Is Burping Your Preemie Really That Important?


I remember that burping my premature older twins was such a big deal for me. After every feeding session, I would pat their backs, place them on my laps and bounce. Sometimes, I would put one on my shoulder while patting his/her back, I just refused to put them down, until I heard that comforting sound that they had digested their food.

Where did this idea come from, you may want to know? On one hand, I had my mom with me, and she believes in burping babies till today, and I still had my neonatal unit experience as a driving force of fear.  I had seen things that put the fear of God in me, and thus was determined to ensure the twins burped before I put them down. I had watched several times, as one of them was fed breast milk measured in millimetres through a tube at regular intervals throughout the day, even at night.  I had witnessed the watchful waiting of the nurse after each feed, so I definitely wasn’t taking any chances.

What if the food didn’t digest properly and it is regurgitated? What if it led to blocked nostrils, and the baby would stop breathing? I now know that the chances were slim, but my paranoid self was not interested in whether the chances were slim or not. I was all for it not happening at all. And so we burped.

Sometimes, the twins burped soon after I start my bouncing movement, and sometimes, they took their sweet time with it, and, worse, they would burp and I wouldn’t hear, meaning I would keep up with my movements, while trying not to give free rein to my imaginations. It didn’t work all the time.

What I later found out about preemies is that they usually have some form of difficulties with burping, thanks to their not-fully developed systems. But is this burping business really that important for a premature baby?

Well, here are the facts; learning to eat outside the womb is a whole different ball game to eating in utero. In simple language, it’s a lot of work for a new born, even for a full-term baby. The suck, swallow, breathe routine can be tricky to get a handle on.

And when your baby is born earlier than it is ready for life outside the womb, feeding can be even more challenging, as preemies sometimes can’t suck well (or at all), and have underdeveloped intestines as well as lungs, which means they require assistance breathing, at least for a little while. One of mine needed to be on oxygen for over a week. 

Preemies’ underdeveloped digestive system also makes them prone to getting air trapped in their gastrointestinal system. This air needs to come out, and that is where burping comes in.


Is it really important to burp your preemie?

Apparently, the answer is yes. In fact, the baby’s ability to handle the suck, swallow, and breathe feeding routine is one of the conditions for allowing it to go home from the neonatal unit.

When gas bubbles get stuck in your baby’s stomach, they can cause a feeling of fullness and discomfort, which often causes babies to squirm or cry. Since babies use crying as a signal to announce almost every one of their emotions, including trapped air discomfort, it can be hard to know which is which. This led the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to recommend burping your baby regularly, even if your baby doesn’t show discomfort or release any gas when you burp. At least, that means one less thing for momma to worry about.

There are different ways babies get gas in their bellies, one of which is by swallowing air. When babies nurse or drink from a bottle, they inevitably swallow some air, which goes down into their stomach, along with the milk or formula.

Generally, when babies eat faster either from being bottle-fed, or hunger, they also swallow some air.

Digestion – The breakdown of certain foods in the large intestine by bacteria can naturally create gas. This includes both the food that the baby consumes, as well as those the mother consumes and passes on in her breast milk. According to the National Institutes of Health, foods that contain carbohydrates are more likely to cause gas. Some of the most common offenders are beans, vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage). Sugar-free candies, gum, soda and fruit drinks are other culprits.

Allergic reaction -If baby is breastfeeding and has intolerance to certain foods from mom’s diet or to a type of formula, his body may react by creating more gas. Dairy intolerance is the most common culprit here.


When to burp your baby

The AAP recommends burping your baby during feeding breaks, and when he’s done eating. For breastfeeding moms, try burping before switching breasts. For bottle-feeding moms, the AAP recommends burping between every 2 to 3 ounces for newborn baby up to about 6 months old.

The best positions to burp are over your shoulder and sitting on your lap. Honestly, I think that these two are the best, because they come almost automatically to the mom.

However, it is okay to try both, to see which is most comfortable for you and most effective for getting burps out of your baby.

Whichever position you choose, be sure to have a burp cloth by your baby’s mouth to catch any spit-up.


When to stop burping baby

There is no definitive age to stop burping your baby, but as your little boss gets older and his digestive system becomes more mature, burping will become less of a necessity, the experts reveal.

You will likely feel less of a need to burp the baby around 4 to 6 months, when your baby starts eating solid food. I can’t remember when I stopped that reflexive action, but that being said, if you still notice your baby is gassy, continue with burping and other gas-relief techniques until you feel they are not needed.

Happy burping




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