Let’s talk about the biomechanics of a good burp, and I mean baby style, not manly man style. Having a new baby, I have spent a lot of time burping her in the last 3 months, and I have spent a lot of time observing others doing the same thing. What has dawned on me is that there is a lack of understanding about the mechanics of a good burp.
When I had my first child I had no previous experience with burping or dealing with young children in general. Blank Slate. Deer in headlights type responses. I burped my babe like I thought you were supposed to. I vividly remember the look my sister and mother gave me when they saw me burping my newborn for the first time. Shock. Horror. Apparently I looked like I was playing the bongos on my babe’s back…. And a little too forcefully at that. Well, geesh. That’s what they do on TV!! What do you mean that’s not the way to do it! Ha. I don’t think I was alone in my lack of understanding of the purpose and process.
A baby’s need to burp occurs due to the swallowing of air. In a breast fed baby this can occur with a mother has a strong “let down” or an abundance of milk. Imaging yourself trying to drink out of a fire house, you’re going to get some air in there. A bottle fed baby tends to swallow more air due to the faster flow of a bottle nipple as well. In addition, any type of feeding has increased chance of swallowing air when the baby latches, falls off and then relatches, or has a poor latch.
The purpose of the burp is to move the air bubble out of the stomach, up the esophagus, and out the mouth. This relieves the discomfort the baby feels, and who doesn’t love to hear a good belch out of babe?
Signs your baby needs to burp:
1. In newborns, sticking their tongue out
3. Arching of the back
4. Bringing their knees up to their chest repeatedly
5. Fussiness in general, and fussiness when feeding. Wanting to feed but continually falling off the breast.
It is important to watch for these signs since a baby may need to burp at a time that is not right after a feed and therefore it may not be one of the first things we think of as a mechanism to calm a fussy baby.
The mechanics of a good burp are related to FINESSE over FORCE.
Instead of playing the bongos on your child’s back, or pretending her back is your other hand and giving a round of applause, a good burp is a function of massaging the air bubble out. You want to be working the meaty part of your palm into her back and upwards. Imagine the bubble being sandwiched between your two hands and being worked up and out.
The key components for a good burp are:
1. Pressure on her back. Massaging the bubble out by delivering upward pressure on her back with the meaty part of your palm. Kind of like kneading bread. Pressure point for this is starting at the lower aspect of the ribs and working up along the spine or a little to the left, which is directly over the esophagus.
2. Counter Pressure on her stomach. This is the part most parents omit. Putting pressure on her stomach and on her back creates a sandwich effect which forces the air bubble up the esophagus and headed in the right direction – out. Pressure point for this is with the meaty part of your palm is midline, where the left and right ribs converge at the lower rib cage. This pressure could be applied by your hand, your shoulder, or even her knees. You’ll see as we talk about effective burping positions.
My all time favorite position is the seated position. Baby sits on your lap with your palm on her tummy and her chin resting in the V between your forefinger and your thumb for more support. Leaning baby forward puts pressure on her stomach and massaging her back moves the bubbles up. You can also pat a little bit too, gently. I like this position because you can position your burp cloth on your lap to catch any spit up that might appear.
My second favorite position is the over the shoulder burp. You will drape baby over your shoulder so that her stomach is resting on the tip of your shoulder for counter pressure. Her arms should be extended out over your shoulder, which helps create an unobstructed path up the esophagus. Rub and pat to move the bubbles up. This one works great too if you walk around the house a bit, a little bounce in your step helps move things around. If she feels to floppy to you in this position, my modification is to bring her down off the shoulder a bit and tuck her knees up to her stomach with your left arm if you have her on the left side. This creates that counter pressure on her stomach but she’s not hanging over your shoulder so much. This is a great position to use if you are ever soothing your baby during the night using the baby whisperer’s “pick up, put down” method. You soothe and burp at the same time, and having to burp can be the cause as to why baby won’t settle.
If you are still having trouble getting the burp out, tummy time can be an effective way to get the burp out, as can wearing a sling and having baby chest to chest.
So remember, finesse over force and massage that bubble up and out! Happy Belching!