It’s a commonplace occurrence: When a baby is done eating, their mom or dad places them over their shoulder and pats their back to get them to burp.
It turns out that this familiar routine is probably useless.
The theory behind the practice is that while nursing, babies inhale air that needs to be expelled after feeding. Patting their backs causes them to bring up that air, and well, burp.
We’ve all seen babies fuss after eating. That has to be due to gas in their stomachs, right? Wrong. As pediatrician Clay Jones argues, we have no proof that “gas in the stomach is the cause of fussiness or reflux” and even if it was “there is no physiologic reason why babies would need help burping.” If they were bloated, they could burp just like you and I, without help.
“If anything,” Jones wrote, “infants are protected from gas build up by normal immaturity of the lower esophageal sphincter, which relaxes and opens frequently.” Basically, they naturally vent their own stomachs.
Maybe you’re worried that not burping babies will cause them to spit up more. That’s actually been studied! A study of 71 mother-baby duos found that burping babies did not reduce the rates of colic but did increase the rates of regurgitation or spit-up compared to not burping babies. It makes sense to me, and to Jones, that “hitting a baby with a full stomach on the back will cause vomiting.”
So, should you burp babies? Well, there’s probably no harm, so long as you make sure to put a cloth underneath them to catch any vomit. But there’s probably no benefit either.