As a new parent, you know that you are supposed to "burp" your baby. But what is burping supposed to accomplish? And what is the best way to achieve that tiny "urp!"? Don't worry, Pathfinder Health is here with information on why babies need to burp, strategies for helping your baby to burp, and guidance in reducing your baby's gas so they (and you!) will be happier and more comfortable.
In this article:
What is a burp?
A burp is a reflex that expels gas from the stomach through the mouth. This often occurs after eating or drinking, when the stomach is full and needs to release some of the gas that has built up. Burping can also be caused by swallowing air, which can happen when a person eats or drinks too quickly.
A healthy person might burp up to 30 times a day, but reflux can increase the need to burp.
Why do babies need to burp?
Babies generally need to burp more often than adults because they tend to swallow air while they are drinking. This can cause excess gas to build up in their stomachs, which can cause discomfort. Burping helps to release some of this gas and can provide relief for the baby.
In some circumstances, babies might require extra burping:
Bottle-fed babies, who tend to swallow more air than breastfed babies
If a baby is particularly hungry and nurses or drinks from their bottle more quickly
After crying, especially prolonged crying due to colic
If they have a cold, when they will likely breathe more through their mouth
In addition to helping to relieve gas, burping can also reduce spitting up caused by pressure in a baby's stomach after eating. This means more food in your baby's tummy and less laundry for you!
Signs that your baby needs to burp
You may notice signs that your baby needs to burp due to trapped air, such as:
Arching their back
Pulling their legs into their tummy
Clenching their fists
When a burp is more than a burp
Your baby's digestive system is still developing, so it's completely normal for them to spit up sometimes when they burp.
However, if your baby is experiencing excessive spit up or projectile vomiting, this may be a sign that they are suffering from infant reflux or are sick. Consult with your pediatrician promptly.
How to burp a baby
There are several methods for burping a baby and you may need to try a couple to see what works best for your child. Just remember to be gentle and make sure to support your baby's head and neck.
Over the shoulder: Hold your baby upright with their head resting on your shoulder and their stomach against your chest. Pat or rub their back gently.
Sitting on your lap: Hold your baby upright and help them sit on your lap with their head resting on your shoulder. Support your baby's head and chest with one hand and pat or rub their back gently with your free hand.
Laying on your lap: Lay your baby face down on your lap, with their head turned to one side. Support their chest with one hand and pat or rub their back gently with your free hand.
It may take a few minutes of patting or rubbing before your baby burps, so be patient and keep trying until they burp or show signs of fussiness.
You can also try sitting with your baby held upright for a few minutes after a feeding. You might be surprised by an extra burp!
If your baby doesn't burp after a few minutes of trying, it is usually fine to put them back in their crib or continue with the feeding.
Massaging your baby's stomach can sometimes help to facilitate burping by breaking up gas bubbles, making them easier for your baby to release through burping.
To massage your baby's stomach, you can try the following steps:
Place your baby on their back on a flat surface, such as a changing table or the floor.
Rub your hands together to warm them up a bit.
Place one hand on your baby's belly, just below their ribs.
Using a gentle circular motion, massage your baby's belly in a clockwise direction.
Pay attention to your baby's cues and stop the massage if they become fussy or uncomfortable.
Remember to be gentle so you don't increase their discomfort!
Newborns need to be burped more frequently than older babies. Frequent burping can help to prevent gas from building up in your baby's stomach.
You should aim to burp your baby every 2 to 3 ounces of formula, if they are bottle fed.
For breastfed babies, try to burp every 5 to 10 minutes or when you switch sides.
However, every baby is different and some may need to be burped more or less frequently.
If a baby is showing signs of discomfort or fussiness, or if they are spitting up frequently, it may be helpful to burp them more often. On the other hand, if your baby seems content after eating and is not spitting up, it may be okay to burp them less frequently.
In general, it is a good idea to try burping the baby at least once during a feeding and again when the feeding is finished.
If your baby doesn't burp after a couple minutes of trying, try another burping method. If they still do not burp, you should be able to stop and put them down or continue with the feeding.
Reducing your baby's gas
There are a variety of causes of infant gas. Addressing these causes might reduce your baby's need to burp–and any associated discomfort and fussiness–although burping should remain part of your feeding routine.
Treat infant reflux
Almost all healthy babies have some degree of infant reflux, which manifests as fussiness, gas, and spitting up. If these occur frequently or your baby seems to be in pain, consult with your doctor.
Use proper bottle feeding technique
Although bottle feeding is more likely to cause gas, there are numerous ways to minimize the amount of air that your baby swallows:
Don't overfill the bottle.
Use the correct milk flow rate for your baby's age and development. Both an overly fast flow (which can make your baby gasp or choke) and an overly slow flow (which requires your baby to suck harder) can cause them to swallow extra air.
Hold your baby in an upright position while feeding, which can help prevent air from getting trapped in their stomach.
Hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle or less to ensure that the nipple is always filled with milk/formula.
Consider using a bottle that is designed to reduce air intake, such as a vented bottle or an angled bottle.
Avoid propping the bottle.
If breastfeeding, consider eliminating certain foods
If you are breastfeeding, the food that you eat can contribute to your baby's gas. Common examples of gas-causing foods include:
Soy products (such as tofu and soy milk)
Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, onion, and garlic
Just like grown-ups, some babies may be more sensitive to the effects of certain foods in breast milk than others. Unlike allergies, this type of reaction tends to be minor and temporary, so your baby will likely become less sensitive over time.
If you think that certain foods that you eat might be contributing to your baby's gas, you can try eliminating them from your diet for a time to see if it helps. There is no need to eliminate certain food preemptively—only if your baby is showing signs of excessive gas or discomfort.
Always consult with your physician before eliminating any foods from your diet.
Choose the right formula and mix it correctly
Be careful when mixing powdered formula for your formula fed baby. Shaking or vigorously mixing a bottle of formula powder and water introduces a lot of air bubbles, which your baby will swallow and which may increase gas.
Instead, mix gently but thoroughly and try to give the formula a little time to settle before feeding your baby.
A newborn may even do better with concentrated or ready to feed formula, which require less (or no) mixing and thus have less air for your baby to swallow.
If your baby is particularly gassy, you might need to switch to a different—or even a special type of—formula. Talk with your healthcare provider if you have concerns about your baby's formula.
For more information about the types of formula and how to mix it, see The Basics of Baby Formula.
When to stop burping a baby
There is no set age when you should stop burping your baby—it depends on your child.
Most healthy infants will outgrow the need to be burped by the time they are four to six months old. At this age, most babies tend to have better control over their swallowing and may not need to be burped as often or held upright after feeding.
However, every baby is different and some may continue to need to be burped after that age. If your child shows signs of discomfort or fussiness or spits up frequently, it might be helpful to continue burping them to see if it provides relief.
On the other hand, if your six-month old baby seems content after feeding and does not spit up often, it is usually safe to stop burping them.
Q: What is the difference between "burp" and "belch"?
A: Nothing—these are two words for the same thing!
Q: Is it okay to put my baby down to sleep without burping them?
A: It's generally best to burp your baby after feedings to release gas and prevent spitting up.
If your baby falls asleep during a feeding, try patting or rubbing their back very gently to try to release a burp before putting them down. They'll likely sleep through it!
As they get older, your baby may not always need to be burped or may be able to sleep through a bit of discomfort. If this is the case, it's probably okay to put them to bed without burping them first.
However, if you notice that your baby wakes in discomfort or spits up, then it's still a good idea to try burping before putting them down.
Q: My baby burped once—can I stop burping them?
A: Every baby is different—some are gassier and/or burp more easily than others.
If your baby generally burps easily, one burp is probably enough to release most of the trapped air. However, some babies will still have gas even after one burp, so you should keep trying for a couple of minutes.
As a general rule, pay attention to your baby's behavior for guidance. If your baby still seems uncomfortable or fussy, they may need to be burped more. If your baby seems content and comfortable after the first burp, you can probably stop burping.
Q: How often should I change burp cloths? How many do I need?
A: It depends on how much your baby spits up. If your baby spits up often, or a significant amount, you'll want to change burp cloths frequently to keep your baby clean and comfortable, possibly at every feeding (or even during a feeding). If your baby rarely spits up, you will likely be able to use the same burp cloth for multiple feedings.
It's a good idea to have plenty of extra burp cloths so you have some available when others are being washed. Unless your baby spits up excessively, approximately ten burp cloths should be more than enough.
You'll want to keep a couple close by so you always have a clean one handy. Be sure to also pack one in your diaper bag!
Q: Should I burp my baby after they eat solid food?
A: At the time most babies begin to eat solid foods (around six months) their digestive systems are not yet fully mature. Moreover, solid foods are harder to digest than breast milk or formula—especially foods like meat and grains—so it's normal for a baby to experience some gas or discomfort at first.
For this reason, you may still want to try and burp your baby after they eat solids, especially if they seem fussy or uncomfortable.
As always, follow your baby's cues! Their behavior and mood will likely let you know if they need to be burped, regardless of what they have eaten.
Burping your baby is a simple task that is hugely important to their digestion and overall health and mood. It can help them feel more comfortable by releasing gas, thereby reducing both fussiness and spit ups.
Whichever technique you use, make a point of burping your baby during and after feedings until their digestion has matured enough to feel confident that they can burp on their own.
Zad M and Bredenoord AJ. Chronic Burping and Belching. Current Treatment Options in Gastroenterology, vol. 18, 33–42 (2020), available at https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11938-020-00276-0.