Do You Need to Burp Your Baby after Feeding?

October 3, 2021
Burping the baby is one of the techniques that all new parents learn to help their newborn get rid of gas. If you're a first-timer, the information in this article will be very useful.

Feeding the baby correctly is one of the biggest concerns of new parents. It’s difficult at first because of tricky issues that they don’t know how to deal with, such as burping and gas. Indeed, during the first six months of life, babies build up gases all the time, and it can often help if you burp your baby.

However, often the issue persists, and this is when concerns arise as to how to deal with it. What causes gas in babies? Is it possible that they have some medical issue or illness? Does burping the baby really help?

What causes gas in babies?

A baby suckling at its mother's breast.
Burping your baby helps relieve the discomfort caused by the buildup of gas.

The first thing you need to know is that gas in babies is unavoidable. It’s something that happens due to their feeding behavior in the first weeks of life and their developing internal organs. Gas is generated, in most cases, by the following:

  • Their digestive system is still developing: at the end of gestation, a baby’s digestive system isn’t yet fully developed. Although the times vary, they begin maturing at around six months of age and don’t reach full maturity until they’re five years old. This means problems such as gas and regurgitation are normal.
  • Babies swallow air either when they cry, or by swallowing too quickly when feeding (especially bottle feeding). Swallowing air is normal in newborns, although unfortunately it generates consequences such as gas. As your baby grows, the amount of air that accidentally reaches their stomach decreases.
  • Some common stomach problems are constipation, gastroesophageal reflux, and colic. Digestive disorders are very common during the first year of life, so parents have to learn to deal with them with their pediatrician’s help.
  • Hypersensitivity or allergies: mainly to some component of formula milk. Allergies are less frequent than hypersensitivity, as the latter is related to the stage of development of the digestive system.

These are the four main causes of gas in babies. Of course, there are also others, such as poor posture during breastfeeding and an irregular diet during the first few feedings.

Although many parents believe otherwise, the food the mother eats is not thought to be a trigger for this or similar problems.

Mothers often restrict certain foods without any justification, especially spicy, acidic, or very cold foods. Scientists, however, have shown that such restrictions don’t have any benefits, and unless recommended by a pediatrician, they probably won’t help.

Read also: Breastfeeding and the Newborn’s Immune System

Signs that your baby may have gas

Many symptoms can tell you that your baby may be gassy. Remember that this is natural and unavoidable, so there’s no need for distress if you notice these symptoms regularly. Some of these are:

  • Crying and showing discomfort: crying is the only method of communication babies have to express their feelings and emotions. If they cry immediately after feeding and this is accompanied by signs of discomfort, then they may have gas.
  • Excessive flatulence: Although flatulence is normal in babies, if it happens a lot after breastfeeding, it’s a symptom of gas in the digestive system. To relieve the pressure, their body tries to expel some of it through flatulence.
  • Sleeping or eating problems: Sleeping problems can indeed be a sign of many conditions, and the same goes for eating problems. However, if these occur in certain contexts and together with others, they’re most likely pointing to the same condition.
  • The baby squirms and shows signs of pain, and also tries to bring its legs towards its chest. They may also become irritable and generally seem unwell. Gas produces a feeling of discomfort that leads to all of these symptoms.

You may also notice a slight swelling in the abdomen and that your baby spits up very often. These signs don’t always mean an excessive buildup of gas, as most of them occur naturally even when there’s no underlying problem. Asking your pediatrician is the best way to rule out other conditions.

How to burp your baby

There’s no scientific evidence that burping a baby significantly reduces colic or regurgitation. This was confirmed by a 2014 study with two control groups.

Although there’s not much evidence in medical literature, there’s also no evidence that these methods are harmful to babies’ health.

This is because, whether they burp or not, gas, colic, and regurgitation are normal problems during the first months of life. However, evidence from many mothers shows that burping a baby helps calm them, and also helps them sleep better, and reduces irritability.

This means it’s a good idea, especially if the symptoms described above are very noticeable. With this in mind, here are some techniques to burp your baby that you can use during and after each feeding:

Standing, with a cloth on your shoulder

This is the classic position to burp your baby after feeding. You stand up and place their chin on your shoulder. It’s possible that during burping, a little milk may come out, so it’s advisable to use a cloth to avoid staining your clothes. Once you’re in this position, proceed as follows:

  1. Pat your baby’s back gently. Do it from the bottom up, to help the gas travel upwards.
  2. To achieve this, you can pat their lower back three or four times and then move up inch by inch until you reach the level of their chest.
  3. To calm your baby, you can try walking and making rocking movements.

There’s no standard length of time to burp a baby. Do it until you notice that the burping stops and also try it in the middle of the feed if the baby shows some of the signs of gas buildup. Make sure their body is in an upright position to help the burp out.

Burp your baby in an upright position

This technique is more comfortable if you want to rest. You can burp your baby on a chair; a rocking chair will help calm the baby if they become uncomfortable during the process. With this technique, proceed as follows:

  1. Sit the baby on your lap and place the palm of your hand on their chest. Slightly tilt your baby’s body forward so that your hand supports part of their weight.
  2. With the other hand, gently pat your baby’s back. Use the method outlined above with bottom-up movements.
  3. Be careful not to lose control of your baby’s body or let your hand slip up onto their throat. Do this until two or three minutes have passed without any burps.

If you can’t find a comfortable position, try sitting your baby on your knees or on a horizontal surface (such as a bed). Be patient if nothing happens at first, it takes a couple of minutes for the burp to move up and out.

Lying on your lap

If the above techniques don’t work, try placing your baby face down on your lap. You should go for a 30-degree angle as opposed to a horizontal position. The best way to achieve this is by following these steps:

  1. Place the baby on your lap and tilt them forward, looking for that 30-degree angle.
  2. Make sure that their head is above their chest at all times. This way, you avoid problems if they spit up some milk or food. If necessary, support their head with your hand.
  3. Gently pat them on the back. Stop only when you’re sure the movements aren’t bringing up any more burps.

The disadvantage of this position is that it’s harder to know how frequently the burps come. With the first position the baby’s mouth is very close to your ear, so you know if the patting is having an effect. We recommend trying the positions in the order presented, as they’re in order of effectiveness.

You might be interested: All About Introducing Solid Foods to Babies

How can you help your baby with this problem?

A mother holding her baby in her arms.
There are different techniques to burp your baby; it all depends on which makes you and your baby feel most comfortable.

Burping isn’t the only thing you can try to minimize this problem. Below we’ll show you some other tricks that you can try without much effort.

Remember that all of them are just suggestions. A qualified pediatrician can recommend alternative treatments based on a more accurate diagnosis. Even so, it may be a good idea to try the following:

Consider changing formulas

Many times gas, reflux, constipation, and colic in babies are related to the type of formula they’re given. With your pediatrician’s approval, you can try using an alternative product.

The use of some probiotics such as lactobacillus reuteri can reduce the occurrence of the above symptoms, as demonstrated in a two-year clinical trial of 589 infants.

The use of lactose-free milk protein, pre-thickened with certain compounds, has also been shown to be effective in preventing episodes of regurgitation, according to one study. Never make a change of formula without first consulting your pediatrician; they’re the only one who can confirm that you should change the one you’re currently using.

Get help from a lactation consultant

There’s a correlation between some gastrointestinal conditions, such as colic and gas, and breastfeeding efficiency, according to a study published in 2018.

Small details such as frequency, angle, posture, and attitude can harm the baby’s body. A qualified counselor can advise on how to improve breastfeeding.

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help with feeding your baby. Professionals are trained to guide you according to your pediatrician’s advice and experience.

Massage your baby’s abdomen

This is a more fun alternative to burp your baby and help them relax through the effects of gas. You can do it with or without special oils and also use it as a way of bonding with your child. Do it clockwise, gently, and try to direct the burp all the way out.

You can also use infant massage on other areas of your child’s body, such as their arms, legs, and shoulders. This way, you reduce irritability due to gas and at the same time create peaceful times.

Make baby bicycle movements

This is another technique you can apply when you burp your baby. There are several ways to do it, but the following are the most effective:

  1. Lay your baby flat on their back.
  2. Take your baby’s legs and make a cycling motion. Make sure to do it slowly and that the spinning uses the full range of their legs.
  3. An alternative to the cycling motion is to stretch their legs out and then bring them, in a bent position, up to the chest. Hold them there for ten seconds and then repeat.
  4. Do this for 5-10 minutes two or three times a day.

This little trick is also helpful for improving constipation in infants. Other things you can try are changing the teat on the bottle to an anti-gas one, and being attentive to your baby’s behavior when they start eating solid foods.

When should you see a doctor?

If symptoms persist beyond six months, the best thing to do is to consult a specialist for a more accurate diagnosis. Allergies or intolerances to certain foods can trigger episodes of this type, and these are conditions that require specific treatment.

Of course, if you’re consistent with visits to the pediatrician during the first months of life, it’s likely that any problems like this will be detected early on. This is why it’s important to keep all appointments with your pediatrician. You should think of them as essential for the sake of your child’s health.

If worse symptoms develop, such as blood in the stool or fever, this is a warning sign that needs to be checked out quickly. In these situations, consult your doctor.

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