Is Baby Spit Up a Medical Concern or Laundry Problem?

Baby girl lying on front on blue blanket on bed drooling looking at teething ring

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Many babies do spit up what seems to be a great deal of milk or formula, but what looks like several ounces really may not have been that much at all. Spit up is not just the breastmilk or formula that your baby has drunk, but a mixture of milk or formula with stomach fluids and mucous. Your baby may appear to be spitting up a great deal when in actuality it really isn’t that much.

If too much spit up is a concern, you need to consider if your baby is showing any other signs of digestive troubles. Is your baby failing to gain weight? Are they fussier than the average baby? Do they often seem uncomfortable or in pain? Do they have a persistent cough that isn't the result of a cold? Do they arch their back during a feeding? If the answer to these is no, sometimes you'll find that spitting up is more of a laundry problem than a medical one.

Tips for Reducing Spit Up in Both Breastfed and Formula-Fed Babies

Regardless of whether or not a medical intervention is needed, there are a few simple things that will likely help curb the amount of time you spend in the laundry room.

  • After feedings, keep your baby in an upright position for about a half an hour, by holding them upright in your arms, or placing them in a bouncy seat or swing.
  • Avoid jostling them, tummy time, or physical play immediately following the feeding.
  • Pause the feeding frequently to burp her.

Tips for Reducing Spit Up in Formula-Fed Babies

You might be surprised to know that your baby’s stomach is roughly the size of her closed fist. Perhaps though you’ve been giving her an adequate amount of ounces (oz.) per day, too much is being offered in each bottle. For example, if your baby needs 24 oz. a day, rather than giving 6 bottles of 4 oz., offer 8 bottles of 3 oz. or 10 bottles of 2.5 oz. You may also want to make sure you are using a slow flow nipple or try a different type of bottle. You might be using a nipple or bottle intended for an older infant.

If your doctor hasn’t recommended switching formulas, then perhaps it is best to stay the course with the formula that you are using. Although there are different types of formulas on the market, it is accepted that standard cow’s milk formula is preferred as being the best nutritional choice among types of infant formula.

Acid reflux formulas may help with spit up but are only recommended for babies with medically-concerning spit up issues. Furthermore, there is little research supporting that switching to soy formula will improve digestive problems.

Tips for Reducing Spit Up in Breastfed Babies

For the breastfed baby, she also might be spitting up as a result of receiving too much milk at a time. Similarly, offering the breast more often may help control the amount she spits up. Additionally, spitting up may be a result of the mother’s forceful letdown. If that is the case, once let-down occurs, remove the baby from the breast and catch the milk in a bottle or burp cloth. When the flow slows down, place the baby back to the breast.

If mother’s milk supply doesn’t seem to be causing the problem, it may be worth keeping a food journal. Possibly the problem is a result of a food intolerance to something that the mother is eating. Tracking what and when mom eats and when baby spits up may reveal a food trigger that is causing the problem.

It generally is not advisable for the nursing mother to switch to formula to solve a spitting up issue, especially when the spitting up is not causing weight issues or extreme fussiness.

Chances are spitting up can be better managed by one of the above methods than by offering formula, which may not solve the spitting up problem anyway and possibly lead to other troubling issues like constipation or tummy troubles instead.

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