When you have a colicky baby, you know what it’s like to spend hours pacing the room trying to soothe that tiny crying bundle draped over your shoulder.
The pediatrician will tell you your child needs to be burped. So you’ll pat your newborn’s back until your hand aches, trying anything to give your colicky baby some relief. But what’s a parent to do when the baby won’t burp?
Read on to learn more about burping a baby, as well as a handful of tips that may make your life more peaceful.
Why do babies burp?
The best analogy for burping is to compare it to a can of soda with carbon dioxide gas trapped at the bottom. To release the bubbles from the can, you have to tap the can until the “fizz” wafts through the opened slot. For a baby, he or she swallows air as they drink, where it becomes trapped in their stomach.
Why do babies need to be burped?
Because babies have an underdeveloped sphincter in their esophagus, it stops them from burping up the air by themselves. If someone doesn’t do it for them, the gas travels into the intestines, causing belly discomfort. You should burp a baby during, or after, every feeding to release that air.
How a baby gets gas
There are three main ways babies get gas in their stomachs:
1. Swallowing Air
This happens when your baby eats too fast: either the milk rushes through the bottle or the baby is hungry and swallows very fast. Babies also tend to swallow more air if a breastfeeding mama has a lot of milk. The baby will swallow quickly to handle the increased flow, gulping air as a result. If a fast letdown of a lot of milk could be the issue, you can try different breastfeeding positions to nurse more slowly or try providing smaller feedings and burping more frequently. Other ways to help baby swallow less air include:
- Sitting baby upright in your arms when breast or bottle feeding.
- Using a nipple that’s designed to obstruct excess air (more on that later).
- Holding the bottle in a way that lets less air into the nipple.
- Making sure the formula is warm enough for comfortable tasting.
- Giving baby a warm bath.
- Giving baby a massage to help the gas move through their body.
The food that mama eats is passed into her breast milk, so baby essentially “consumes” this same food. Bacteria in the baby’s intestine turns some food into gas, which then passes out through your baby’s mouth or rear end. Foods that usually cause gas in adults will also cause gas in babies. Culprits include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and beans. Soda, sugar-free candies, and gum may also cause gas.
3. Allergic Reactions or Food Intolerance
If you are breastfeeding, your baby may also have a sensitivity to some of the food you eat and feel belly pain as a result. The most common food reaction in babies is a dairy intolerance, particularly from ice cream, cheese, or yogurt that mom has eaten, says Dr. Shalini Forbis, a pediatrician and a Dr. Mom Squad blogger for Dayton Children’s Hospital in Ohio. Babies who are formula fed may also experience a similar intolerance, which creates more gas.
When should you burp a baby?
The best time to burp a baby is every so often during a feeding, as well as post feeding, to release that gas. If you’re breastfeeding, burp your baby when you switch breasts during the feeding. If you’re bottle feeding, burp your baby after each ounce (30 mL) or two (60 mL) of fluid. Whether breast or bottle feeding, be sure to burp your baby when he’s finished eating. If baby has problems with gas, is colicky, or spits up, you may want to burp them even more frequently.
Do you burp babies after breastfeeding?
That said, not all babies need to be burped. Though babies with reflux or colic may need regular burping, others have no issues with gas and can fall asleep at the breast or bottle with ease. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breastfed babies tend to need less burping because they take in less air than bottle feeders. A 2015 study published in Child: Care, Health, and Development, explains that burping may actually not be needed in babies and could potentially cause more spit up.
What age do you stop burping a baby?
After two months, your baby is more likely to burp readily on their own. Babies around four to six months old have more robust neck and stomach muscles which stops them from swallowing as much air. That said, if baby is nitpicky and gassy, continue burping and using other gas-relief options, or see a pediatrician.
How to burp a baby: 13 ways to successful burping
Burping is simple—for the most part. Place the baby in an upright position, such as over your shoulder, or lying over your lap while you gently rub or pat their back. Not all babies burp when you do this. If your baby doesn’t burp, wait a few minutes, then try again. If your child is restless and all else fails, here are 13 ways to get your baby to burp:
- Over-the-shoulder burp: Place your baby with their upper belly against your collarbone. Apply slight pressure with your collarbone while patting their back, or use the heel of your hand to gently rub circles on their back.
- Over-the-lap burp: Sit the baby on your lap and, while placing the heel of your hand under their ribcage, apply slight pressure and pat their back or rub circles with your free hand.
- Over-the-arm burp: Sling baby over your arm and gently pat their back as you pace the room.
- Over-the-hand burp: Sit the baby on your lap and place the heel of your hand against their tummy, with their chin resting on the top of your hand. Lean baby forward and pat their back.
- Over-the-knee burp: Place your baby stomach-down over your knee and gently pat their back.
- Knee-to-chest burp: Bend the baby’s knees up against their chest and rub or pat their back.
- Grandmother’s burp: Sit the baby on your lap with the heel of one hand pressed into their stomach and your fingers on either side of their chin to support the baby’s head. Run your thumb and forefinger up the baby’s spine.
- The ‘old-school’ burp: Hold the baby in your lap and bend them slightly forward at the waist. As you pat or rub your baby’s back, slowly and gently rotate their body back and forth from the waist, much like if the baby were doing a pre-aerobic warm-up exercise. Do this in each direction, front, back, and sides.
- Dance out the burp: Hold baby securely between your two hands, in a sitting position on your knee, rock the top half of they baby’s body gently left to right, and back, in a rhythmic repetitive motion. Gently bounce your knee as you do so.
- Bounce out the burp: This burping method works best using an exercise ball. Hold your baby close to your chest, with one hand on their rear and the other supporting the baby’s neck and head. Then securely sit on your exercise ball and gently bounce up and down.
- Massage out the burp: Lay the baby stomach-down with their head tilted to one side on a slight incline. Place gentle pressure on baby’s spine and gently slide one hand up your baby’s back until you reach the shoulder blades. Place your other hand at the base of your baby’s spine as you massage.
- Bicycling: Gently cycle baby’s legs toward their chest, like pedaling a bicycle, while they lie on their back.
Sling burping: Place baby upright against your chest and wear him or her in a sling until the air comes up. You can do your errands or walk around at the same time—the rhythmic bouncing may help the gas escape.
What to do when baby won’t burp
What do you do if you’ve tried all the positions above and your baby is still uncomfortable but won’t burp? It may be time to look into changing some of the possible causes of your baby’s discomfort to see if that might help.
- Mom’s diet: For those mom’s that breastfeed, as mentioned above, your diet may be the offender. Try keeping a food diary to see what you eat when your baby is most uncomfortable, then try eliminating that food from your diet and see if there is a difference. You can also try eliminating dairy, such as milk, cheese, and ice cream, to see if that helps your baby at all.
- Formula: Mixing powdered formula into water is often done by shaking, which incorporates tiny air bubbles into the mix. Try swirling the formula into the water to minimize air bubbles or letting the formula rest after shaking, which releases air bubbles. You could also try using pre-mixed formula—just make sure to consult with your pediatrician if you are thinking about changing formula.
- Nipples: Nipple options span all baby-appropriate ages (preemie, newborn, 3-6 months, 6+ months, etc.). A nipple too big for a baby can cause them to swallow too quickly, letting air in as they try to keep up with the large flow. Choose the right size for your baby for the most comfortable feeding.
- Bottles: Some baby bottles are shaped to harbor as little air as possible. Others have disposable liners, vents, or straw-like systems that keep bubbles from getting into the baby’s system as they drink.
- Over-the-counter medicine: Simethicone gas drops such as Mylicon or Little Tummys gas relief drops are some possible options to try for a baby suffering from gas, however a study has shown gas drops to be no more effective than a sweet-flavored placebo.
- Gripe water: This remedy often includes a combination of stomach-calming herbs such as chamomile, dill, ginger, or peppermint. Some versions also contain sodium bicarbonate. Make sure to choose an alcohol- and sugar-free version, and to be careful with dosing if it contains sodium bicarbonate.
Why do babies spit up?
Your baby loves surprising you! Sometimes expelling gas from a baby is as simple as a burp, but other times there might be curdled milk particles, or “spit up,” that comes with it. In the case of a baby who spits up, it’s usually more uncomfortable for you than for than for the baby, so you’ll want to lay your baby on a baby burp cloth over your shoulder as you gently burp them.
If your baby seems to be spitting up a lot or too often, it could indicate gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is a digestive disorder that affects the lower esophageal sphincter and causes indigestion. A visit to your pediatrician can diagnose this, and fixing the issue could be as simple as changing your diet if you are breastfeeding.
Why do babies get hiccups?
Hiccups are another sound you are likely to hear from your infant. These are often caused by excess gas and an immature digestive system. Babies who are colicky or have reflux are also more likely to have hiccups. Along with feeding changes, burping can sometimes help alleviate hiccups by allowing excess gas to escape.
What happens if you don’t burp a baby?
So your baby fell asleep before you could give her a good pat on the back? Good news: burping a baby can help relieve excess gas, but not all babies need to be burped. In general, breastfed babies tend to swallow less air and, therefore, may not need to be burped after every feeding. If your baby sleeps comfortably without burping after nursing, consider yourself lucky! If your baby is extra fussy or squirmy after feedings, she may have excess gas and could benefit from being burped.
How about you?
Have you discovered other effective ways to burp a baby? What works best for your newborn?