Buuuuuurp. The sound is pretty familiar--a child has just sent a huge belch echoing through the room. Parents and family members look in the child's direction, and there is probably some laughing amidst a gentle rebuke and reminder to say "excuse me." Although most belching in children is normal, there are times when uncontrollable belching points to more serious problems.
What Is "Normal"?
The normality of belching is a bit subjective. In certain cultures, belching even from children is considered a compliment to the cook, so people just let burps fly. In other cultures, belching is considered inappropriate. What constitutes "normal" burping thus has to be looked at from a biological standpoint.
Belching three or four times after a meal is common because air is swallowed as food is ingested. This is true for children as well as adults. Children also may have normal belching after ingesting air from exercise, play and nervous talking. These causes of belching are controllable and are not reason for medical concern, especially if your child makes a show of belching in front of others for social attention. Uncontrollable belching extends beyond the average three to four times after meals and may not seem to be worse at any given point of the day.
Dozens of conditions can cause belching in children. One of the most common conditions is lactose intolerance, a condition in which the child is unable to digest the lactose found in dairy. Other conditions that may make your child burp more than usual are constipation, bowel obstruction, irritable bowel syndrome, nonulcer dyspepsia, acid reflux, and hiatal hernia.
Uncontrollable belching in children may dissipate with age. For instance, as children grow, body chemistry may change in such a way that they become able to better digest certain foods and therefore don't have as much gas to burp. Other medical conditions that cause belching in children, such as acid reflux, may get better as the structures of the throat and esophagus become more mature and are better able to hold back air and stomach contents.
If your child's uncontrollable belching is caused by a relatively benign condition such as an immature esophageal structure, then you generally do not have to worry about it. If the burps smell foul, however, or if the burps are accompanied by any kind of abdominal pain, then this indicates problems within or related to the digestive system that need to be treated. You should take your child to their pediatrician to assess what treatment option is best.
Depending on the cause of the uncontrollable belching, your child may find burp relief with antacids, dietary change, medications or surgery. Some behavior modifications may help as well, such as learning to eat food more slowly.