Stop me if this sounds familiar.
You’ve just fed baby a few ounces of breastmilk or formula.
Now, time for the burp.
You pat. And pat. And rub and rub. And bounce and bounce.
And nothing comes out!
Worse still, it’s the zillionth night in a row that baby just won’t burp.
What do you do? How do you burp a baby that’s hard to burp?
If you’re having that much trouble consistently, you might reconsider the need to burp your baby at all. Not every baby needs to burp at every feeding!
However, there are lots of other things you can try to burp a difficult baby. If your baby is hard to burp, try different burping positions like the football hold burp, rubbing the back instead of patting, and gently leaning forward and backward.
You can also try soothing baby to try to burp him when he’s calmer if he’s getting upset during burping.
Let’s take a closer look.
Why are some babies harder to burp than others?
If there’s one unifying truth to parenting, it’s that every kid is different.
They have different personalities, different needs, and they all respond a little bit differently to burping.
Hard-to-burp babies are definitely a thing.
But one thing to consider is that if your baby is consistently really difficult to burp, it could mean that he or she just doesn’t need to burp all that badly.
For example, breastfed babies typically need to burp a little less than bottle-fed babies (who swallow more air). Conversely, if you use really good slow-flow bottles, even bottle-fed babies on formula might not have a need to burp frequently.
On top of that, babies fed upright have fewer issues with accumulating gas bubbles vs babies fed lying down.
So if you’re really conscious about how, when, and what you feed your baby, there just might not be that much gas building up, and thus, no need for a burp.
But even still, it’s true that some babies are just a little more stubborn when it comes to burps than others.
Do babies even have to burp?
We kind of take it as gospel these days that you’re supposed to burp your baby after and even during a feeding.
But there’s definitely some evidence that you might not need to, maybe at all.
One study took 71 new moms and their babies and split them into two groups.
One group was given specific instructions on how exactly to burp their babies. The other group wasn’t.
After 3 months of tracking spit up and fussy, colic episodes, the researchers found that there was no clear advantage to following proper burping procedure.
(Babies who were burped consistently actually spit up more.)
There are limitations to this study, of course, and I recommend you read about it in more detail over at Science News.
The overall recommendation to come out of this research is this:
Intuitive burping when you can see your baby visibly uncomfortable, squirming, or upset due to a gas bubble, is a good thing.
But you should consider freeing yourself of the ritual obligation to burp X amount of times per feeding.
There simply might not be a need.
What’s the best baby burping technique? (Burping 101)
Even still, it’s a good idea to have some basic, fundamental burping techniques in your back pocket when you need them.
Typically, most experts recommend taking a break every 2-3 ounces during bottle feeding for a burp, or burping between breasts while breastfeeding.
But you may want to skip those recommendations for hard-to-burp babies and only try when you can tell they really need it.
There are two basic burping positions that most people use and recommend, and then a ton of variations of each.
Upright & over the shoulder
This is pretty much the most basic and commonly used way of burpnig a baby:
- Hold baby up against your body, head facing you
- Rest their chin gently on your shoulder
- (For God’s sake, wear a burp cloth!)
- For babies with a little bit of head and neck control, you can hold them higher so your shoulder presses lightly on their belly
- Softly rub and pat their back until they burp
Laying down across your lap
Another popular way is to lay the baby down flat to move the air bubbles around:
- Lay baby flat across your lap
- Their head should be facing down toward the floor, belly across your thighs
- Gently rub and pat their back until they burp
That’s pretty much the introductory course on baby burping.
There’s really no magic to it. You just get baby into a comfortable position and gently rub and pat their back, with a lot of patience, until the burp comes out.
When it does, it’s SO oddly satisfying!
7 burping techniques & ideas for difficult babies
But what if nothing you’re trying works? What if baby just won’t burp?
Here are a few tips for babies that are really hard to burp on a consistent basis.
1. Calm them down
A lot of parents report that burping a fussy or crying baby is really difficult.
This is a tricky one, because if they’re crying, that’s a good sign they really need to burp!
But an upset baby is a tight, tense baby. And the air bubble may have trouble escaping.
Consider taking a break from feeding and burping and just try to soothe them for a bit. Rock them gently, shush them, sing a song. You know your baby and what will help them relax.
Then try again for the burp in a few minutes.
2. Try lots of different positions
There are dozens of different ways to burp a baby (most are just small variations of the main two).
But keep trying different ones until you find what works.
Don’t feel like you have to stick with other the shoulder. You can try laying baby down in your lap, or even laying them across your forearm in a football-style hold.
And if you do go with the over-the-shoulder method, try holding them a little bit higher so your shoulder puts some pressure on their abdomen. It might help the gas escape.
Some parents find their baby has “a position” that works like magic, or close to it. You just have to find yours.
3. Try rubbing vs patting
Usually when we think of burping, we think of gentle pats designed to jostle the air bubble up and out.
But I actually found with my daughter, (and a lot of parents have found this, too) that firmly rubbing the back seemed to work a lot better.
I mean, I’d really get in there!
Rub with some pressure (not too much!). Rub in circles. Rub up and down. Rub back and forth.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, you’ll hit “the spot” and that air bubble will finally come out.
I’ve always liked rubbing better than patting for burping, I think partially because you can be a little bit more vigorous without hurting baby accidentally (like you could by patting too hard).
4. Lean them gently forward & backward
You can also try a method that doesn’t involve rubbing or patting at all.
If you think of a burp as an air bubble that’s trapped in the stomach, you can simply try to jostle it out by gently moving baby’s whole body.
Try sitting them on their butt, torso upright, and gently rocking them forward and back. Forward and back. Forward and back.
Just don’t go too fast, or they’ll hurl!
But this rhythmic movement is great at helping gas untrap itself.
5. Bicycling & other limb or body movements
Bicycling is a great way to get a baby to fart, but it can also work for basically any kind of gas that needs to get out!
Lay baby on his back, and gently push his knees up to his chest, one at a time, alternating one then the other.
(It’ll look like he’s pedaling a bicycle.)
This puts some really good but gently pressure on different areas of the abdomen and helps both farts and burps come out!
You can also try “elbow to knee,” from the same position.
Gently pull his left elbow to touch his right knee, and then do the other side.
6. Skip the burp!
There’s really no rule that says baby has to burp during or right after a feeding.
If baby isn’t visibly uncomfortable or upset by gas, just let it go and don’t worry about forcing a burp out.
Again, you should use your parental intuition to know when baby needs to burp. But don’t feel the need to follow this ritual of burping at every single feeding.
Besides, if you really just CAN NOT get a burp out, that’s a pretty good sign that there’s no burp in there to even get out!
7. Talk to a doctor
If you’ve tried everything, and you just can’t get baby to burp, and you KNOW the gas is causing him pain or discomfort, it might be time to call in the experts.
Talk to your pediatrician about the problem.
It’s possible he or she will prescribe gas drops or other relief options like gripe water.
I wouldn’t use these without consulting your doctor first, but they can be good solutions for babies who have serious problems with gas due to feedings.
What the experts say about burping difficult babies
I reached out to a few pros to get some more tips and paint a picture of the current thinking around what to do if your baby just won’t burp!
Dr. Charles Shubin of Mercy Medical Center prefers the classic over-the-shoulder technique, even for tough burpers.
“The technique I like, based on anatomical principles, is to have the baby tilted 45 degrees to the baby’s right on the burper’s shoulder,” he writes. “This position makes it easiest for the air bubble to find it’s way up the esophagus from the stomach.”
An oldie but a goodie!
“Not every baby NEEDS to be burped all the time,” reminds Newborn Care Specialist and Doula Devon Clement.
“If their body is relaxed and they’re sort of soft and floppy, they’re probably fine. Once they seem a little agitated or start refusing to feed, then it’s probably a burp brewing.”
She prefers having baby sitting on your lap with knees bent to get things moving, or even laying them down on their back (but only brief) to stir up the air bubble.
If you take one thing away from this article, it should be that there’s no rule or law that says a baby has to burp at every feeding!
Save your sanity and don’t spend hours and hours trying to force out a burp that will never come.
Go off your baby’s own cues. If he’s fussy or agitated after a feeding, there might be some gas. If he seems fine, don’t stress about it!
And I’m not just pulling this out of nowhere — there is very little scientific evidence that says ritual burping has any benefits for babies. And the limited data we do have says burping might actually cause babies to spit up more often.
But if you do need to get baby to burp and you’re having trouble, my best advice is to try lots and lots of different positions and variations. It may be that you just haven’t found what works for your baby yet.
If you’re getting nowhere and the problem’s getting worse, talk to a doctor about whether you should try using gas drops or gripe water.