Learning how to burp a baby is a crucial skill for new parents. In reality, it’s nothing like what you see on TV, where the actors (who are too rested, clean-shaven, and nicely dressed to be real newborn parents) put the baby on a shoulder, pat him a few times, and go on with their day.
In reality, it takes a little more technique and a lot more patience to burp a baby successfully.
Early and often, especially with babies that are fussy or have reflux. One common misconception is that you should only burp a baby after he or she’s finished eating. You’ve probably learned the hard way just how wrong this is. As a rule, you should at least try to burp your baby halfway through the feeding. If your baby spits up a lot, divide feedings into thirds. You may not get a burp every time, but you should give your baby a chance to do it. Look for these warning signs that your baby needs to burp:
- Your baby stops eating or starts gurgling the milk.
- He/she squirms or twists as if uncomfortable
- You hear bubbling or rumbling sounds from your infant’s belly
If you notice any of these, stop feeding and offer your baby a burp.
The classic burping technique is to put the baby on your shoulder and gently pat his back. You should be aiming for the middle of the back, opposite the sternum. Not low on the kidneys, not high on the shoulders. You shouldn’t apply a lot of force, especially if you’re trying to burp a newborn. All you’re trying to do is loosen the bubbles of air in baby’s belly; you don’t have to physically push them up and out. If there’s an audible slap when you make contact, it’s probably too hard.
Just a warning, your baby might spit up. Occasionally there can be some spit-up when you go to burp a baby on your shoulder. This is normal, but plan accordingly – wear old clothes, or lay a burp cloth on your shoulder where the baby’s face will be.
Some babies have trouble burping in upright position on your shoulder. Another position I like to try is having the baby sit up, either on your lap or on a hard surface. A diaper changing table is perfect for this. Make sure that you support your baby, since they can’t sit up on their own at this point. Sit him at a comfortable 90 degree angle and pat the back gently.
Your infant might dislike this position, especially if he feels insecure. If this is the case, try it on your lap first and keep him close to you. Sometimes the sitting position gets a burp when the upright shoulder one does not; sometimes it’s the other way around. The important thing is to try different positions when you know that your baby needs to burp.
If your baby has trouble burping, you might have to get creative.
- Instead of patting the baby’s back, you can try rubbing upward on his back, in the direction you want the bubbles to go.
- You might also put the baby on your shoulder and move around a little. Often we get the stubborn burp out when carrying a baby up or down stairs; the bobbing motion seems to help.
- I’ve also gotten a burp by putting the baby down on his back for a minute, and then picking him up again. Just don’t move or jiggle the baby too much, or he might spit up.
- As they get older, some babies can sort of burp on their own if you support them in a sitting position for a few minutes.
Whatever happens, you should find something that works for your baby and stick to it.
Babies take most of their food in liquid form (breast milk or formula). They tend to ingest some air when drinking or even spoon-feeding, and they’re usually unable to relieve that pressure by belching on their own. Trust me, it’s better to get this gas up and out the way it came in. Bubbles in the tummy are often the reason that a baby won’t sleep. If air bubbles get into the digestive tract, your baby can be painfully uncomfortable for hours. So help your baby out, and give him a little pat on the back. He’ll sleep better for it.
If you have a gassy or fussy baby, see our article on 5 things to do when baby has gas.
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