The battle of the burp

by | May 24, 2022

It’s something all adults take for granted, but being able to burp – and release trapped and painful gas – is an exciting milestone for any baby to reach.

When babies are born, their digestive tract is still developing and they don’t yet have the ability to make themselves burp when they need to. Sister Yolanda Mpilo explains, “This means that the air they swallow during feeds gets trapped in their stomach and they cannot release it. This will make baby feel fuller more quickly, and will make them uncomfortable.”

Mom to the rescue
Moms need to help the gas to escape by burping their baby during feeds. Sr Mpilo recommends that, if breastfeeding, you let your baby feed for at least 20 minutes on one breast, burp them, and then change over to the other breast. If your baby is formula fed, you need to burp them halfway through
the feed.

“When feeding your baby with a bottle, it’s important to use the correct sized nipple, and one that’s appropriate for baby’s age,” adds Sr Mpilo. “Formula (or expressed breast milk) should drip steadily out of the bottle nipple – if it comes rushing out, the hole is too big and this can cause your baby to gulp lots of air; while openings that are too small cause baby to struggle for their meal, which also contributes to swallowing more air.” She recommends you hold the bottle at an upward angle during feeds, to reduce too much air being sucked in. Holding baby as upright as possible during a feed also helps with minimising the amount of air swallowed.


Quick facts
Here are a few pointers to keep in mind as well:

  • In the same way that not all babies are the same, some babies don’t burp quite as much as others, meaning they may not need to burp every time.
  • In comparison to bottle fed babies, breastfeeding babies tend to swallow less air and as a result they require less burping.
  • Some babies burp more easily than others.
  • If you find your baby gets fussy during mealtime before achieving a full feed, it usually means they need to burp. Once baby has burped you can continue feeding.

Burping baby
Your baby will eventually learn to burp themselves. As with all milestones, this does not happen at a specific age, but when your baby is ready. Developmental cues that they are able to burp themselves include being able to sit up unsupported; being mobile and able to move around – such as crawling; and being able to hold their own bottle. Generally this happens between four and nine months.

Eventually your baby will also learn to feed without swallowing air, so even though they can burp themselves, they may not always need to!

Burping Baby 101
If your baby hasn’t yet reached this milestone, Sr Mpilo recommends these positions to help burp your baby:

1. Face down on your lap
(my favourite position)
Place your baby face down on your lap with their head resting on one leg and the stomach area over the other leg. Support your baby with one hand while patting, rubbing or applying gentle pressure on the back with the other hand.

2. Over the shoulder
(the most common position)
Hold your baby against your shoulder and rub their back with one hand, while you provide support for your baby’s bottom and lower back with the other arm.

3. Sitting position
Hold your baby in a seated position on your lap. Support their neck and chest with one hand and, letting baby lean forward slightly, rub their back with your other hand. Be sure not to let their head flop backward.

4. Walking upright
While standing, hold your baby upright against your chest, facing away from you. Place one hand under your baby’s bottom and the other across the stomach area to apply light pressure. Combined with the motion of walking this will help release any trapped air bubbles. This position is only suitable for babies with good head control