Spitting up in babies refers to the act of regurgitating food, mild, or saliva. It is quite common and normal in healthy babies. It tends to peak when the baby is 4 months old and stops when they attain 12 months of age.
Spitting up clear liquid is also known as infant reflux or gastro-esophageal reflux.
What is spitting up in babies?
Nearly 50 percent of newborns tend to experience spitting up or reflux during the first 3 months of their life. The lower esophageal sphincter valve located between the stomach and the esophagus normally performs the function of ensuring that the contents of the stomach stay put in its place. This valve is immature in babies. Hence, stomach contents may flow upwards resulting in spitting up in newborns.
Babies often have insatiable appetites and tend to overeat. However, their small bodies do not have the capacity to hold large amounts of food. The excess food is thus regurgitated as a spit up.
Babies may sometimes swallow air along with the formula or breast mild during a feeding session. This air is trapped in the fluids and has to be released. It eventually comes out, often with some liquids, as a spit up.
Vomiting is different from spitting up. The easy outflow of the contents of the stomach via the mouth and often with a burp is referred to as spitting up clear liquid in babies. As compared to this, vomiting features a more forceful outflow of stomach contents, wherein babies may shoot out lots of milk, etc., instead of just dribbling liquid from the mouth. Also unlike spitting up which is easy and non-discomforting, babies are often distressed when vomiting.
The growth and development of the muscles make them stronger, eventually providing babies with the capacity to keep the food in the stomach. Spitting up clear liquid usually stops by age 6 to 7 months in most babies, or when they can sit up without any help. Some babies may continue spitting for up to 12 months.
Spitting up and its effect on baby growth
Spitting up clear liquid is normal and does not affect the well-being of the baby. Parents need not be worried if their baby is eating well, comfortable, and gaining weight. Loss of calories via spit ups does not end up making any difference if the baby is healthy and gaining weight. It may be noted that the size of a spit-up patch or stain may cause parents to hurriedly overestimate the actual quantity that their baby has spit up.
Parents may consult the doctor if the baby experiences the below listed signs and symptoms along with spitting up clear liquid, as such symptoms may be indicative of some harmful side-effect or an underlying condition.
- The baby does not gain weight
- Spitting up yellow or green fluids
- Forceful and consistent vomiting
- Repeated refusals to feeding sessions
- Spitting up matter that appear like coffee grounds
- Spitting up blood
- Breathing problems
- Blood in feces
- Signs of other ailments
Treatment of any of the above symptoms is dependent on correct diagnosis of the causative factor/condition. Sometimes medications may be prescribed to alleviate reflux. Special feeding techniques can also help overcome feeding problems.
Ways to decrease spitting up in babies
If the baby is spitting up a lot then parents may follow the steps given below to remedy it.
- Keep the baby in an upright position so as to feed him/her. This position offers a direct path for the formula/breast milk to the tummy. Do not use infant swings or engage in active play immediately after feeding sessions. Keep the baby in the sitting position for at least 30 minutes post feeding sessions.
- Babies that sit up a lot after every feeding, often do so due to overfeeding. So do not give too much to the baby. Instead opt for smaller and more frequent feeding sessions. Parents who bottle feed can go for lesser amounts of food while breastfeeding others can reduce the duration of the nursing sessions.
- Try and burp the baby, during and after feeding sessions, whenever possible. This will prevent the buildup of air in the stomach and thus help avoid spitting up clear liquid in babies.
- Ensure that the feeding sessions are calm with minimal distractions and noise. Do not keep the baby hungry for long periods before feeding it. Agitated and distracted babies are more prone to swallowing excess air along with milk.
- Do not put the baby on its tummy when sleeping so as to prevent spitting up. Place the baby on his/her back during sleep; it will also help prevent SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome. Babies will not choke on their spit up when sleeping as they tend to move their head sideways during such times. Do not place a pillow under the head of the baby as it is unsafe. If the baby spits up when sleeping and raise his/her head.
- Ensure that the hole in the nipple is not too tiny as it will cause the baby to suck harder, thereby causing increased intake of air with milk/formula. Large holes is also not recommended as it may cause faster gulping and gagging.
- Breastfeeding mothers may try changing their diet after consulting a doctor to prevent the baby from spitting up a lot.
- Ensure that there is no pressure on the abdomen. Tight diapers or clothing should be avoided.
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