It all began with casual advice from the coolly efficient nurse at Mount Alvernia Hospital.
“Burp him halfway through his bottle, or else he will vomit.”
As two highly suggestible first-time parents, we accepted her warning with much gravity, and right away began our epic quest for the elusive Double Burp – once halfway through the feed, and then once at the end. Looking back to the tumultuous first month of Michael’s arrival, Ralph and I agree that this was truly the theme of our parenting then. Make Him Burp. No, really. Make Him Burp. The words “Has he burped?” and “He hasn’t burped” were heard about 50 times a day from us and various relatives who we’d managed to educate on the evils of non-burping. The last thing any of us wanted to experience was sweet baby Michael projectile vomiting his precious feed across clean fabric, just because we were negligent or incompetent.
And incompetent we were. We engaged in all kinds of body manipulation, with equal parts trepidation and determination. My favoured method (in fact, the only method that worked for me) was the “old man style”, where you bring your baby forward to rest his chin in your hand, instantly aging him 80 years. Good for laughs, if I were in the mood for laughing back then.
My husband was bolder. After we googled “how to burp newborn baby” and repeatedly watched a young paediatrician flip a tiny baby around like a rag doll on youtube, he experimented with the “lie across the lap, stomach down” method. But to get there, Michael had to be first gently laid down on his back, and then rolled around excruciatingly slowly. I watched as my baby stiffened and turned brick red, looking like a frankfurter on a rolling grill. “He doesn’t like it, huh.” I whispered. This was happening in the middle of the night, of course. “No, he doesn’t like it while getting there. But then he likes it eventually,” my husband said with authority, completing the demonstration successfully. Michael was de-gassed and slumped over his lap, half asleep. I was suitably impressed.
My father-in-law, Remy, had the distinction of being the best burper amongst us. I would feed Michael, and if Remy was free and available, I would say “Roter” (the most random word in my 50-word French vocabulary) and hand Michael over. Remy would oblige by fearlessly resting Michael over his shoulder in the classic position, and then immediately step outside of the house and circle the lift lobby area. I have no idea why stepping outside was necessary. Half the time, I suspected that it was so I wouldn’t be able to challenge him when he insisted that Michael had in fact “roter“ed, despite the lack of audible evidence. He was probably afraid of me, chief of the burp police.
My mother-in-law was clever. She pretended to simply not be able to burp a baby, and would pass Michael on to someone else with such matter-of-factness that we assumed and forgave her inability without question. But this didn’t stop her from having her own theories and she would explain to me with much gesturing that his legs and spine had to be straightened, just so, in order for the air to come out.
My younger sister had beginner’s luck. From the very first time that she was taught how to feed and burp, she managed to produce the Double Burp from Michael with an almost 100% success rate. I was in awe. Too bad she had to go back to San Francisco after three weeks.
We were dominated by gas. There is no better illustration of this than Ralph’s curious development of the Empathetic Burping Reflex, where he himself would burp several times, while desperately trying to burp Michael. Things had gotten out of control. Our paranoia wasn’t helped by the fact that Michael did indeed vomit a couple of times, incidentally after feeds where we hadn’t managed to burp him halfway, or at all. There was so much pounding, pacing, jiggling and worrying, during the early weeks.
And then… we learned that the vomiting was probably due to overfeeding. And the nurse had really meant regurgitation or spitting up, which is par for the course for any baby who eats. We stopped worrying that we were torturing our baby with painful gas or nausea. We stopped associating mysterious crying fits with the fact that he didn’t burp two hours ago. After a while, we eliminated the half-time burp all together.
Four and a half months in, we now consider ourselves burping aficionados. Give me a baby, and I will burp him with my eyes closed and hands tied behind my back. And while I would venture to say that there are few things as satisfying to a parent as eliciting a nasty, wet burp from your infant, it really doesn’t matter. Something I wish we had known back then. So enjoy the old man style for what it is – an opportunity to stroke that little back, and laugh at your precious baby’s imitation of an old indian chief, while he still doesn’t mind.