It seems like the simplest thing – but trapped air can make your baby very unhappy. Doula Donna Bland goes through some tips and techniques to get those burps out.

Unbroken wind can cause babies and their parents many restless times and sleepless nights. Whether a baby is being breastfed or formula fed, burping is a necessity.

This is because babies tend to swallow air during the feeding process, and therefore should be burped as a routine practice during and after feeds. This will prevent spit-up episodes (also known as posseting), often due to unbroken winds. Babies also become very uncomfortable and may be cranky and irritable.

If you are breastfeeding, it is advisable to burp your baby after feeding on one breast (before switching over to the other side), and again once you have completed the feed. If you are formula feeding or you are bottle-feeding expressed breastmilk, it is also recommended that you stop every so often to burp your baby.

This is because most bottle teats are designed with a continuous flow, making it difficult for babies to prevent airflow into their bodies. Breastfed babies can drink and nose breathe simultaneously, but bottle-fed babies cannot, and therefore more frequent burping is advised.

Watch your baby and listen closely to his/her breathing and swallowing. This will give you an indication of how much air is being swallowed during the feed.

Burping techniques

There are a variety of methods to burp a baby – the most important point to remember is that the baby’s diaphragm should be open. This is achieved when your baby’s torso is straight and not bent over.

One of the most common methods to achieve this, is to put your baby over your shoulder, in an upright position. The optimal position is when your baby’s head is drooping slightly over your shoulder. This will ensure that his/her diaphragm is open and able to expel wind.

Support your baby by cupping your hand under the nappy and use the palm of your other hand to rub quite firmly in an upward motion. You can alternate this with some gentle pats on the back if you like, but rubbing does seem to work best.

A well-known chiropractor in Johannesburg recommend a very interesting burping technique. Place your baby over your shoulder, supporting baby’s back with one hand. Next, put your thumb from your free hand on the front of the nappy and your other fingers around the back of the nappy, then gently wriggle your wrist in a rotating manor. You will notice that as your baby’s hips twist from side to side, the legs straighten. This opens the diaphragm further and allows burping to occur.

Another method is to sit your baby on your knee, with your one hand supporting his/her jaw. Place your other hand against baby’s back, pumping slightly, alternating occasionally with upward rubbing, as mentioned earlier. Simultaneously create a small amount of vibration by quickly bouncing your leg (heel up and down) – this helps tiny bubbles make their way up and assists in breaking larger winds.

Some babies burp very well when placed over your lap, while you move your knees from side to side. This doesn’t work for all babies, but some like it because it is comforting to them and they are able to expel wind easily.

You may have noticed that sometimes your baby will burp after being picked up out of their cot or after a nappy change. This is because the stomach is bean shaped and there are kinks where wind can get trapped. When your baby is picked up from a lying down position and placed in an upright position, wind can escape, and often stubborn winds are broken. So, if your baby is really struggling to burp, lie him down and after a few minutes, try the burping techniques again. Hopefully this will do the trick.

Remember that burping a baby can take time. Burping for 20 minutes is not uncommon, so take your time and be patient. If winds are left unbroken, they will eventually end up in the intestine and can cause serious discomfort. Your baby’s cry will change tone and you may notice that his/her legs will lift towards the chest. This can last for long periods of time and be very trying on the family unit, so I would suggest that you rather take the extra time to burp your baby during feeding times. Get dad involved when he’s home. This will help him to bond with his baby and feel included in baby’s care.

If you are still struggling after you have tried these methods, ask your paediatrician or clinic sister, or contact a lactation consultant for help.

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