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.
However, most babies during the first three or four first months of life have colic and feeding problems.
Babies need to acclimatize to their new life, learning to feed themselves through sucking a breast or a bottle for milk. In the meantime the baby’s stomach and digestive tract are adapting to the feeding process. In this case, during the process of breastfeeding, babies swallow air at the same time they drink milk.
The air that stays in the digestive tract needs to get out immediately. If the babies do not get the air out they will start to have a stomach ache or colic problems and will cry or vomit a little milk. This happens because the stomach is not fully developed yet.
Burps are not typically a pleasant sound, unless, of course, they’re coming from your new baby. Getting a good burp out of a baby means they’re letting loose the air that’s trapped in their belly, which we all know feels pretty satisfying. And up until the baby reaches a certain age, more often than not, they will need your help with burping; not necessarily because they can’t burp, but because it’s difficult to expel air when you spend most of your time lying down.
This can pose a problem if the baby has swallowed air during the feeding process. 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 from the breast or bottle that they fail to take in enough calories at their meal times.
It may sometimes be necessary to wake the baby during feeding to help them eat more. Burping the baby may help by eliminate some feelings of fullness and help 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. When burping your baby, repeated gentle patting on your baby’s back should do the trick. Cup your hand while patting, as this is gentler on the baby than a flat palm.
To prevent messy cleanups when your baby spits up or has a “wet burp,” you might want to place a towel or bib under your baby’s chin or on your shoulder.
Try different positions for burping until you find the one this is comfortable for you and your baby:
- Sit upright and hold your baby against your chest. Your baby’s chin should rest on your shoulder as you support the baby with one hand. With the other hand, gently pat your baby’s back. Sitting in a rocking chair and gently rocking with your baby while you do this may also help.
- Hold your baby sitting up, in your lap or across your knee. Support your baby’s chest and head with one hand by cradling your baby’s chin in the palm of your hand. Rest the heel of your hand on your baby’s chest, but be careful to grip your baby’s chin, not the throat. Use the other hand to pat your baby’s back.
- Lay your baby on your lap or on their belly. Support your baby’s head and make sure it’s higher than his or her chest. Gently pat your baby’s back.
If your baby seems fussy while feeding, stop the session, burp your baby and then begin feeding again. Try burping your baby every 2 to 3 ounces (60 to 90 milliliters) if you bottle-feed and each time you switch breasts if you breastfeed.
Try burping your baby every ounce during bottle-feeding or every 5 minutes during breastfeeding if your baby:
- Tends to be gassy,
- Spits a lot
- Has gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD) or
- Seems fussy during feeding.
If your baby doesn’t burp after a few minutes, change the baby’s position and try burping for another few minutes before feeding again. Always burp your baby when feeding time is over.
To help prevent the milk from coming back up, keep your baby upright after feeding for 10 to 15 minutes, or longer if your baby spits up or has GERD. But don’t worry if your baby spits up sometimes. It’s probably more unpleasant for you than it is for your baby.
Sometimes your baby may awaken because of gas. Picking your little one up to burp might put him or her back to sleep. As your baby gets older, don’t worry if your child doesn’t burp during or after every feeding. Usually, it means that your baby has learned to eat without swallowing excess air.
Babies with colic (3 or more hours a day of continued crying) might have gas from swallowing too much air during crying spells, which can make the baby even more uncomfortable. Using anti-gas drops has not proven to be an effective way to treat colic or gas, and some of these medicines can be dangerous.
Tips for Preventing Excess Gas in Babies
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:
- 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 if the nipple shows signs of wear.
- 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.