Burping your baby? Could be for the birds

By Morgan Sherburne • Published: December 6th, 2016
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

It’s an accepted rule of baby care from mothers and grandmothers in almost every culture in the world: After you feed your infant, you should pat her firmly on the back until she burps.

Medical experts have long told parents that burping is necessary because babies can swallow air when nursing or eating from a bottle, and they need a little help getting that air back out. Digestion, allergies or food intolerance all can contribute to a baby’s gassiness as well, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends burping babies during feeding breaks and after they’re finished with their meal.

But one researcher, also a mother, questioned the advice after spending hours burping her own baby. So she designed a trial to investigate whether burping really benefits the baby.

The researchers randomly separated 71 babies into two groups. Roughly half of the babies were burped by their parents, and the rest were not. The researchers controlled for factors such as the gender of the babies, the family’s income, feeding patterns and whether the babies were given breast milk or formula.

After 45 days, the researchers checked to see which group experienced fewer episodes of regurgitation or bouts of colic, marked by uncontrolled, excessive crying. The results, published in Child: Care, Health and Development, showed no statistical difference between episodes of colic in babies who were burped versus babies who were not burped—and there were significantly fewer episodes of spitting up among the babies who were not burped.

The researchers acknowledge their findings could be limited by the study’s small sample size, but they said the trial suggests a compelling reason to question the need to burp a baby.

So if a new parent is eyeballing a few extra minutes of rest versus patting her infant’s back, this research suggests skipping the burping could be beneficial. Perhaps it’s time to throw this age-old advice out with the bathwater.