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How to burp a newborn

Updated: Jun 23

As a new parent, you've probably gotten a lot of advice on baby care, including the importance of burping. Many of my new parents ask me how to burp their baby. They worry about how best to hold and support their newborn during burping, how long to try for a burp, and whether or not it's okay if their baby doesn't burp.


With a little practice, most parents become more confident and eventually settle on their own favorite method. I usually teach the three popular burping methods below.

Man demonstrates how to burp a newborn three different ways
How to burp a newborn

How to Burp a Newborn


Method 1: Lying Across Your Lap

  1. Lay your baby across your lap on their tummy, with their head slightly higher than their chest.

  2. Support your baby’s chin and jaw with one hand, ensuring their head is turned to the side and their airway is clear.

  3. Use your free hand to gently pat or rub your baby’s back in a circular motion until they burp.

Method 2: Sitting on Your Lap

  1. Sit your baby on your lap, facing away from you.

  2. Support your baby’s chest and head by cradling their chin in your hand (do not put pressure on their throat).

  3. Lean your baby slightly forward to put gentle pressure on their tummy.

  4. Use your other hand to gently pat or rub your baby’s back until they burp.

Method 3: Over the Shoulder

  1. Hold your baby upright against your chest with their chin resting on your shoulder.

  2. Support your baby’s bottom with one hand and use the other hand to support their head and neck.

  3. Gently pat or rub your baby’s back in a circular motion with your free hand until they burp.


Tips:

  • Keep a burp cloth or bib handy to catch any spit-up.

  • After the burp, check to ensure your baby is comfortable and clean up any spit-up.

  • Some babies don't burp every time, and some take quite a while to burp. Use your best judgment when deciding how long to burp your baby.

Is burping really necessary?


What if burping the baby is not as important as we think it is? I've been hearing this kind of thing every now and then, so I got curious and did some research.


What I found was interesting. The idea of burping a baby doesn't seem to appear in literature until around the 1930s. It's possible the focus on burping arose alongside the increase in bottle feeding. Babies who bottle-feed tend to take in more air, and we also know that formula is harder to digest than breastmilk.


Smiling mother feeds newborn baby with a bottle
Bottle-fed & formula-fed babies may need more help to burp

Why burping a breastfed baby might not be necessary


Many experts believe burping is important for bottle-fed and formula-fed infants but not necessarily for breastfed infants. Here are some reasons why burping a breastfed baby might not matter all that much.


1) Natural Air Expulsion


Babies have natural mechanisms to expel air. Some experts believe that healthy, full-term babies can release swallowed air on their own. As they move around, change positions, and naturally wiggle, they often burp without any intervention.


This may be related to babies being born with an immature esophageal sphincter. What's that? It's the ring of muscle at the bottom of the esophagus, where it meets the stomach.


In adults, the esophageal sphincter acts as a valve, opening to allow food and liquid to pass into the stomach and closing to prevent stomach contents from flowing back into the esophagus. In a baby, the immature sphincter relaxes and opens frequently, allowing the baby to avoid gas build-up by releasing gas often, a.k.a. "burping."


2) Lack of Evidence


There is limited scientific evidence supporting the necessity of helping a baby to burp. Some studies suggest that burping does not significantly reduce colic or spit-up incidents. For instance, a small study published in Child: Care, Health and Development found that burping did not lessen infant crying or colic episodes.


3) Cultural Differences


Burping practices vary widely across cultures, and baby burping seems to be a mostly "Western" tradition. In many other cultures, burping is not a common practice, and yet their babies thrive without any notable issues related to trapped air.


In cultures where frequent babywearing is common, babies breastfeed while being worn and are not removed for burping. Instead, they are expected to burp on their own time while remaining in their carrier.


This suggests that the need for burping might be culturally influenced rather than biologically essential.


4) Disrupts Feeding


For some babies, burping can disrupt feeding sessions and cause unnecessary fussiness. Interrupting a feed to help a baby burp might make it harder for a baby to settle back into feeding, especially if the baby was not experiencing any discomfort to begin with.


What to Watch For


Burping may not be essential for all babies, but paying attention to signs of discomfort is still important. If your baby seems fussy, spits up frequently, or shows signs of gas, trying to burp them can still be helpful. If your baby feeds well and seems content without burping, forcing the issue might not be necessary.


Mother uses over-the-shoulder method to burp a newborn baby
Over-the-shoulder burp method

Conclusion


The necessity of burping a baby is not so black and white. Many babies naturally expel air without intervention, and cultural practices seem to play a significant role.

It's always important to monitor your baby's comfort and respond to their needs, but burping might not be the critical task it's often made out to be, particularly for breastfed babies.


As with so many aspects of parenting, the best approach is to pay attention to your baby's cues and find what works best for you and your baby.


Happy burping (or not)!



 

Do you have questions? Want help settling in with your new baby? Book with me! <3




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