July 02, 2015

Q: My baby cries a lot after eating, before burping. It sometimes takes 15 to 30 minutes to burp him enough before he stops. What can I do to help him?

A: Whether your baby is breastfed or bottle fed, it’s inevitable that he’ll swallow some air along with his milk or formula while he’s feeding. When too much air becomes trapped in the stomach, it leads to discomfort, and that can cause any baby to cry. This is where burping comes in. Burping helps your baby release the trapped air from his stomach and makes him more comfortable during and after feeding.

It’s helpful to burp your baby several times while he’s feeding. You might start by burping him every time he consumes a couple of ounces or every five minutes or so, rather than waiting till the end of his feeding. By burping him periodically during his feeding, there will be less air trapped in his stomach, and releasing smaller amounts of air won’t be as uncomfortable as releasing a larger amount.

Sometimes, babies take in a lot of air while they’re nursing or bottle feeding because they’re not in an ideal position. You can reduce the amount of air your baby takes in by feeding him in a more upright position rather than allowing him to lie flat on his back while he’s nursing. If you’re breastfeeding, make sure that he’s latched on tightly, so that he’s not taking in a lot of air when he swallows.  If you’re bottle feeding, make sure that the hole in the nipple isn’t too big, which might force your baby to gulp the formula and swallow a lot of air in the process. A nipple that’s too small, on the other hand, can also cause babies to swallow too much air.  Nipples come in several shapes and sizes, and you might have more luck with some types than others.

There are lots of good burping positions, and one of them might work better than others for you and your baby.  In any position, it’s helpful to apply gentle pressure to your baby’s tummy while gently rubbing or patting his back.  Here are two burping positions that might be particularly effective for your baby.

Sitting Burp: Hold your baby in a sitting position, so that he’s leaning slightly forward on your lap. Place the heel of your hand against his tummy, and support his chin with your fingers or the top of the same hand. As you lean your baby forward, apply gentle pressure to his tummy with the heel of your hand to help the trapped air move up and out of his stomach while you gently rub or pat his back with the other hand.

Lying Burp: Place baby—tummy down—over your thigh so that it presses gently against his tummy. Support your baby’s head with one hand so that it stays slightly higher than his body while you gently rub or pat his back with the other hand.

The good news is that as your baby grows and matures, he’ll soon be able to release the trapped air in his stomach without much help from you. By the age of six months, most babies don’t need any help with burping. In the meantime, if your baby continues to show signs of discomfort after eating in spite of your best efforts, be sure to discuss his symptoms with your pediatrician.

Answered by Dr. Rallie McAllister