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How And When To Burp A Baby

As newborns hungrily gulp down formula or breast milk, most swallow a lot of air too. When air sits in the esophagus  -- as it tends to do in babies under 2 months old, who spend lots of time lying down  -- the result is gas.

The more air a baby swallows, the greater the chance (and the volume) that she'll spit up.

You can help your baby expel gas by burping her in the middle and at the end of every feeding. If you're bottle-feeding, this means burping her after she's finished 2 to 3 ounces, or about half the formula, and again when she's done eating. If you're nursing, burp your baby when you switch breasts and again at the end.

If after a few weeks you find that your baby isn't spitting up a lot, or if she cries when you interrupt her feeding to burp her, it's okay to wait until she's done, says pediatrician Donald Shifrin, M.D. "If the baby cries, she'll swallow more air, which will make her more uncomfortable," he says.

To help get the air bubbles up:

  • Put the baby over your shoulder; or sit her on your lap, pitched slightly forward, while supporting her chest and chin in your hand; or lie her facedown on your lap, with her head raised slightly on your thigh. Always keep her head higher than her stomach to help the air inside percolate up.

  • Gently rub or pat her back or rear end with the fingertips or palm of your free hand. Or dance slowly while she's over your shoulder. Never roughly shake a baby; this can cause neurological damage.

  • If she hasn't burped after four minutes, she may not need to.

By around 2 or 3 months old, your baby no longer needs to be regularly burped, says Dr. Shifrin. At this age, babies start spending more time upright and awake, in infant seats and strollers, so they're able to get most of the burps up on their own.