Learn the Best Way to Burp a Baby
What’s funny about this title is that there really is no correct way to burp your infant. As every baby is an individual, so will be the way that you help them relieve their gas. I have been watching children for over fifteen years now, with at least half of them starting as newborns. I have yet to find two babies that do anything exactly alike.
Just as each baby wants to be held differently and for different periods of time, eat something different in a different way from a different receptacle, and even wants his or her diaper changed differently, it’s no wonder that something as simple as burping also has to be individual.
Interestingly enough, in many countries, babies are not “burped.” The belief that babies needed burping after feedings, or help with getting rid of excess gas, originated with the introduction of baby formula and bottle-feeding in the United States. The faster flow of milk from bottle nipples forces babies to gulp air in between closely-spaced swallows.
Breastfeeding infants tend to have fewer problems, if any at all, with air in their tummies. When breastfeeding, they can control the flow of milk at the breast by themselves, and so they suck with a slower rhythm that allows them to better coordinate breathing and swallowing. Yet, even breastfed babies need to be burped occasionally, especially if the mother has a strong milk ejection reflex. (Ask Dr. Sears)
In this article, I intend to give you a variety of ways to “correctly” burp an infant, so that you can find the way that works best for your little one if he or she even needs it.
Why Is Burping So Important?
When babies drink from bottles, they tend to swallow air along with their formula. This might be due to a lack of suction between the baby’s lips and the plastic nipple, there may not have been a constant flow of liquid to the baby’s mouth allowing for the baby to suck in air out of the bottle, or he may have simply been drinking too fast creating his own air bubbles as he drank.
Sometimes the “air” in a little one’s tummy may simply be gas. This can happen from eating too much, eating too fast, or even the formula not agreeing with them. Just like in your body, in any of these situations, their stomach will create gas to alleviate some of the pressure caused by stomach acids. Either way, when their little tummies fill up with air or gas, it can lead to spitting up, crankiness, and gassiness.
Burping releases this air trapped in your infant's stomach, making him more comfortable and less fussy. And it also frees up room in your baby's tummy so they can settle in and feed longer. Burping (along with smaller, more frequent meals) can be beneficial for babies who spit up often, have a lot of gas problems, or have symptoms of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). (Baby Center)
That said, there's no rule that all babies have to burp during or after every feeding. Some babies burp a lot due to a great deal of gas production, while others rarely need to at all.
How Do I Know When I Need to Burp My Infant?
Normally, babies only need to be burped during or after feedings. If your little one seems fussy at any other time during the day, there’s probably something else going on. Stomach gurgles, bowel movements, and farting throughout the day are perfectly normal and should happen all on their own without any assistance from you.
If your little one seems fussy, like he doesn’t want to eat when it’s normal feeding time, this probably means it’s a good time for a burp. He might show that he’s uncomfortable by squirming, pulling away, pushing the nipple out of his mouth, or even crying. These are the same signs of being full, which might be the case as well. Regardless, you’ll want to try burping. (Baby Center)
In order to do this gently, encourage the nipple out of your little one’s mouth to stop the feeding session temporarily, burp your baby, and then begin feeding again. Try burping your baby halfway through your feeding if you bottle-feed, and each time you switch breasts if you breastfeed.
However, if your baby tends to be extra gassy, spits up a lot, or has reflux, try burping every ounce during bottle-feeding or every 5 minutes during breastfeeding. If it doesn’t work after a few minutes, you may try to change the baby’s position and try burping for another few minutes before feeding again. Always burp your infant until you get a good burp or two at the end of the feeding session or you’ll have a cranky baby, who seems to cry for no reason, on your hands. (Kids’ Health)
If you’ve given burping a pretty good shot and still don’t have any results (10 minutes or so), they may simply not need to burp or not be ready. By 4 to 6 months old, many babies have outgrown needing to be burped altogether, and they can do this on their own. By that time, they've become more efficient eaters and don't swallow as much air.
How Do I Burp a Baby Correctly?
I know it can seem like you’re the only one struggling with burping your little one. Every other parent simply has to pat their little one on the back a couple of times and all’s well. Truly, most infants are extremely difficult to burp, and learning the right way to help your little one is not nearly as straightforward as you might have thought it would be.
However, if there is air in your baby's stomach and you don't help it up, it can be forced to exit the other way, which may be very uncomfortable for your little tooter. Though the over the shoulder back-patting method that we all know so commonly is an effective way to relieve newborn gas for some babies, there are many more ways you can try if this method doesn't seem to be working.
Each possible burping position is going to be just as individual as your little one is from all other babies. Where one baby might like to be put over your shoulder, another will only burp for you laid across your lap. As you get to know your baby and his or her different personality, you’ll probably want to try a variety of burping positions to find the one that is just right.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get the results you are looking for within the first couple of minutes. Try another position for a few minutes. Regardless of the position you use, eventually, you will be successful. Before trying any burping position though, make sure that you protect any area in the “spit up zone” with a cloth to protect your clothes, and/or your carpet, from spit-up. Let’s look at all of the options you have to choose from.
Against Your Chest
This is one of the most traditional burping positions. In order to do this, hold your baby against your chest so just their chin is resting on your shoulder. Support their back and bottom with one hand, and gently pat or rub their back with the other. You even have different options for hand motions to get your little one to burp. See below for these options.
On Your Shoulder
Another method is to hold your baby farther up on your shoulder, high enough that your shoulder presses lightly on their belly, creating gentle pressure on their tummy. Support their bottom and back with one hand and gently pat or rub their back with the other.
If you choose to try this position, make sure your little one isn't slumped over too far. If their arms are over your shoulder as well, they should be perfectly positioned. This position may work better when your baby has a little more head and neck control.
Sitting on Your Lap
This position is probably one of the easiest because your baby is likely already leaned back in one of your arms to feed. In order to do this, simply sit baby upright on one of your legs. Use one hand to support their body, with the palm of your hand supporting his chest while your fingers gently support their chin and jaw.
(Make sure you're not putting your fingers around their throat.) Lean your baby slightly forward and gently pat or rub their back with your other hand. Before trying this burping position, you may want to put a cloth bib on your baby or put a cloth over your lap to catch any spit-up. (I promise this only happens once before you remember that burp cloth.)
Laying Face Down on Your Lap
This is one of the more unconventional positions, but is the only one that works for some babies. To do this, simply lay your baby face down on your legs so their feet are against your stomach and their face is just barely off the end of your knees. (It’s okay if you need to bend their legs a little to fit on your lap.)
Make sure your baby's head isn't lower than the rest of their body, so blood doesn't rush to the head.
Laying Across Your Lap
This position is very similar to the previous one, except that you lay your baby face down on your legs so they're lying across your knees, perpendicular to your body. their head should just slightly peek over the side of your leg.
Make sure your infant's head isn't lower than the rest of their body, so blood doesn't rush to their head. You really don’t need to support them in any way with this position. Just make sure she’s not going to fall off of your lap as you are burping.
Laying on Your Arm
In this position, you would simply lay your baby’s body completely on your arm, with their head right next to your elbow, their chest and belly across your forearm, and your hand holding their legs.
You should be able to walk around in this position, holding baby completely on your arm. From here, it’s easy to pat or rub their back.
Facing Away From You Over Your Arm
In this position, baby is essentially sitting on your stomach. Start by turning your little one around in your arms so their back is against your chest. Loop one arm around their body so your palm is against their chest and your hand is holding under their opposite arm.
With their rear end on your stomach, you can bend them over your arm so that you have access to pat or rub their back.
Finally, there’s one more position you can try. Sometimes babies need help not only getting air out the top end, but also out the bottom. The knee-chest position helps baby pass excess gas.
To do this, try laying your baby on their back either on the floor or in your lap and flexing their knees up to her chest. Sometimes this position will help. to push the gas out, if not out through the top, then out the bottom.
If you have tried burping your little one for a little while to no avail, try pulling them up to stand up straight in your lap. Stretching their body out after trying to burp them will usually pull that burp right out.
Along with all of the different positions that you can lay or hold your baby to burp them, there are several methods for patting or rubbing that will also help your baby in different ways to get the gas out. I know you think that you’re simply supposed to pat them on the back to help with their gas, but that isn’t always the best method, and won’t work for every baby.
So many people think they need to pat really hard to do the job. However, repeated GENTLE patting on their back should do the trick. There's no need to pound hard, and you’re really shaking their body as you’re “patting” her back, there are other concerns with them being “shaken.” You’ll really want to check out my article on Shaken Baby Syndrome for more info on that. It doesn’t take much.
Patting too hard may also simply create more bubbles in their system, just making the problem worse. You’ll also want to remember to prevent messy cleanups when burping by covering any potential disaster zones with a towel or a burp cloth. Sometimes your baby may spit up or have a "wet burp" and you’ll wish you had remembered to place a towel or bib under your baby's chin or on your shoulder.
A little known fact is that you don’t actually have to pat your little one’s back to burp her. Try rubbing upwards on the left side of their back (where their stomach is) using the heel of your palm. This hand motion will work in just about every position you can use above to burp your little one. The rubbing, from the bottom upwards, will literally push the gas right up and out of ther\m. This method is great because you don’t have to worry about patting too hard or creating more bubbles.
Along with patting and rubbing, you can try a gentle circle motion on their back. Sometimes this movement is all your little one needs to move the gas along in their body and get it moving out of their body. The idea is to stimulate the insides of their body to do their job.
Another hand motion you can try is for their front. Try massaging her tummy in a backward C motion (not a circle) so that you trace the colon: left to right, down and then right to left. This literal backwards C will accomplish the same thing as rubbing their back left side. You are helping her body work like it’s supposed to by literally tracing the gas right out of their body. This little encouragement on your part might be just what they need.
Other Burping Options
Burping your infant doesn’t have to follow the rules. Although there are a variety of “traditional” positions to choose from, and even several hand motions, if none of them work for you, this is your baby, and you can do it your own way.
For those mothers (or their babies) that need something a little bit different to work out the gas, and keep burping tensions low, there are so many other great options for you to try. Or you can even come up with your own!
Dance It Out
Turn on some fun music and move to the beat with your little one in your arms. Sometimes the side to side, back and forth, and/or up and down motions you make when grooving to the music are exactly what your baby needs to work out those air bubbles. This is a much more fun way to get your baby to burp than many of the more traditional methods, and it’s great for bonding with your baby as well.
Bounce It Out
If you have a medium to large exercise ball, break it out! You're finally going to get some use out of that thing! You may learn some of these moves in your Baby and Me exercise class, but the movements of bouncing together on the exercise ball will actually help the digestion and gas expulsion your baby so direly needs. Basically, just hold you little one in your arms, sit down on the ball with your legs apart, to give you better balance, and bounce gently up and down on the ball. Every time you bounce, your little one is getting some pressure applied (through sheer gravity) to his stomach and intestines, which is slowly working air bubbles down and out of his system. Voila!
Massage It Out
For this technique lay your little one down on the floor on their stomach, or on some sort of incline so that their head is just higher than the rest of their body. Place one of your hands at the base of their spine across her hips. Then gently, without using too much pressure, slide your hand up your infant's back until you reach their shoulder blades. Be careful not to put pressure on their neck as they are fragile and you wouldn’t want to endanger them. Place your other hand at the base of their spine while your first hand is still sliding up, and then begin sliding the second one up when the first one reaches their shoulder blades. This creates a kind of "water wheel" effect and can be very effective for some babies.
Rock It Out
A swing, a rocking chair, and even a front porch rocking bench could provide you the necessary movements needed to help your little one burp. Just as bouncing was compressing their stomach and intestines down every time you bounced, rocking will do the same thing but the other direction. Holding your little one to your chest, just rock back and forth, and gravity will naturally put pressure front and back on your baby’s stomach each time you rock. It’s as easy as that!
Wait Out the Burp
If you have this kind of baby, you know it and don’t need an explanation; one that seems incapable of burping regardless of what you do. You pat and pat, bounce, jiggle and dance away with no results. Then when you give up and lay them down they scream bloody murder until you finally just pick them up again. Eventually, on their own, after tons of stress and anxiety on both your parts, they finally burp, but not until after at least a couple hours of discomfort, whining, and possibly even crying.
Some babies just will not respond to any amount or type of burp-producing trick. In fact the best way to get them to release her bubbles, is to give them some time. Tummy time is best, unless they are asleep. If they are asleep, I recommend wearing your baby in a nice snug wrap until you hear the magical belch of freedom.
If nothing seems to be working for you, no biggie. They are just one of those babies that will always do it on their own. You may have a few months of burping anxiety, but after 4 to 6 months, they'd have been doing it on their own anyway. There’s no need to keep stressing out. Just realize that your baby is already exerting their independence.
Preventing gas problems for your baby can be hard, especially at first when they are so small and delicate, but with effective burping, that gas will be well on its way out of your infant’s body. It is good to keep in mind that over the first couple of years your baby's burping habits will change, they may get more difficult or may vanish entirely. So if what you have been doing suddenly doesn't work anymore, just keep trying something new. (Kids’ Health)
I think the key here is to have patience, try a few new things until you find out what works for you and your little one, and in the end, just know that it will eventually work its way out on its own. Gas may be uncomfortable and cause a tummy ache, but it will do no lasting damage. Gas is just a normal way of life, and eventually, your little one won’t need your help at all. Your assistance at such a fragile time in their lives is just helping them to be a little more comfortable in the meantime.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.