When gas bubbles get stuck in your baby's stomach, they can cause a feeling of fullness and discomfort. Burping helps release these gas bubbles up the esophagus and out of the mouth. "Gas is air that gets trapped in the gastrointestinal system and needs to be released," explains Shalini Forbis, M.D., a pediatrician and a Dr. Mom Squad blogger for Dayton Children's Hospital in Ohio.
Looking for the best way to get the job done? Check out our expert-approved guide to learn how to burp a baby properly.
Why Do Newborns Need Burping?
Babies usually need to burp when they take in air while eating, which makes them feel full too fast. "This happens more often with bottle-fed babies, who tend to eat faster," says Erika Landau, M.D., a pediatrician in New York City and coauthor of The Essential Guide to Baby's First Year. "But breastfed babies swallow some air as well, especially if the mother has a lot of milk or has a fast letdown, or if the baby is very hungry and wants to eat fast."
Gas may also be caused by the breakdown of certain foods in the large intestine by bacteria. This includes the food that the baby consumes, as well as food the mother consumes and passes on through breast milk. Some of the most common offenders are beans, vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts), sugar-free candies and gum, and soda and fruit drinks.
Finally, if a baby has an intolerance to certain foods (like their formula or something from Mom's diet), their body may react by creating more gas. Dairy intolerance is the most common culprit here, says Dr. Forbis.
When to Burp Your Baby
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends burping your baby regularly, even if they don't show discomfort or release any gas when you burp them. "We do not know how much air gets in their little stomachs, so it's a good idea to burp babies even if they do not get to the fussy stage," recommends Dr. Landau.
Wondering how often to burp a newborn during feeding? Try fitting it in naturally, experts say. If you're nursing, for example, burp before switching breasts. Bottle-feeding parents can burp between every 2 to 3 ounces for newborns up to about 6 months old. Burp your newborn after they're done feeding too.
While a few babies need to be burped more frequently, many parents make the mistake of disrupting feedings with unnecessary attempts at burping. This prolongs the feeding time, which frustrates a hungry baby and increases air swallowing.
How to Burp a Baby
There are three common burping positions: over your shoulder, sitting on your lap, or face-down on your lap. Choose the one that's most comfortable and effective for getting burps out of your baby. Whichever position you choose, though, have a burp cloth by your baby's mouth to catch any spit-up.
Over Your Shoulder: Stand or sit comfortably, slightly reclining, and hold your baby under their bottom for support. Make sure they're facing behind you, looking over your shoulder, with their chin resting on a soft cloth to absorb any spit-up from a burp. Tap or rub the fingertips of your free hand across your baby's shoulder blades. They may move back and forth a bit; this won't hurt as long as your shoulder supports their head.
Sitting on Your Lap: Place your baby sideways on your lap, with their chest leaning slightly forward. Position your hand under their chin (not their throat) to support their chest and head. Pat their back across the shoulder blades to burp them.
Face-Down on Your Lap: Lay your baby across your knees on their belly, with their head slightly higher than the rest of their body, and firmly rub and pat their back.
When burping, "pat your baby on the back, gently, for a minute or so," explains Dr. Forbis. "If your baby is fussy and hasn't burped yet, you may want to try burping, then stop and let them lie on your lap for a minute and then try burping again." Changing your baby's positions can help move those gas bubbles to a better position to be released. Be patient: It can take four or five minutes to coax out a burp.
Note that to prevent gas bubbles, newborns may need to stop feeding several times to burp. Start by burping every time you switch breasts if nursing, or every 2 or 3 ounces if you're using a bottle. Also, the instructions for how to burp a sleeping baby are the same as burping an awake baby—simply use more gentle motions.
When to Stop Burping Your Baby
There's no definitive age to stop burping your baby, but as your little bundle gets older and their digestive system becomes more mature, burping will become less of a necessity, says Dr. Landau. You'll likely see this change around 4 to 6 months, when your baby starts eating solid food. That said, if you still notice your baby is gassy, continue with burping and other gas-relief techniques until you feel they aren't needed.
Other Tips for Relieving Gas in Babies
If burping doesn't seem to relieve your baby's discomfort, try other positions and techniques to get the gas moving. "Parents can help by giving an infant massage or pushing the legs back and forth when the baby lies on their back—bicycling," suggests Dr. Landau. "Letting the baby be on her stomach while she is awake can help as well."
You can also try examining the cause of the excess gas. For example, if you're breastfeeding, something in your diet could cause your baby's discomfort. "Everyone is different, but one of the most common culprits for gassiness is dairy—milk, cheese, ice cream," says Leigh Anne O'Connor, a New York lactation consultant.
Other solutions include letting the bottle settle a bit before feeding your baby (shaking adds lots of air to the formula) and choosing an age-appropriate nipple. Finally, you can switch to a bottle style designed to decrease the amount of air in the bottle. If nothing seems to bring gas relief, there are over-the-counter medicines that parents can try (with a doctor's approval, of course).
Remember that burps and spit-up are completely normal, but projectile vomiting is not. If your baby is violently vomiting up large amounts after feedings, contact your pediatrician to look for other causes. Normally, gassiness shouldn't come with additional symptoms. "If your baby has a temperature over 100.4 degrees F, diarrhea, bloody stools, or is so fussy that they can't be settled down," the burping may be a sign of something else going on, Dr. Forbis says.