The best way to burp a newborn baby

When it comes to burping, some newborns have no problem giving Homer Simpson a run for his money; others just won’t give up the gas. Either way, here’s everything you need to know.

Why you need to burp your baby

Just like a B-grade celebrity at a C-list event, when babies feed, they often suck quite a bit of air from the room. According to the Mayo Clinic, burping during and after each feed can keep this air from building up in your baby’s stomach and causing them discomfort.

Some people think this happens more when using a bottle because they feed faster, trapping more gas and air – in which case, do you have to burp a breastfed baby? And then there are schools of thought that argue burping is totally unnecessary. A 2015 study of 71 newborn-baby pairs showed burped babies didn’t cry less than unburped babies, with the results demonstrating burped babies actually spit up more (ready the next wash cycle).

So, is burping just an old wives tale? Mothercraft Nurse and early childhood consultant Beth Barclay takes a middle of the road approach to burping debate. 

“Every baby is different, each baby burps differently,” says Beth. Her approach is reassuringly simple: when it comes to coaxing a belch from your baby’s belly, listen to the cues your baby is giving you, and follow their lead.

There are plenty of ways to burp a baby, but there’s a good chance you’ll discover through trial and error which way is best for your baby. And although the last thing your sleep-deprived self wants to do after a 3am feed is spend 20 monotonous minutes burping your baby, trust us, you may be doing Future You a favor – after all, an uncomfy baby with a gassy tummy isn’t going to add up to a restful night.

When to burp a baby

According to the NHS, there’s no hard or fast rule on when the best time is to burp a newborn: it can happen during a feed, or after. The emphasis is to follow your little one’s lead, and trust your intuition (if you’ve got any left at 3am).

“Babies will actually let you know when they feel uncomfortable,” says Beth. “Babies breastfeeding might start to pull off the breast, while a baby bottle feeding may slow down and just start to squirm a bit. And that’s usually a cue.”

How to burp a baby

For a burping beginner, it’s easy to get bogged down in the technique, timing and sheer terror of having just another thing on the list you’re trying to get right. Beth’s advice is not to overthink it. “Some burp a lot, some don’t burp that much, but just a little break for a few minutes can reset the feeding process, and usually then they’ll go back on the breast or back on the bottle a bit more easily.”

While there are plenty of techniques, the best way to burp a baby is the way you feel most confident doing it. Patting their back isn’t really necessary (although it’s often pleasant and comforting for everyone involved), and jiggling isn’t a biggie either. Instead, focus on keeping the head supported (be careful not to put pressure on the throat) and keep the torso straight. Then, like cream, the air should rise. 

The best part? You can do all three sitting down.

Technique one: Over the Shoulder 

For first-timers, Beth recommends simply placing your milk-drunk baby upright on the shoulder (and yes, grab a towel and a hair tie, because no one likes the smell of spit-up in their hair). This same technique is great if you need to burp a sleeping baby – handy if you’ve mastered the art of the dream feed.

“In the early days, when Mum and Dad have got training wheels on, over the shoulder is probably the easiest technique to manage,” says Beth. There are however, others you can try out.

Technique two: Sitting up

Another position to try is to sit your baby upright on your legs. Support their head, chin and chest with one hand, and lean them gently forward. You can also rub their back with the other hand.

Technique three: Lying down

You can also try lying them across your lap, knees or forearm facing downwards; support their chin (not their throat) with one hand, while rubbing their back gently with the other hand.

As your confidence grows, you can move to more advanced techniques.

What if nothing’s happening?

You’ve been patting, rocking and jiggling, and there’s been no satisfying eruption. Should you keep going? “I advise new parents not to obsess for too long about trying to get that one burp,” says Beth. “Give it a couple of minutes; try to keep the little torso upright and the air usually rises to the top.”

Another of her tricks to help coax that air out is to change the diaper mid-feed; when you pick your baby up again after they’ve been lying flat, gravity should do its thing. 

The main thing is to read your baby’s cues and cut yourself some slack. Belching isn’t an art form, it’s a means to an end (in this case, usually sleep).

And if there’s still no burp? Don’t fret: there are other places where hot air can get out – with occasionally spectacular results on the change table. Parenting is awesome like that.

Read next: How to get rid of baby hiccups

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