will demand her next feed sooner. Sometimes a little or a lot of milk can come up with a burp. This is normal. (See gastro-esophageal reflux if your baby often spits up when she's not burping.)
Swallowing some air during feeding is unavoidable , so it's important to not 'stress out' over it. In most situations, swallowed air will cause your baby no discomfort whatsoever. The swallowed air will either be absorbed by her body or pass right through.
A baby's distress is commonly blamed on "trapped air, which causes colic". Swallowed air is not a reason for colic. Because distressed babies often swallow additional air as they cry, they frequently bring up a bubble or two after crying for long periods. This can be confusing for parents because it is easily mistaken as the reason for crying, when in reality it was simply a side effect of crying.
A small number of babies may experience discomfort from excessive gas hat is produced in their intestines, which is commonly coupled with frequent watery bowel movements. However, these symptoms which can be related to a number of different reasons such as: an immature digestive system; a digestive disorder; an inappropriate diet; or over-feeding, are not due to swallowed air. (See Infant gas for more information.)
6. Do colic/wind mixture help?
NOT MUCH! The side effects of colic/wind mixtures or medications may potentially create greater problems than the gas (wind) itself. Studies have shown that a small amount of sugar water is just as effective as may colic/wind mixtures in helping a baby to burp.
If you decide to use a colic/wind medication, it's important to avoid mixtures that contain a sedative or alcohol. These can appear to relieve your baby's gas, but in reality they do little more than sedate her. (If you are not sure what's in a colic/wind mixture or medication, ask your doctor or pharmacist.)
Far more effective than using mixtures or medications is to reduce the amount of air your baby swallows in the first place by ensuring a deep latch-on when breastfeeding (see Breastfeeding basics) or using a suitable feeding nipple and making sure your baby does not feed too quickly (see our section on bottle feeding).
Written by Rowena Bennett