Spitting up refers to the regurgitation, or vomiting, of food, milk, or saliva in infants. Although it may look like or even smell like vomit, spitting-up is not only very common in infants but usually not a sign of a medical problem. In fact, studies show that about 40% of infants spit up on a normal basis, approximately 1-3 times per day. Spitting up usually occurs following a meal, whether it be formula or breast milk, and the spit up may look a lot like what the baby recently ate (it may also sometimes appear curdled).
Why does my baby spit up?
When we eat or drink, the contents travel down towards the baby's stomach by passing through the esophagus. Once the contents make it to the first section of the stomach, it begins to get broken down by stomach acids. Between the bottom of the esophagus and the top of the stomach there is a valve called the pyloric sphincter that helps prevent partially digested food from re-entering the esophagus (i.e., coming "back up"). The problem lies in the fact that this valve is not well-developed in infants and tends to allow a lot of food and drink to go back up, especially when there is too much food for their small stomachs to hold or the baby has swallowed a lot of air. You know how if you're under water and you blow air from your mouth it will travel up to the surface of the water? That is what the air bubbles in your baby's tummy want to do: travel up!
How to stop baby from spitting up?
Since spitting up is quite common and typically of no medical significance, usually a baby can go without treatment if they are otherwise healthy. Outside of medical treatment, there are a few things that you can do as a parent to reduce the likelihood of your baby spitting up:
First, ALWAYS burp your baby about every 5-10 minutes during breast-feeding and also when they are done feeding. This will help stop swallowed air from building up inside the stomach.
Second, try to feed your baby frequently enough so that they are not extremely hungry at each feeding. Why? Because a hungry baby will eat too quickly and vigorously fill their stomach with not only a lot of food but also a bunch of air. Preventing spit-up is about making your baby eat slowly and patiently and allowing the stomach contents more time to empty into the intestines.
Third, keep your baby upright, such as holding your baby on your shoulder in the burping position, for about 15 minutes after feeding. The more upright your baby is, the more gravity can work its magic and help keep the food down underneath the pyloric valve.
What if my baby spits up a lot and very frequently?
Sometimes very frequent spitting up can lead to a lack of weight gain. This is usually a sign of a more serious problem such as gastroesophageal reflux, and you should speak to your pediatrician about possible treatment options.