Looking back to the time when my husband and I brought our first-born home from the hospital, I remember my first-time mother feelings of inadequacy and nervousness whenever I attempted to burp my little boy. No matter what I did, or the way that I tried it, my infant son would never produce a burp for me. Yet, much to my dismay, when my husband took his turn during a nightly feeding session, our precious little bundle freely produced sounds of relief!

Feeding a newborn can be an exciting, challenging, yet intimidating experience for any parent, whether it’s your first or third baby. Getting your degree in the “art of burping” will take you on a journey filled with bumps, spittle and yes, extra loads of laundry.

Common Burp Positions
There are three common positions to use when you begin to burp your newborn: over the shoulder, face down on your lap, and sitting up. It is important to remember that if you are not getting the desired results from one position, you need to try another since most babies burp better in one position rather than another.

The over-the-shoulder position requires you to hold your newborn firmly against your shoulder and apply a patting or rubbing motion with your hand on your little one’s back. Support your baby’s lower back and bottom with your other arm. “A baby can be burped in several ways, but parents should always remember the position of the stomach. The most common way is over the shoulder, with Mom or Dad in an upright position and the child slightly over the shoulder, giving slight pressure on the abdomen and patting their back,” explains Rosemary Shy, MD, FAAP, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital in Iowa City.

The face-down-on-your-lap position requires you to place your newborn on your lap with his head resting on one leg, and his stomach over the other leg. You must support the baby with one hand, while you apply a patting or rubbing motion or gentle pressure on his back with the other hand.

If you should decide to try the sitting up position, position your baby in your lap with his/her body leaning forward. Support the chest and head with one hand while you pat your baby’s back with your other hand.

“These three are the most popular methods,” says Mary Margaret Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN and Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Specialty Program Director at The Ohio State University College of Nursing in Columbus. Gottesman recommends that parents must “take care to support the baby’s head and neck safely during positioning for burping, and move the baby in a gentle, slow manner so as not to startle and scare the infant. Babies usually do not like rapid movements.”

When Should Baby Take a Burp Break?
If you are planning to breastfeed your newborn, many healthcare providers and specialists agree about timing burps. A good rule of thumb is to burp your baby each time you switch breasts, as babies have a tendency to swallow air during feeding and can become fussy or spit up if they are not burped frequently. Burping helps to slow down and interrupt your newborn’s eating cycle, and reduces the amount of air that they swallow during feeding.

Bottle-fed newborns tend to experience more trapped gas or air bubbles than those who are exclusively breastfed. “Most bottle-fed babies need to burp more frequently than those who are breastfed. It may depend on the type of formula, type of bottle, size of baby and individual stomach, and their fussiness,” says Shy. She cautions parents-to-be: “Remember that an infant’s stomach is only the size of a golf ball at birth, and so it is not large enough to easily have air and food in it at the same time.” Gottesman agrees, adding that whether you’re feeding your baby by breast or bottle, moms should observe the changes in their baby’s feeding behavior. “When your baby markedly slows down or stops feeding, gently remove the bottle and burp your baby. Also, at the end of a feeding, you should attempt to burp your baby again.”

Parents should learn to identify your baby’s cues of fullness: a relaxed body, drifting off to sleep, and the cessation of active sucking and swallowing, and then accept these signs of fullness by stopping feeding. Babies should not be forced to finish once they clearly indicate their fullness.

What If My Baby Still Won’t Burp?
A mom shouldn’t feel a sense of failure if her baby doesn’t burp at every attempt. “When babies feed in a more upright position, they naturally will have less trapped air than if they are fed lying flat,” says Gottesman, who goes on to explain that every baby is different, and more often, breastfed babies may not need to produce a burp during feedings. “If a decent attempt at burping has been made, especially for breastfeeding babies, parents do not need to obsess.”

What If Your Newborn Spits up During a Feeding?
One thing that I learned and experienced when I became a mom is that ALL babies will spit up. Spitting up, while scary to see, is a common occurrence during a burp, and does not necessarily mean that your baby is vomiting. “It is very common for infants to spit up a mouthful or two of formula or breast milk when they burp because it is sitting on top of the gas bubble,” says Gottesman. “As the gas bubble breaks, it pushes up those small amounts of milk. Also, the muscle at the entrance of the stomach that holds the feeding in the stomach is weaker than it will be in later life, making it easier for infants to regurgitate portions of their feedings.”

Most often, spitting up will stop by the time a baby begins to sit upright or when they reach six months of age. If your newborn tends to be spitting up more frequently during each feeding session, seek consultation with your child’s pediatrician. Gottesman also suggests taking a sample of the spit-up with you during your appointment. “If parents are concerned about whether the amount their baby spits up is normal, they should place a burp cloth from a recent feeding in a Ziploc baggie and take it with them to their health visit so that the health professional can see exactly the amount about which they are concerned.”

Sit Back, Relax, Enjoy and Observe Your Little One
“Most infants tell you that they need to burp, and mothers usually learn to recognize these signs very quickly,” explains Shy. “A small frown, wiggling, and faster eating are a few common ones.” Enjoy your newborn, and remember, there is no one “right way” to go about burping a baby. Your baby will communicate their needs to you through the type of cries they make, so along with observation, trusting your instincts is key.

Jennifer Lacey is a freelance journalist/editor specializing in pregnancy and parenting. Her work has been featured in numerous national and regional publications and websites.