Babies tend to swallow air when they eat, which can give them gas. Burping can help relieve gas, which some people believe makes the baby feel better.
Most parents learn how to burp a baby, but emerging research suggests it may not be necessary.
This article looks at when to burp a baby, how long and how often to burp a baby, what to do if a baby doesn’t burp, and how to know when burping may no longer be necessary.
Babies tend to swallow air when they eat from a bottle or breast. This can cause them to develop gas.
In theory, this may make them uncomfortable and fussy. Some parents also believe that burping reduces the risk of spitting up.
Research calls into question whether this is really true. A 2014 randomized controlled trial compared 71 mother-baby pairs. One group regularly burped their babies, while the other did not.
There was no difference between the groups in how frequently the babies cried. This suggests burping might not affect how well a baby feels, and will probably not reduce crying.
Additionally, the burped babies actually spit up more – eight times per week, on average, compared to an average of 3.7 times for unburped babies.
The study is preliminary, and researchers have not tested its findings with a larger group. However, many pediatricians now tell parents that burping is optional.
Even if burping does sometimes reduce gas, there is no evidence that babies must burp after each meal. Not burping a baby will not harm them.
Parents who want to burp their baby can experiment with different methods to find which is most effective and comfortable. They can try one of the following positions:
- Position the baby face down across the parent’s lap. Gently rub or pat the baby’s back until the baby burps.
- Help the baby sit up, supporting the baby’s torso and head. Some parents prefer to move the baby into a sitting position and lean them over one hand so that the baby leans slightly forward. With the other hand, rub or pat the baby’s back until the baby burps.
- Hold the baby at shoulder level, positioning their head just above the shoulder. Make sure the shoulder does not pinch the baby’s neck or throat. Rub or pat the baby’s back until the baby burps.
In all positions, it is important to support the baby’s head and neck if the baby is a newborn without good head control.
If the baby fights burping, do not force them into the position.
Babies sometimes spit up when burping, so position a towel or burp cloth under the baby’s mouth on the parent’s lap or shoulder when burping in those positions, or across the baby’s chest when burping sitting up.
If a baby has a history of spitting up or reflux, keep them upright for 15 to 30 minutes after feeding.
If the baby falls asleep after feeding, try positioning them on the parent’s chest or shoulder and rocking them to keep them in an upright position as they sleep.
Parents who want to burp their babies or who find that burping eases fussiness should regularly burp during and after meals.
When to burp a breastfed baby
Burp the baby before switching breasts.
The baby may also need to burp if they begin pulling away from the breast, become stiff, or fuss while feeding. Burp the baby after they finish nursing.
When to burp a bottle-fed baby
Try burping the baby every time they drink 2 to 3 ounces, or if the baby becomes fussy and stops eating.
Burp the baby after they finish drinking from the bottle.
Try to burp a baby for a few minutes.
There is no specific time frame in which all babies burp, and some babies may not burp at all.
In most cases, a baby develops their own habits. Once a parent knows these habits, they should burp for the usual length of time it takes to get a burp.
If the baby does not burp and does not seem upset, there is no need to continue attempting to burp them.
Every baby is different. Parents should follow the baby’s cues to determine whether the baby needs to burp.
In most cases, parents should consider burping the baby after each meal, or if the baby seems fussy or gassy.
Some signs that a baby may need to burp include:
- becoming squirmy
- becoming fussy
- pulling away from the breast or bottle
- when the baby pauses while feeding to look around
- before switching breasts when breastfeeding
- every 2 to 3 ounces when bottle feeding
Babies do not have to burp to be healthy. If the baby is not fussy or squirmy, they either do not have gas or the gas is not bothering them.
If a baby does seem fussy or squirmy and does not burp, try these strategies instead:
- Massaging the baby’s belly.
- Placing the baby on their back and moving their legs to help move the gas.
- Keeping babies with a history of spitting up or reflux in an upright position after feeding.
- Holding and comforting the baby. Sometimes contact with a caregiver eases pain and distress.
- Distracting the baby. Hold them in an upright position while walking around and showing them things or singing songs.
If a baby consistently has severe gas or seems to be in pain, seek help from a pediatrician.
Burping is never medically necessary, though some parents think that it makes their babies more comfortable.
Most babies begin swallowing less air while eating starting around the age of 4–6 months.
Parents should follow the baby’s cues. Continue burping if the baby seems to need it, or becomes fussy after eating.
If the baby seems fine after eating, it is fine not to burp them.
Burping a baby is a parenting tradition, and some parents may be concerned if their baby does not burp.
While it is fine to continue burping a baby, there is not usually a reason to keep trying if a baby will not burp.
In some cases, parents can even abandon the practice altogether without causing any harm to the baby.
A person should seek consultation with a pediatrician if a baby consistently has gas or spits up.