How to Burp a Baby
When you’re a parent of an infant, there are few things as deeply satisfying as the sound of baby’s burp. After a good minute or so of back patting, the tiny fellow in your arms suddenly lets out a deep, outsize belch—ah, the sound of accomplishment! Music to your ears. Sure, it’s embarrassing when one slips out of you, but for babies it’s among the most important things they need help with on a regular basis. Wondering why you should burp a baby—and more importantly, how to burp baby? We asked experts and real moms to share their best baby burping techniques as well as helpful guidelines for when to start and stop burping a baby.
Burping a baby helps him get rid of any air he swallowed during feeding, and keeps him from spitting up and becoming cranky and gassy. In other words, burping a baby benefits you just as much as it does him.
So how do you know when baby has swallowed extra air and needs to be burped? If your little one stops feeding, starts squirming and becomes fussy during or shortly after a feeding, it’s a good sign some baby burping is in order. When this happens, pause the feeding and try to burp baby, rather than let her fuss and feed at the same time. “Continued fussing will cause her to swallow even more air, which will only increase her discomfort and may make her spit up,” the American Academy of Pediatrics says.
How often you burp baby largely depends on her. “It depends on how much air baby tends to swallow while feeding,” says Helen Anderson, RN, CLE, a nurse and lactation educator in Bellingham, Washington. “Some babies need to be burped during every feeding, and others don’t need it that often.” Breastfed babies can swallow air too, though they tend to swallow less air than bottle-fed babies, Anderson says. If baby often seems upset after feeding, burp her frequently.
Depending on your child’s needs, you can follow this general rule of thumb: Babies should be burped after every 10 minutes of feeding, no matter if it’s by breast or bottle—which equals to about halfway through and at the end of a bottle, or after nursing on each breast, says Danelle Fisher, MD, FAAP, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
For Veronica Duckett, mom to a 10-month-old, it took some time before she realized she needed to be burping baby more often than she thought. “Our little one has always been gassy, and I now know to burp him right after a feeding,” she says. “Especially when he passes out after his last feeding, I know I need to get the gas out or he will wake up within the hour of setting him down.” Her trick for how to burp a sleeping baby? She holds him upright, gently bouncing and rocking him while rubbing his back. “It’s a literal pain, since he’s dead weight in my arms, but once I hear those two giant burps, I know he’s going to sleep well.”
If you’re wondering how to burp a baby that’s actually awake, know that there isn’t one best way to burp a baby—you’ve got a few more tried-and-true ways to choose from, Tanya Altmann, MD, a pediatrician in Calabasas, California, says in her book Mommy Calls. Her top three methods for how to burp a baby include:
• Sitting on your lap. Sit baby on your lap facing away from you, lean his weight slightly forward against one of your hands (making sure to support his chest and head) and gently pat his back.
• On your shoulder. Drape baby over your shoulder and gently pat and rub her back.
• Face down on your lap. Lay him tummy-side down over your lap with his head turned to one side. Steady baby with one hand, and gently pat and rub his back with the other.
In addition to these baby burping positions, you can also try carefully rotating baby’s body to help release some of the trapped gas: Sit baby on your lap with her facing away from you, supporting her head with one hand and her back with the other, and slowly move her torso in a circular motion.
Still, many moms have come up with their own variations as to how to burp a baby. As Yvonne Jones, mom of a 2- and 7-year-old, says, “The secret insider tip to burping a baby is twofold: relaxation and gentle pressure. First, hold him high enough so the upper belly is right against your shoulder, creating gentle pressure. Second, get him to relax by rubbing his back in a slow, circular motion, gently at first, and if need be, slightly increase the pressure until he burps,” she says. “Works every time.”
When burping a baby, it’s a smart idea to place a burp cloth over your shoulder or lap to protect your clothes and keep messes in check. “Spit-up and undigested milk often accompany the gas as it comes up and out,” Anderson says.
If you just can’t get baby to burp, consider switching up your baby burping techniques. If, say, sitting baby in your lap while supporting her chest and head isn’t working, change positions.
“Make sure you’re slightly cupping your hand as you pat baby’s back and aim between the shoulder blades,” Fisher says. “If you’ve been at it for five minutes and nothing comes up, then it’s okay to stop burping a baby.” Sometimes, if baby won’t burp, it’s because baby just can’t get a burp out or he just doesn’t have to.
It may seem like an endless cycle of feeding and burping for the first several months, but eventually you will be able to stop burping baby and he’ll happily finish his meal just fine on his own. This milestone typically occurs when baby is between 6 and 9 months old. “When baby can sit up well by himself, it’s okay to stop burping,” Fisher says.
That said, every baby is different, and some may need to be burped for longer than others. Pay attention to baby’s behavior for cues. “You should keep burping a baby as long as she seems fussy after feeding,” Anderson says.
Updated August 2017
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.