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July 5, 2016

The difference between a grizzly baby and a settled one is sometimes as simple as a big burp. Baby Whisperer Sharlene Poole explains how to make that happen. 

When I was studying early child education just over 20 years ago, winding was just common practice. All new parents were encouraged to wind baby after a feed, but there was very little information about why and how often in your 24-hour day you should do it.

We were taught to use the ‘over the shoulder’ technique, or if that didn’t work, to lie baby on her tummy, along your legs, so you could rub her back.

While there is no right or wrong way to wind a baby, these techniques were not always effective, especially if you had a baby who was unhappy and appeared to be in pain  often the case for parents who were told their baby had colic.

In the last issue of Little Treasures, I wrote an article discussing my point of view on colic and how I believe that it is often a sign that something we are doing for our baby is not quite right. It seems only right to talk now about why I believe in the importance of winding your baby and how and when you need to do this.

When I started caring for newborn babies I had no idea of the flow-on effects for those who were not winded well enough. It was considered normal for babies to be unsettled or to want to cluster feed all the time. It was not until I started working as a maternity nurse  24 hours a day, six days a week  that I learnt how important it was to wind a baby during and after a feed.

There are some babies who you can feed and who will then bring their wind up quickly and easily when you sit them up or place them over your shoulder. There are others, however, who struggle and you can find yourself pacing up and down the hall with a small crying person who is pulling their legs up in discomfort. It is very much  a process of trial and error, but one that should be given time.

It was during my time of working 24 hours a day that I created my own winding technique, which I use 90 per cent of the time now, alongside the ‘Over the Shoulder’ option. I found that when you place a baby straight over your shoulder from a lying flat position, wind can take a long time to come up, particularly when they are newborn. And often the wind that does come up is from the last part of the feed, not from the beginning.  I also noticed that wind would come up after they were lying down for a nappy change or when I was trying to settle them to sleep.

To prevent this, I decided to start with lying baby flat, allowing her to stretch her body out. Then I would gently massage her stomach to help her relax and to assist the air bubbles to move through the digestive system. Then, when I sat her up, lifted her into a dangle position or even placed her over my shoulder, the air bubbles came up more freely and instead of just one I often got several burps at a time.

This discovery changed my career and changed the happiness of the babies for whom I was caring and their families. The babies fed longer, gained wonderful weight, settled more easily and slept for longer stints as well.

This discovery changed the happines of the babies I was caring for. They fed for longer, gained weight, settled more easily and slept for longer stints. 

From the beginning, I suggest you start with the basics, which are:

  • If your baby makes gulping sounds when feeding, know that they are going to have more wind than those who feed slowly and quietly.
  • Understand the flow of your milk and the difference between foremilk and hindmilk. The first letdown that occurs when you start a feed is known as the foremilk or ‘thirst quencher’, as I sometimes say, and that milk is thinner and often comes more quickly.
  • If baby pulls off the breast (as if coming up for air) and then goes back on but squirms, or bobs on and off, it means that they have wind. It is wise, particularly when they are under nine weeks of age, to wind before progressing with the feed. This clears the way for them to feed more effectively and enables them to reach the hindmilk  this is the milk that is fattier and more filling and sustaining for them. Getting to this hindmilk is therefore crucial for their growth and for helping mothers to avoid mastitis.
  • Some mothers have a very fast letdown and the position you feed in can help your baby cope better with this flow and reduce the amount of wind they get.
  • It is still important to wind them, but getting assistance with a different feeding position can help too.
  • Understand that babies do not often have just one burp, they often have several little ones. Therefore, if you hear them burp don’t rush back to feeding or stop suddenly, give them a gentle tap for a little longer or dangle them (if using my technique) for a second or two longer, to see if another two or three little air bubbles come up.
  • Be patient. It takes time for you and your baby to learn about feeding and winding. Even though it feels repetitive it is worth it when they then feed well and have the ability to settle well.
  • Don’t over wind! If you spend too much time on winding, your baby might get over stimulated and annoyed, which can be misinterpreted as them being in pain.
  • Try two to three times and if there is still no burp carry on with the next thing, either feeding further, changing, cuddles or bedtime.
  • Be mindful that there is a difference between wind pain and digestion discomfort. If you are winding your baby well and you hear them burp but they are still unsettled, it might be something else, like food sensitivities, formula intolerance or reflux.  It is in this situation that you need to seek advice as to what else could be causing them to be unsettled.

My technique

  • Lie your baby flat on his back across your knees when he comes off the breast or bottle. (The only time I wouldn’t do this is when a baby is making a gulping or swallowing sound. In this instance, sit him up until he has settled, then lie him down.)
  • Place one hand under his head to carry the weight and balance his bottom on your legs.
  • Massage his tummy two to three times, as if feeling for tightness, massaging the digestive system below their ribs and above the nappy line.
  • Keep the tip of your index finger and thumb supporting his head. Place your other hand on your baby’s chest, ensuring that the palm is not across his chest bone but sitting on and supporting his diaphragm area. Slip your thumb under his inside arm and move him up into a sitting burping position. As you move him from a lying down position, lift him up and then down onto your knee so as to help dislodge the burp if trapped. Make sure he is sitting up nice and straight, his bottom not over your knee, but on it.
  • ‘Paddle tap’ his back between the shoulder blades in a quick, firm rhythm. If you haven’t got a burp up then I would massage around either side of his back and then go back to tapping, or try lifting him up and down again to stretch out his tummy.
  • If he is grizzly or wriggling in discomfort then I would gently bounce or jiggle him at the same time, with your knee.
  • If you’re still not successful then try ‘over the shoulder’, putting your arm over his bottom instead of under. Rub again in upwards strokes and pat between the shoulder area of his back.

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