Every parent knows that there’s a learning curve to raising a kid. But the reality of seeing your baby spitting up curdled milk and crying is a little bit more jarring than parenting books describe. That colicky heave their little body does while spitting up curdled milk can unnerve even experienced parents.
Before you freak out, try to remember that babies are born with a blank slate and need to learn EVERYTHING. Including feeding. For the first few months, when their organs are getting a hang of living outside mommy, their digestive system tends to misbehave. The conventional wisdom is to pat your infant on the back until they let out a loud burp.
But if the sheer number of burpees used per week suggests anything, it’s that baby’s spit. A lot. Even after they’ve been burped. Is it a cause for concern? In most cases, no – it’s just one of those things that babies do. Understanding what to expect is a good way to know when everything’s A-OK and when you need to see a doctor.
If you want to learn about the difference between Enfamil formula for newborn and infant, check this post on Enfamil newborn vs infant.
What is Considered Normal?
A baby spitting up curdled milk is practically a rite of passage. It’s estimated that at least 50% of babies would have done so before clocking 3 months. It’ll be more abnormal for a baby to be raised without ever spitting up curdled milk than otherwise. Appreciate all those burpees you get at baby showers, because you’ll be dealing with your fair share of baby spit-ups.
What’s considered normal? If a baby’s relatively content, comfortable, has no trouble breathing after a spitting session and isn’t rejecting food or losing weight, they’re doing alright. In fact babies like this are termed “happy spitters”. Unhappy spitters tend to react the opposite way. Reflux tends to cause heart burn, so the baby will be uncomfortable and can have trouble breathing. Sometimes, because of how undeveloped their bodies are, the food goes through the wrong tube and ends up in the lungs. If not noticed and treated, it can trigger a host of health concerns including pneumonia.
If it looks like your baby’s spitting out the entire content of their stomach, observe how frequently it occurs, what the content of the spit-up is and if they’re losing any weight as a result. If they’re happy to get back to feeding, don’t call the hospital just yet. As frustrating as it can be, try not to panic by remembering that spitting up doesn’t always mean there’s an underlying medical issue.
Spitting Up Vs. Vomiting
With a spit up, the content of your baby’s stomach flows easily through the mouth. Possibly followed by a burp. You’ll notice curdled milk dribbling from the sides of your baby’s mouth. However, with a vomit, the flow’s more forceful – with the projectile shooting several inches out of the mouth. Now onto what the content of a spit up should look like.
What’s Does Normal Spit Up Look Like?
Curdled milk usually comes out “chunky” looking, with bits of saliva mixed in. If your baby spits the milk out immediately after feeding, it can still look like normal baby formula. As long as there’s no color in the regurgitated spit up, then you shouldn’t be too worried. If the content of your baby’s spit up contains bile (it’ll look greenish and yellowish) or blood (it may look brownish), you shouldn’t even be reading this but be on a call to your pediatrician. There are many reasons why babies spit up curdled milk, let’s take a look at each one.
Causes: Why is My Baby Spitting Up Curdled Milk?
The human digestive system is made up of a very coordinated gastrointestinal tract. You eat, food passes through the esophagus, down to the stomach. Before food passes down the esophagus, a tissue flap located above the windpipe, called the epiglottis, directs its flow to the esophagus. It essentially blocks entry of food and liquids to the windpipe and lungs. In infants, these organs are poorly coordinated, so the tissue flap might not close in time. Hence breast milk or formula can end up entering the wrong pipe into the lungs – which triggers coughing and spitting. This rarely happens.
What’s more common is the underdevelopment of the valve/muscles that allows food to go up or down. A ring-like valve (pylorus) located at the bottom of the esophagus relaxes to let food pass, and contracts to prevent that food from going back up. In infants, this muscles aren’t fully functional, so can’t prevent food from going back up. This is one of the most common reasons babies spit up. Even though there are some things you can do to manage spitting resulting from underdevelopment, there’s nothing you can do to speed up said development, so don’t torture yourself. By the 5th month, most babies would have better digestive systems so this won’t be a problem.
Babies consume a lot of nutrients compared to their size, those that get aggressive during mealtimes become overfilled fast and thus overflow. Most parenting books/blogs tell you you’re supposed to nurse your baby for about 15 minutes because that’s when the good “boob juice” begins to flow. So your job is to coax your baby to nurse moderately until the 15 minute mark. Some babies don’t get this and will literally try to chug down the milk like you’d chug beer at a frat party. Forcefully chugging milk can trigger milk ejection reflex, so they’d have to spit some of it out.
Often times, it’s not the baby’s fault, you might just have an overflow of milk. If your baby’s breastfeeding directly from the source and not from expressed milk in a bottle, they’re at the mercy of the milk flow. When the flow’s forceful, your baby will be taking in a lot of milk very quickly and might not even last 5 minutes before getting full and choking on the excess. A baby’s stomach is as small as a golf ball, so filling it really won’t take much. If the ejected food contains stomach acid, i.e. acid reflux, it might cause heart burn in the baby, in which case, you’ll need a doctor.
There’s a reason mothers are encouraged to feed their babies breast milk EXCLUSIVELY for the first 6 to 12 months. Since a baby spends the first 9 months in its mommy’s belly, he/she is already familiar with her flora and eating habits. There’ll be no surprises in the breast milk. However, feeding your baby with formula immediately after birth – even when it can’t be helped – can trigger allergic reactions. If your baby’s being introduced to solids, monitor how they react to what they eat very carefully.
Aside from introducing new foods to your baby, you, as the mother also has to watch your diet. Suddenly changing your diet can reflect in your breast milk and cause food sensitivity in your baby. You’d need to eat a lot more of the new diet for there to be any significant change in your breast milk. If you introduce any new vitamins or medication to your or your baby’s diet, observe your babies reaction. In some cases, the baby will reject the food.
This condition is so rare your baby is more likely to develop all other symptoms simultaneously than have it. With pyloric stenosis, the pylorus muscular valve responsible for relaxing and letting food into the small intestine and contrasting to hold food in, thickens and blocks the passage way. It usually occurs within the first 3 to 5 weeks of birth, and is noticed more often in white boys, who might have inherited it, than any other race.
A baby with pyloric stenosis seems hungry all the time since whatever they’re fed never stays put. Because of the blockage, ingested food gets vomited. You might notice some stomach contractions as the body tries to squeeze what little food it can through the blocked passage. It’ll usually be unsuccessful, which is when the body ejects it. This condition is very chronic as babies can become severely dehydrated and lose weight. The only way to resolve this blockage is through surgery. If your baby’s older than 6 months, and is still fussy, you can rule this out, as pyloric stenosis is even rarer amongst babies older than 3 months.
When babies hit a growth spurt, they tend to guzzle a lot more enthusiastically – swallowing extra air. Curious or crying babies tend to take multiple breaks while feeding to look around before returning to their meal. In doing so, they then to swallow up more air wit their milk. When air gets trapped in with fluids, it has to come out one way or another. Sometimes it comes out through the mouth as a burp, along with some of the ingested breast milk, other times it comes out through your baby’s nose.
Infants spend a good amount of time on their backs, sometimes parents forget that they’re not meant to be in that position while they feed. Lying your baby immediately after feeding can cause him/her to throw up their meals. Remember babies aren’t adults who can couch potato all day without immediate consequences.
Baby clothing/diaper sizes are there for a reason. A too tight diaper or elastic band can put excessive pressure on the abdomen and cause your baby to spill out the content of his belly.
Preventive Measures: How Do I Get My Baby To Stop Spitting Up?
- Don’t Overfeed
Respect that your baby has a tiny tummy. Opt to feed your baby often, but in small quantities – preferably every 3 to 4 hours. It’s estimated that the size of a baby’s stomach is the same as their fist. So if you’re giving your baby a bottle, place it near their fist and compare the quantity in the bottle to their fist. The more even it is, the less likely you are to overfeed. Try not to wait too long in between meals because hungry babies are angry babies.
- Manage Milk Flow
If your breast milk flows fast, express it into a bottle, so your baby can feed at a slower pace. Make sure you pick the right nipple hole; one that’s not too big that your baby gulps and gags on too much milk, and one that’s not so small it frustrates your baby into guzzling plus air.
- Feed in an Upright Position
Feeding your baby while he’s slouched or curled up in your arms won’t do him any favors. Experiment with the most comfortable position for you both that offers a straight path to the belly. Keep the baby’s head tilted upwards, and the lower body down. You want gravity to do some of the work that your baby’s underdeveloped system can’t yet do.
- Keep Feeding Sessions Quiet and Calm
Babies can get distracted by noise while feeding. This can cause them to take frequent breaks that cause them to swallow air in between sips. After feeding, most doctors suggest you keep your baby horizontal for at least 30 minutes before they can start playing. It’s a lot harder than it seems, but try keeping them stable for at least 15 minutes. No jostling, no bouncing, no infant swings. Just no sudden movements of any kind.
- Keep Pressure off Their Stomach
Not only will lying your baby on the back lower the probability of sudden infant death (SID), it also keeps extra pressure from the stomach. In the same vein, ensure your baby’s wearing the right clothing and diaper size, so their abdomen isn’t pressured to spill its content.
- Burp Your Baby
Sometimes air is unavoidable while a baby’s feeding. In fact, whenever your baby pauses in between sips, take the time to burp him. This way, what all the gas will be let out before even more milk is consumed. If your baby doesn’t burp several minutes after they’ve been patted down, they probably don’t need to just yet.
- Monitor Diet
Nature probably didn’t intend for inter-specie breast feeding, but humans have gone along with it. Formula made with cow milk is often the biggest culprit when you find babies spitting excessively. Try changing it. If you’re breastfeeding, ask the pediatrician what meals you can take to guarantee a healthy breast milk supply.
In extreme cases, e.g. when your baby’s fussy from an acid reflux, your doctor may prescribe some medication to help with the heart burn, and to prevent the acid from causing damage to sensitive linings. In other cases, the drugs prescribed may be to help move things from the stomach to the small intestines to prevent it from coming back up.
Baby Spitting Up Curdled Milk FAQ
Note that most of these questions have been answered within the article – in more depth. If a response doesn’t sufficiently answer your question, refer to the main article.
When should I be Concerned About Baby Spit Up?
Spit ups are very normal in infants. But if your baby starts showing signs of dehydration – seen from a decrease in the amount of urine contained in diapers, a sunken soft spot on the head, or a lack of tears while crying, call a pediatrician. Normal spit ups shouldn’t result in weight loss, and the curdled milk that spit shouldn’t be colored – just white. Unlike adults, babies can’t afford to lose nutrients, so contact your health care professional if you notice any of these.
How do I Know if my Baby is Spitting or Vomiting?
Spitting is technically a mild form of vomiting. In most cases, the projection and force with which the meal is regurgitated, will determine the exact condition. Spit ups rarely cause discomfort to babies.
Should I Feed my Baby After Spitting Up?
While the spit up may seem like the entire content of your baby’s belly, it’s usually no more than a table spoon, so you don’t need to top off. Because overfeeding can make a baby spit up, your kid might just be emptying out the excess. Just wait for some minutes until your baby starts fussing for more.
At What Age Will my Baby Stop Spitting Up?
As your baby grows, their gastrointestinal tract should be able to relax and contract when they’re supposed to, keeping the content of stomach where they belong. Babies generally stop spitting up around the ages of 6 and 7 months – just when they start sitting without help. A few babies will keep spitting into their 12th month.
Will Gripe Water Help with Spitting Up?
The herbs in gripe water aid with digestion, so technically it may help relieve spitting – but only for a few symptoms. For example, if your baby has gas and won’t burp, gripe water might help. But there are numerous reasons why your baby could be spitting up, so don’t just throw gripe water at your baby.
How do I Stop My Baby Spitting Up Curdled Milk?
Burp your baby after every meal, so they pass out gas. Space out feeding every 3 to 4 hours, and ensure your baby’s not gulping and gagging but feeding slowly. Keep the baby in an upright position for 15 to 30 minutes after feeding before lying him on the bed (on his back). Monitor you and your baby’s diet.