As a new parent, there are a wide variety of skills we all need to learn and FAST! One such skill is how to burp our baby. Whilst some babies need a lot of help with burping, others need very little assistance at all. However, regardless of whether your baby is breast or bottle fed, particularly gassy or not, he or she will inevitably need help at some time so you’d be wise to be prepared.
Why does my baby need to be burped?
The short answer to that question is ‘because they can’t do it themselves’.
Why? In babies a muscle called the upper esophageal sphincter is underdeveloped. This muscle usually relaxes when we swallow, to allow the passage of food and saliva, and when we burp, to allow the passage of gas. In young babies, however, this muscle doesn’t relax by itself when gas needs to pass. If the gas isn’t released as a burp, it makes its way into the intestines where it causes tummy pain which means a very unhappy baby!
You need to burp your baby in order to prevent this pain.
In addition to this, babies have very tiny stomachs. In fact, the stomach of a newborn is only about the size of a hazelnut and by two weeks of age, it will only have grown to roughly the size of a large hen’s egg. You can probably imagine then, that even a small bubble of air or gas takes up valuable room in a young baby’s stomach. As such, burping your baby frees up room in his or her stomach meaning Bub doesn’t need to be fed as often.
Why does my baby suffer with gas?
- Feeding too quickly- If you’re offering your baby a nipple that has a flow that’s too fast or if Mom has a fast let down, baby will inevitably gulp down the milk (and excess air) which causes gas to collect in the stomach.
- Digestion- Bacteria in our digestive systems are partly responsible for digesting the food we eat. When bacteria feed on the food we eat, they produce one or more types of gas. We then get rid of this gas by burping or ‘passing wind’. Some foods are more likely to lead to the formation of gas than others. Common culprits include brassicas (such as cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts), beans and so-called sugar-free treats (these often contain alternative sweeteners, such as sorbitol, which are a favourite of these gas-producing bacteria).Young babies cannot, of course, eat food. But components of the food a mother eats do pass into her breast milk so babies that are breastfed (or bottle fed using expressed breast milk) can end up with a lot of gas in their digestive systems if Mom eats lots of these kinds of foods.
- Feeding too slowly- In contrast to the above, if your baby is feeding from a bottle nipple that is too slow for them, baby may have to suck so hard that extra air is ingested whilst feeding. This will absolutely lead to gas pain. Try Minbie perfect flow nipples!
- Food intolerance-Even young babies can develop food intolerances. When this occurs, the food in question isn’t properly absorbed and ends up being broken down by gas-forming bacteria when it wouldn’t normally be digested in that way. As such, babies fed on breast milk may be gassier if they develop an intolerance to a food that their mother eats. Similarly, formula-fed babies may be gassier if they develop an intolerance to one or more of the ingredients in their formula.
- Drinking formula with air bubbles- If you’re feeding your baby with formula milk, it’s important to mix it really well and allow it to sit for a moment before feeding. This will ensure that any excess air bubbles will have dissipated. Remember, the more you shake a bottle of formula, the more air bubbles enter the milk, which will lead to a gassy baby.
Good times to burp your baby:
- At the end of every feed.
- If your baby is breastfed if/when you swap breasts.
- Whenever your baby is fussy or squirmy during a feed. These are the most common signs of gas in babies.
- If your baby is bottle fed, after Bub has drunk 30-60mls of milk or formula.
Of course, if your baby has problems with excess gas, you might need to burp more frequently and vice versa, if your little one rarely suffers you can burp less often.
How to burp baby properly
When ‘burping’ your baby, the idea is to get the gas inside Bub’s stomach to travel upwards and through the sphincter muscle. The best way to achieve this is by applying gentle pressure to the stomach to expel the gas and then encouraging the sphincter to open by patting Bub’s back or rubbing his or her back in a circular motion. Don’t be alarmed if your baby spits up a mouthful or two of milk or formula when he or she burps - this is very common and nothing to worry about, just make sure you have a burp cloth in the right spot!
- Perhaps the most commonly used burping position is the over-the-shoulder method. To burp a baby this way, position Bub over your shoulder, so that their upper tummy is pressing gently against your collarbone and then pat or rub circles on their back. A disadvantage of this burping method is that Bub may spit milk or formula down your back. Be prepared!! This position is rather disruptive and may not be good if you’re hoping to get Bub to sleep!
- Another commonly used burping method is to sit Bub on your lap so that he or she is leaning slightly forward with their weight supported by your hand under their rib cage. You then use your other hand to pat or rub Bub's back. If you need to support Bub’s head, you can position your first hand so that the heel of your hand is under the rib cage and your fingers are propping up the head by supporting the chin. Bub needs to be positioned carefully so that any regurgitated milk or formula ends up on a cloth rather than you, the ground or Bub’s clothes. This method is less disruptive than the previous one and may be a little easier for those who are quite sore after a c-section. If Bub needs a little extra encouragement to burp, you can try gently rotating his or her body forwards and backwards and side to side as sometimes a little movement can help dislodge stubborn gas.
- If neither of the above methods work, you can apply greater pressure on Bub’s stomach by lying Bub face down over one arm or your knee. It can be particularly useful to use this position if you’re feeding Bub before tummy time, otherwise lying Bub on his or her tummy may dislodge additional gas and cause baby to regurgitate milk or formula onto their tummy time mat.
- If movement seems to help your baby burp, you can try bringing Bub’s knees up to their chest while rubbing or patting their back. Alternatively, you could lay Bub on his or her back and rotate their legs like they’re riding a bike. This can also be a good way to encourage good gross motor skill development.
- Really stubborn gas might be best moved by gently bouncing Bub. You can do this on your lap, while sitting on an exercise ball or while standing up. Pairing the action with music can make the exercise more fun for both of you. Just be sure to support Bub’s head and neck.
- If you’re desperately trying to get Bub to sleep but need to burp him or her, the best way to attempt the feat is to give Bub a massage. This may help the gas move while also relaxing Bub.
- If Bub’s gas is particularly stubborn, you might have success burping Bub just by wearing him or her in a carrier or sling. You can walk around, do chores or run errands and the rhythmic bouncing of your steps may help to dislodge the gas.
Expert tips for combatting gas
If your baby is particularly gassy or you have a tough time burping him or her, there are a few things you can do to prevent gas from forming in the first place.