Is there anything more disheartening than watching your baby fuss and squirm with gas and belly discomfort? It’s hard not to feel helpless when our babes are uncomfortable. Instead of standing by, wishing there was something you could do, try these burping, positioning, and massaging techniques to relieve gas and colic naturally, providing your little one with some welcome relief.
One of the most important things we learn in our first weeks of parenting is how to burp a baby. A few different situations can cause infants to swallow air — if they cry before a feeding, experience a strong or fast milk flow during nursing, or fail to properly seal their mouths around the breast or bottle while feeding, they may end up with bubbles in their bellies. Burping can relieve that build-up of air and prevent later discomfort associated with gas.
Try these four burping techniques and see which one, or which combination, works best for your child. (But before you try any of them, grab a burp cloth in case you coax out more than just a burp!)
- On the shoulder – From a seated or standing position, place baby up high on your chest so that your shoulder presses lightly into the space just below your little one’s ribs. Pat and rub your baby’s back with moderate pressure to coax the burp out. A gentle bounce may help the bubble emerge.
- Across the knees – From a seated position, place baby across your lap, lying face down (perpendicular to your legs). Support your baby’s chin and jaw with one hand while rubbing and patting with the other hand.
- Folded forward – From a seated position, sit baby on your leg, facing to the side or away from your body. Support baby’s chin and jaw (not the throat) with one hand while patting and rubbing baby’s back with the other hand.
- Over the hip – This position works great for moms who nurse their babies in a side-lying position. Place baby over hip, facing your back, so your hip puts gentle pressure onto your baby’s belly. Pat and rub your baby’s back.
It your baby already seems to be experiencing gas-related discomfort, try these positions to help work out those bubbles! All three of techniques begin with your baby lying on his back, and can be repeated until baby passes gas, relaxes, or becomes tired of the motion.
- Knees-to-chest – Bend and lift baby’s legs up to the chest, then extend them again. Repeat the motion smoothly and rhythmically. You may lift both legs together, or pedal them slowly, like baby is riding a bicycle.
- Foot-to-knee – Bring one of baby’s feet to up to the opposite knee and hold it there for a few seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
- Hip-lift – Gently grasp your baby’s calves or ankles with your hands. Bend the legs to 90 degrees, then lift them straight up, allowing your baby’s hips to rise a couple inches off the bed or blanket.
Infant massage is terrific not only for relieving stress and bonding with your baby, but also for providing relief from digestive issues. To perform the massage, you’ll need a towel (one that can get oily) and a bottle of oil to help your hands move smoothly across baby’s skin. Choose an edible oil like olive or coconut (organic is a plus) in case it travels from baby’s fingers or toes up to his mouth.
Before the massage, consider giving your baby a bath. This helps baby to relax, along with warming his skin and your own hands. Make sure the massage room is a comfortably warm temperature so baby can rest either naked or in only a diaper. Spread the towel on a soft surface, and lay your baby across the towel. Abdominal massage is easiest when the diaper is removed completely, but if you’d prefer to leave it on, pull it down low on baby’s hips so you have more room to work with on the belly region.
Lean over your baby. Smile and make eye contact, explaining that you are about to perform a massage that will feel nice and help him relax. Warm a small spoonful of oil between your hands, then rub it in downward strokes from baby’s chest to legs.
Practice one of both of these digestion-aiding techniques:
- Water Wheel Stroke – Place your fingers just below baby’s belly button. Press down about an inch, and, with a slow stroke, scoop with a downward motion. Repeat with the opposite hand. Continue the strokes 8-10 times with a slow, firm, motion, alternating hands.
- “I Love U” Stroke – This series of strokes makes an upside-down “I-L-U” stroke on baby’s belly. Lean over your baby, imagine that there is a box around his belly button. Each side of the box is marked with a clockwise-pointing arrow. The first stroke is a straight line (an “I”) up the left side of the box. The second stroke is a right angle (an upside-down “L”) that crosses above the belly button, then down the right side of the box. The third stroke is an arch (an upside-down “U”) that crosses up the left side of the box, across the top, and down the right side. Repeat this stroke 4-8 times, always making sure to move in a clockwise direction (the body’s natural direction of elimination).
At the completion of the massage, place your hands gently on baby’s abdomen, smile, and tell him that the massage is complete. (Feel free to shower him with love and kisses. After all, you did use edible oil!)
Still Having Trouble?
If nothing seems to help, talk to your doctor. Although most belly issues will be worked out within the first few months of baby’s life, in some cases, colic, gas, excessive spit-up, and/or discomfort could indicate another condition like gastroesophageal reflux.
Some nursing mothers find it helpful to pay attention to their food choices, seeking correlations between baby’s fussy times and foods that may not agree with an immature digestive system (such as dairy or tomatoes). Pediatricians and lactation consultants can help nursing mothers adjust their diets to make sure both mama and baby are happy.
Remember, as babies grow and become more experienced eaters who can roll, crawl, and walk, they will likely have less trouble with gas and digestive discomfort. That means more grins for mom, and less wondering, “Was that a smile, or a gas bubble?”