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Burping, wind and colic in babies

9-minute read

Key facts

  • Babies can swallow air when they’re crying or feeding. They can get rid of wind by burping or farting (passing wind from their bottoms).
  • Many babies like to burp midway and at the end of their feeds.
  • It’s normal for babies to bring up a small amount of milk, called a spill or a posset, when they burp.
  • Colic describes a baby’s behaviour when they are unsettled and cry a lot. Generally, with time and gut maturity, they become more settled.

What is burping?

Burping is a normal way for the body to release air via the mouth from the upper digestive system. Another name for burping is belching or ‘bringing up wind’. Burping is generally caused by swallowing excess air when eating or drinking.

Most of the air which is expelled when burping comes from the oesophagus before it reaches the stomach. If air isn’t released from the mouth, it’s passed through the digestive system and is passed via the baby’s bottom. Gas is also produced by the breakdown of milk in the baby’s gut.

Do I need to burp my baby?

As adults, many of us associate burping with discomfort and relief. The uncomfortable, full feeling we have just before burping is eased once we burp. It’s fair then to link the same uneasy sense to babies when they’re feeding. However, there is currently no real evidence to prove that burping helps to lower colic or regurgitation rates in babies.

Although as parents and caregivers we’re used to including burping opportunities during and after feeding, there is no proof that it’s helpful; but it’s also fair to say that burping does no harm. Parents can feel they’ve done something positive to soothe their baby when they try to get them to burp and their baby responds by making a loud belching noise.

When is the best time to burp my baby?

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to burping. Some babies will burp on their own without any help, or even burp when they are feeding.

It doesn’t make a difference whether a baby is breast or bottle fed. All babies can benefit from having a pause during their feeds and being burped.

Most parents will see if their baby wants to burp:

  • when their sucking slows down during feeds
  • when they start fussing when feeding and stop sucking
  • between sides when breastfeeding
  • halfway through a feed
  • at the end of a feed

How do I burp my baby?

You will work out what works best for you and your baby after trying a few burping positions. Most babies burp more easily if they’re held upright, though they don’t need to be.

It’s common and normal for babies to bring up small amounts of milk when they burp. Keep a cloth handy to mop up any spills.

  • Hold your baby up over your shoulder, supporting them with your hand on the same side. When they’re upright, gently pat or rub their back with your other hand.
  • Sit your baby up on your lap and lean them forward slightly with their tummy against your hand. This gentle pressure may help your baby to bring up their wind. Rub or pat their back with your other hand.
  • Place your baby face down on your lap or your forearm so they’re looking outwards. Rub their back gently with your other hand.

Why do babies get wind?

Young babies can get wind if they swallow air when they’re crying or feeding. Some babies feed very quickly and swallow a lot of air when they’re sucking. Young babies may not always create a firm seal with their mouth when they’re sucking on the breast or bottle and seem to swallow more air.

If your baby is breastfeeding

Be mindful of your ‘let-down’ and how quickly your breast milk is flowing. Some mothers have a very rapid flow and newborns especially can struggle a little until they get better at coordinating their suck-and-swallow pattern.

If your baby is breastfeeding and you feel they have colic, it may help to try using drops containing the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri. This is a particular type of probiotic which has been shown to help breastfeeding babies cry less. Speak with your GP or a lactation consultant first.

If your baby is bottle feeding

  • Time your baby’s feeds. If you feel they’re drinking too quickly, try using a slower teat.
  • Tighten the screw lid on the top of the bottle to slow down the milk flow.
  • Hold your baby on a slight incline in your arms so any air bubbles rise to the top — this can make burping easier.
  • Give your baby more frequent pauses when they’re feeding. Sit them up and see if they want to burp.

What should I do if my baby has a lot of wind?

There’s not much you can do to control how much air your baby is swallowing when they feed. When babies have flatulence or wind, they may also have stomach pain and bloating. This is caused by a buildup of gas in their intestines which the baby can’t release.

If your baby is unsettled, it may help to give them a warm bath and a tummy massage.

What is colic?

Colic is a condition to describe a healthy and well-fed baby’s excessive crying. Commonly, babies with colic cry inconsolably for more than 3 hours, more than 3 days of the week.

Babies who need to pass wind can be unsettled, wakeful and behave as if they’re in pain. Sometimes their tummy can look bloated and they pull their legs up and strain, as if they want to poo.

How do I treat colic?

We don’t really know what causes colic, though it usually begins within the first few weeks of life and peaks at around 6 to 8 weeks. Colic often stops by the time the baby is 4 months old, and by 6 months at the latest. Most babies tend to become calmer as their digestion matures and they reach around 4 months.

Over-the-counter medication and devices for colic have no proven benefit. You may find it helpful to speak to your GP or child health nurse for more advice and information.

How do I manage colic at home?

Some of the strategies below may help too sooth your baby:

  • it may be easier said than done but try to stay calm — although you may not be able to stop the crying, you can help your baby to cope with their distress and this will help you think clearly
  • let your baby suck at the breast or bottle
  • offer a dummy — sucking may provide comfort and help your baby to settle
  • gently rock or hold your baby in your arms or in a baby carrier or sling
  • continue to speak softly to your baby, your voice and presence may help soothe them
  • try playing some soft music
  • give your baby a warm bath
  • give your baby a gentle massage as this may calm your baby and also help you to relax

When should I take my baby to the doctor?

Always follow your instincts and have your baby checked by a doctor if you’re worried.

It’s also important to have them checked if:

  • they are vomiting large amounts of milk or food
  • they vomit with force, or are ‘projectile vomiting’, especially after every feed
  • they seem unwell, have a temperature
  • you need reassurance that there is no medical cause for your baby’s crying
  • your baby is refusing feeds or is having less than half their normal feeds
  • your baby does not seem to settle or continues to cry for long periods, no matter what you try
  • you feel you are not coping
  • you feel the crying is impacting on your relationship with your baby or you are finding it hard to feel positive about them
  • your mental health or your relationship with your partner is being affected
  • you are worried for any other reason

Where can I go for advice and support?

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2022

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Colic in babies: what it is & what to do | Raising Children Network

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Coping with an unsettled baby - COPE

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