Why do Babies Spit Up?

Crying Over Spilled Milk: Why Babies Spit up and What to Do About It

If you've ever fed your baby an entire bottle of formula or spent half an hour breastfeeding him or her, only to watch what seems like all of it be spat up several minutes later, you're probably wondering if that's normal. Not to worry; spitting up is common and is to be expected, especially with babies in the first few months of their lives. Here's the lowdown on why babies spit up and how to reduce and deal with it.

What Is Spit-Up?

Mother holding baby boy on her shoulder

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Simply put, spit-up is the contents of your baby's stomach coming back up into the throat and out the mouth. Also with what you've just fed your baby, there may be saliva and the remnants of a prior feeding. It's important to note the difference between spitting up and vomiting. While spitting up occurs gently, usually dribbling out of the mouth, vomiting is forceful and can be projectile, shooting several inches out of the mouth. Repeated vomiting, especially when accompanied with other conditions such as diarrhea and fever, may indicate an illness that requires a physician's care.

Why Do Babies Spit Up?

During the first few months of life, the muscle between the esophagus and stomach that keeps stomach contents where they belong is still developing. Combine that with the fact that babies often swallow air during feeding and you get the uncomfortable result of things getting pushed back up, especially after a big feeding. So long as your baby is growing to the satisfaction of your pediatrician, the amount your baby spits up usually isn't a concern. You'll find that as your baby develops, the amount they spit up lessens, especially around the 6-month mark if you supplement milk with solid foods.

Burping Your Baby

Mother holding baby boy on her shoulder

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Burping your baby after every feeding will help release the air swallowed during feeding and thus reduce the amount of spit up. Burping your baby basically means that you're helping your baby release the air they swallowed during feeding by applying gentle pressure to the body. There are several ways to burp your baby. One way is to sit upright, holding your baby up against your chest, making sure that your baby's chin is resting over your shoulder. While holding onto your baby with one hand, gently pat your baby's back with the palm of your other hand. Another way is to sit your baby on your lap facing away from you and gently pat the back while supporting the chest and neck with your other hand. You can also lay your baby on his or her belly across your lap, making sure to support and position his or her head above the chest, while patting the back. If you're not sure how to burp your baby, pull up video guides from reputable medical websites, ask an experienced mom to give you a demonstration or call your pediatrician's office for help.

Besides burping after every feeding, try burping during the feeding session, especially if your baby seems fussy or in discomfort during feeding. If breastfeeding, try burping your baby after several minutes of feeding or after each breast. If formula feeding, try burping between every 2 to 3 ounces. It may take several pats to the back before your baby burps. If nothing happens, try changing your baby's position and burping again. After feeding and burping, keep your baby upright for about half an hour to reduce the chances of more spit-ups. To prevent messes, you might want to keep your baby's bib on and place a small towel or burp cloth on the shoulder you're burping your baby over.

Just remember that you don't have to force a burp out of your baby. If your baby seems fine, just try to burp him or her at the next feeding session. Some babies don't spit up or hardly spit up at all.

Reducing Spit-Up

If you feel as if your baby spits up an excessive amount despite frequent burping, you may want to try changing how and what you're feeding your baby. Moms who formula feed or pump sometimes find that a different bottle or bottle-feeding position results in less spit-up. Sometimes, babies may have an allergy or intolerance to an ingredient in the formula or in Mom's diet, so try switching to a different formula or cutting certain items out of your diet. Since pinpointing food allergies and intolerances can be tricky, you may want to seek a physician's help in running some tests to get a definite answer.

Tips on Dealing With Spit-Up

Prior to feeding, put a bib on your baby. Since spit-ups can happen at any time, you may even want to keep a bib on your baby for much of the day. Bibs are usually inexpensive, so it's wise to buy several so that you never run out of a clean one. Taking care of an infant is enough work already without having to worry about immediately washing a bib. Some bibs are made out of cotton, which means you can simply pull it up to wipe your baby's mouth if needed; others are made out of plastic, which makes them easier to clean. There are also bibs with spill pockets, which help catch spit-up and other messes, and adjustable fasteners around the neck so that the bib can fit your growing baby. Some bibs cover only the baby's chest while others also cover the shoulders and upper back.

Since there are so many bibs available on the market, you may want to buy and test several different types from different brands first before committing to a particular one. You may even find that you prefer having several different kinds of bibs as they each have their own advantages and disadvantages.

When to Seek Professional Help

While spitting up is common, there are situations that call for a professional's help. If you feel as if your baby is in discomfort despite your best burping efforts, especially if he or she seems to be constant pain, it's important to talk to your pediatrician. It may be a sign of something more serious, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, which can interfere with proper nutrition. Also remember that vomiting is different than spitting up and may require a doctor's visit.