As a first-time mom, I never fully realized the importance of burping a baby until my little one was screaming in pain. Babies have small tummies, and when they eat, they tend to swallow a lot of air, making them uncomfortably full.
Knowing how to burp a baby is essential to curb a possible stomach ache.
Burping a fragile infant is scary for any first-time parents. You need to position them correctly to support their head, but also know where to pat them to release the air. Don’t fear — we’re here with some guidance, helpful tips, and tricks.
Tips for Successful Burping
Before you get started on burping your baby, we have some tips you can follow. These are:
- Bring a cloth: Burping can lead to spit-ups, which can ruin your clothes. Always keep a burp cloth between you and your baby. It’s also a good idea to bring an extra to wipe off any milk that might’ve come up again.
- Focus on the left side: When burping, concentrate your actions on the left of the center of the back. Your little one’s tummy is around this area, so you’ll have a better chance of releasing the burp.
- Be firmer: This will depend on your baby. Some babies burp easily, while others require a firmer hand.
How to Burp a Baby — Four Ways
On Chest or Shoulder
This is one of two positions that I recommend to parents for more effective burping. The outer stomach muscles are more relaxed than they would be in a sitting position. This allows more air to be expelled from the stomach (1).
Editor's Note:Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP
1. Place Your Cloth
This method is straightforward, but you need to be especially careful when dealing with newborns. Place a cloth on the shoulder you’re planning to use. Make sure it protects your back too.
2. Place Baby
Then gently place your little one against your chest, resting their chin on your shoulder. If your baby is tiny, you can place them further down your chest for better support. This position may not be as successful, but it’s an excellent way to start if you’re feeling apprehensive.
3. Release the Burp
Use one hand to support them, while you softly rub or pat their back with the other.
Over 6 months
This is the second position that I find is most effective. Once again, the outer belly muscles are relaxed, and more air is released. The baby’s head can be turned to the side so that it rests against your lap.
Because your baby may spit up a bit more during a burp in this position, an extra cloth may be needed. There is no need to worry about the amount of milk that comes up. It is a lot less than it seems, and typically does not result in poor weight gain.
Editor's Note:Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP
1. Place the Cloth
Put your burp cloth across your lap. Try to position it so there’s some hanging over the side of your leg. Place one on the floor if you have carpets to protect.
2. Position Your Baby
Gently lay your little one face down across your lap, like a tray, aligned with your body.
Use your hand to turn your baby’s head to the side so that it rests against your leg.
If your infant is older than 6 months, you can position them a little further out onto your knees. This way, you’ll apply slight pressure to their stomach, which may help them burp.
In practice, most infants over the age of 6 months no longer need burping. They seem to do it on their own with normal infant activity and movement (i.e. rolling over, attempts to sit, belly time).
3. Pat Their Back
Pat or rub your baby’s back until they burp.
Once your baby has better head control, this is an alternative method you can try. Carry your baby by holding them in front of you, facing out, on your belly. Their back will be against your stomach.
Place one hand under their bottom, with the other across their stomach.
The arm across their tummy will work to apply slight pressure, helping to release the burp. Walk around the room in smooth, soothing movements to release the burp.
On Your Lap
1. Prep with Cloth or Bib
Depending on what you prefer, place a cloth over your lap, or a bib on your baby, or both. This way you’re ready to catch any spit-up.
2. Sit Your Baby Up
Place your baby sitting up on your lap, facing away from you or to the side. Position one hand so it supports their body, with your palm on their chest and fingers holding the jaw and chin. Make sure your fingers are not around or pressing on your baby’s throat.
3. Burp Your Baby
Once your baby and hand are in position, try to lean your little one slightly forward. Rub or pat their back with your other hand and wait for the burp.
Clinically, I find this position to be the least effective for producing a good burp. Surprisingly, it is a favorite of the nurses who care for newborns in the nursery. Because the baby’s belly is “crunched” in this sitting position, there is a lot of pressure internally on the stomach and intestines.
While some air may be released, much of it stays in the stomach, resulting in a cranky, fussy baby hours later. Every infant is different, but many of my parents who try this position complain of difficulty burping their baby.
Editor's Note:Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP
How to Burp a Sleeping Baby
Babies often nod off while eating. Whether they’re breastfeeding or being bottle-fed, sucking motions while filling their tummy is the best recipe for a baby’s sleep. It’s especially common during the night as their body is already telling them to sleep.
Still, even if your baby has fallen asleep, for some, it’s essential to burp them before laying them down. Burping your sleeping baby isn’t much different than burping them while awake. The tricky part, however, is not waking them — you must be slow and extra gentle.
Some positions are not ideal for burping a slumbering infant. Sitting them upright on your lap will be likely to wake them.
The best positions when your little one is asleep is on your chest or resting them on your forearm. By placing them on your chest, your baby will continue to be soothed by being close to your heart while you can rub their back to release the burp. If you’re sitting on a chair while nursing, you can try the face-down method, but it may be difficult laying them back down.
Why Burping Is Important
Burping your baby is one of the essential parts of early parenthood. Small babies are not self-sufficient yet, like older children and adults. They don’t have as much control over their bodies and need help releasing gas (2).
When your baby eats, it’s common for them to swallow a significant amount of air. The air then travels to the stomach where it creates air bubbles, filling your baby’s tummy. These air bubbles are likely to make your little one uncomfortable and give a feeling of fullness without finishing their meal.
As your baby is still hungry, but feeling uncomfortably full, they can become fussy, and even irritable. That’s why burping is an essential part of mealtime with babies.
Frequent burping isn’t needed with all babies. Some do fine with a little burping, once each meal. Others can require it after and during every meal — you’ll discover early on what’s best for your baby.
How Often Should Your Baby Burp?
The amount of burping a baby needs depends mainly on whether you’re bottle-feeding or breastfeeding. When breastfeeding, try to burp your baby every time you switch breasts. If your baby has swallowed excessive air, they’ll probably refuse to continue nursing.
Burping as you change breasts will enable your little one to complete their meal without feeling uncomfortable. Then once you’ve finished, burp them again. If your newborn is only managing one breast — halt mid-feed to burp.
With bottle-fed infants, whether on breast milk or formula, try to burp them at least once per feeding — do this about halfway through the feeding. If your baby gets fussy or is taking longer to finish, try to burp them more.
How Long Does Burping Take?
It depends on your baby and the burp, but typically, it will take one to two minutes. You may see that sometimes, the burp will come out as soon as you sit your baby up. Other times, you need more patience and a firmer hand to rub or pat their back.
If your little one often shows signs of stiffness and seems uncomfortable, consult your pediatrician. They may have excessive gas and require some additional help to relieve it.
It’s not unusual for babies with bad reflux, called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), to refuse sleep for as long as 30 minutes following a meal. This is different from normal “spit-ups” where the baby is happy. Painful acid reflux can be frustrating if your baby becomes agitated from tiredness. If you feel that your infant has symptoms of GERD, consult your pediatrician (4).
What If Your Baby Doesn’t Burp?
Often, there can be no burp to release. Some babies don’t swallow much air, while others will release the gas by having a bowel movement quickly after a feed. A normal amount of time to try burping is 10 to 15 minutes. As long as your little one is happy and content, don’t worry if the burp doesn’t come up.
If your baby has colic, you may feel uneasy if they don’t burp. But at least one study showed burping doesn’t necessarily improve colic (5). If they’re struggling, ask your doctor for other remedies — they may recommend gas drops or gripe water.
Colic, although difficult for parents, tends to resolve itself around the 3- to 4-month mark (6).
Burps Are a Baby’s Best Friend
Following or during a meal, some babies swallow a lot of air, leaving their tummies feeling uncomfortably full. Knowing when to burp your baby is essential. You have plenty of methods for burping, so use one you feel comfortable with.
For some babies, the burp will emerge as soon as you sit them upright. For others, it takes a bit longer and requires more rubbing or patting.
If your baby doesn’t burp, don’t stress — perhaps they don’t need to. Always consult your pediatrician if you have any doubts or your baby seems unusually fussy or uncomfortable.