Reverberating throughout history
August 30, 2019 8:17 AM   Subscribe

When baby is fed, baby is burped - held vertically, sometimes slumped over a shoulder and allowed to get some gas out through the mouth before being laid down. That's just how it is. How old is this practice? Is there evidence that shows it in ancient times? Prehistoric? Is it universal now? Were there alternatives?
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin to Society & Culture (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It's not that clear that there's any scientific benefit to burping, for what it's worth.
posted by peacheater at 8:45 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We were taught it’s more effective to lay the baby across your lap, but that burping wasn’t necessarily necessary (2007 in NYC, 2011 in Ohio.)
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:00 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: From a related article: "'...I would consider the recommendation to burp a baby to be less medical advice, and more an infant feeding practice that is passed down across generations, and that humans universally seem to assume is useful for infants.' Her patients have come from all over the world: China, Nigeria, Brazil, France, the Philippines, Canada, India, Germany, Iceland, Russia and the United States. And she’d be hard pressed, she says, to think of any culture that doesn’t burp their babies."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:01 AM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: So I did a quick glance in old books and newspapers. First thing is the word burp has only been around since the 1930s! So I looked for "pat on back" "indigestion" "after suckling" or "feeding". Nothing. I find all kinds of instruction about don't feed them after violently crying, lay them on the right side after suckling,etc. No hits in stuff from the 1800s about burping a baby.
It might be out there but in looking at about 10 how-to-feed-your-baby instructions- Burping wasn't included.
posted by beccaj at 9:42 AM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: In many cultures, the baby is held close to the body at all times, so you can feel how baby's bowels are doing and react to that appropriately. If it is true that Western style burping didn't arrive before the 30's, it may have been a solution to not "wearing" your baby and thus not directly feeling it's needs.
The 19th century was a terrible time to be a baby with a lot of bad healthcare theories all over. In one region close to me, nursing was discouraged except for a very short period, and the babies fed bread soaked in water instead. I suppose it was baby Darwinism, where only the strongest survived. Before the 19th century, you probably won't find a lot of sources to general childcare, because doctors only cared about the upper classes, who used wet nurses, and midwives caring for the broader populace rarely published their thoughts.
I'm writing out of memory from what a former colleague told me, she does research in the history of childcare.

Anecdotally, I'm a new grandmother, yeah! When I hold my adorable grandson it's like an instinct kicks in, I move him a bit around and I can sort of feel what he needs. I don't think it is an actual instinct, because I remember struggling as a new mother. But it is something you learn from experience over time and in a less modern culture, from your mother. If you hadn't asked, I wouldn't even have thought of it. We just joke in the family that I can always make him sleep. That could explain why there is no burping literature.
posted by mumimor at 11:29 AM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

I was taught that if a baby is breast-fed, it doesn't swallow air (or at least, not that much air) and therefore burping is unnecessary. That could explain why there is no mention of burping before the widespread introduction of infant formula in the 1920s or so.
posted by basalganglia at 3:04 PM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

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