When a baby falls asleep without burping, parents and caregivers can try a few methods to help them relieve wind while staying asleep.
The act of breastfeeding or feeding from a bottle often has a calming effect. As a result, it can make many infants fall asleep during or after their meal.
This can pose a problem if the baby has swallowed air during their feed. They may need to release air through a burp, which is more difficult to do when asleep. Their body may be too relaxed to get into a burping position, or the parent or caregiver may not wish to risk waking the baby from their slumber.
However, many people find that they must burp their baby after every feed — sleeping or not. If the baby does not release air through a burp after feeding, they may have discomfort later as it moves through the intestines and causes gas.
In addition, some babies are so sleepy at the breast or bottle that they fail to take in enough calories at their meals. It may sometimes be necessary to wake the baby during feeding to help them eat more. Burping the baby may help by eliminating some feelings of fullness and helping them stay awake longer.
A parent or caregiver will often need to decide on a case-by-case basis whether they should try to burp their sleeping baby or simply let them sleep.
As air travels upward, burping positions usually require the baby to be at least partially upright. This position encourages any air bubbles to move upward, passing through the throat and out of the mouth.
It is possible to burp a sleeping baby, often without waking them completely. Each baby is different, so people may need to try various techniques to find one that works.
Method 1: Shoulder
This method is suitable for babies who are sound sleepers. It can also be useful if a person needs to wake a baby up to continue their feeding.
- Turn the baby upright and lean them against the upper chest. Put one hand under their buttocks for support. The baby’s head should be on top of the shoulder.
- Gently pat the baby’s back between their shoulder blades. Use an open palm to pat, being firm but gentle.
- If patting does not work, try rubbing their upper back in circular motions with the palm.
If the aim is to keep the baby awake, lightly bouncing them while they are on the shoulder may help wake them while also bringing up a burp.
Method 2: Chest
If a shoulder burp tends to wake the baby up, try a chest burp instead. Placing the baby on the chest can feel more comforting for them than the shoulder, so this position can often allow them to stay asleep after feeding.
- Gently lift the baby to the chest, putting one hand on their back and one under their buttocks.
- Avoid stretching their legs out. Allow their body to stay in a curled up position, which may make them less likely to wake up.
- Use the hand that is on their back to rub it, making circular motions first.
- If rubbing does not produce a burp, try gentle pats between their shoulders.
Method 3: Hip
The hip method works well for people who prefer to breastfeed their baby while lying down. It may help keep the baby asleep because the parent or caregiver does not have to sit up, and the baby is not fully upright.
- Gently place the baby’s tummy down over the hip or belly. Make sure that the baby’s head remains elevated above their body.
- Gently pat their back between the shoulder blades.
- Alternatively, rub their back in an upward circular motion.
Method 4: Arm hold
For smaller babies, the arm hold method can be useful. However, it is not always practical for older or larger babies.
- Place one arm under the baby’s back, allowing them to rest their body on the forearm. The baby may already be in this position for feeding.
- Carefully turn the baby’s body so that they are resting belly down on the parent’s or caregiver’s forearm with their head in the crook of the elbow. Place the hand between the baby’s legs, holding the baby for stability.
- Rub or pat the baby’s upper back with the other hand.
- When finished, gently roll the baby toward the body. They will then be face up to continue feeding or to go to sleep.
Method 5: Lap
If the parent or caregiver is already sitting in a chair or on a couch, the lap method may work well to keep the baby asleep. It does not require the baby to be upright, which may be more soothing for them.
- While in a sitting position, gently turn the baby over onto their tummy and allow them to rest on the parent’s or caregiver’s thighs.
- Place one arm under the baby’s chin and chest to raise their upper body slightly.
- Use the other hand to pat their back or rub it in circular motions.
- When finished, turn the baby back over onto their back.
The baby may not always burp during or after feeding. In some cases, this may be because the baby did not swallow much air.
Sometimes, however, it takes a little persistence to get a burp out. Here are some helpful tips for parents and caregivers in these instances:
- Burp the baby during the feed. When a baby has finished feeding, they may be especially drowsy and may have swallowed more air. Try burping them before switching breasts or when they are halfway through their bottle.
- If the baby does not burp after 5 minutes of trying, gently lie them down on their back, either in their crib or on another safe surface, such as a playpen. After a few minutes, carefully pick the baby up and try burping them again. Sometimes, lying down helps move the air bubbles around, making them easier to release.
- Keep the baby upright after their feed. Using a baby wrap or sling can be a good way to let the baby sleep in a semi-upright position, allowing the air bubble to escape without any work from the parent or caregiver.
- There is no need to stress if the baby does not burp. There are times when a baby will not burp or has no air to release. If the baby does not burp despite using the methods above, do not worry. One study found that burping does not significantly reduce colic episodes.
The best way to help prevent excess gas in a baby is to try to prevent them from swallowing too much air. Swallowing air is often the result of the baby eating too quickly.
When bottle feeding, follow these tips to help prevent gas:
- Use a slow flow nipple on bottles, especially for newborns. Fast flow nipples may cause the baby to swallow more air.
- Angle the bottle so that air is not getting into the milk or formula while feeding. Doing this usually means tipping the bottle upward at an angle and keeping it tipped as the baby finishes the bottle.
- Test the flow of a bottle’s nipple before giving it to the baby. Tip it upside down and allow a few drops to come out. If the liquid comes out quickly, the nipple may have become worn out.
- Replace bottle nipples if the hole gets bigger, or the nipple shows signs of wear.
When breastfeeding, follow these tips to help prevent gas in the baby:
- Watch for signs of a fast letdown of milk from the breast. If the milk comes out too quickly at the beginning, and the baby is gulping or gasping, take the baby off the breast for a few seconds. Catch the excess milk in a towel or cloth if necessary. Once the milk flow has slowed down, put the baby back on the breast.
- Experiment with different breastfeeding positions. Different babies and women find that certain positions allow them both to breastfeed comfortably. It may help to ask a lactation consultant for tips.
- Make sure that the baby has latched on correctly. The baby’s lips should be sealed and spread out around the nipple. Their lips should not turn inward.
There are ways to burp a sleeping baby without waking them, but no method is foolproof. Parents and caregivers may need to experiment with different burping methods to find which ones work best for them and the baby.
While many babies fall asleep while breastfeeding or bottle feeding, it is important to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics‘ safe sleep guidelines for babies. Following these guidelines may help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and sleep-related infant deaths.
Babies should have regular checkups with a pediatrician to be sure that they are feeding and gaining weight as necessary.