Let's face it — babies are completely confusing. Consistency is not one of their strong points, and as a result, we're left guessing most of the time. And of course, everything related to breast and bottle feeding is typically the most distressing. After all, no one wants to feel like their baby is not being fed. So when you see your baby vomiting up a feeding, it's normal to panic. But why does your baby throw up formula? It's not exactly a fun milestone, but there can be some reasoning behind it.
The first thing to note is that there is a big difference between vomiting and spitting up, according to Dr. Alison Mitzner. "Spit-up is effortless," she tells Romper. "Vomiting typically has more force and effort, and more volume as well." Spit-up is not uncommon in baby’s first year and usually occurs if your baby is fed too much, swallowed too much air, or it can sometimes occur with burps, Mitzner explains. This is because the sphincter muscle between the stomach and esophagus isn't completely matured, and so it isn't very strong yet. As baby gets older, it will strengthen and spit-ups should decrease.
Spitting up typically doesn't bother your little one at all, and is not usually serious. "To minimize spit-up," Mitzner says, "you can decrease the amount you are feeding per feed, frequently burp your baby during and after feeds, and also keep you baby upright after a feed."
Vomiting, on the other hand, can sometimes be a fluke, but consistent vomiting after feedings could mean a few things. "Vomiting can be caused by a few different things, including milk protein allergy, infections or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)," Mitzner tells Romper.
As noted by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), one of the more common issues related with baby vomiting is GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), or what we know as reflux. This is not as forceful as what you typically think of as vomiting, but it does involve most or all of the feeding coming back up. This is due to the muscles at the lower end of esophagus becoming overly relaxed and letting the contents of the stomach back up.
When you talk to your pediatrician about reflux, they'll probably give you a few tips that might help feedings go more smoothly. Avoiding overfeeding definitely helps, so smaller, more frequent feedings might help your baby be able to keep down and digest her meals. You may even have to adjust the nipple sizes on your baby's bottles, as a too-fast flow could be hard for babies to keep up with. Keeping your little one upright for 20 to 30 minutes after meals could help, too, which is an excellent way to sneak in some snoozy baby snuggles.
Of course, if it's not reflux and you still notice your baby vomiting quite frequently, there is a chance they may have caught a bug, according to Kids Health. This is usually the most common reason your baby could be vomiting, particularly if you are in the middle of illness season. Infections of the digestive tract are usually caused by common viruses and can cause vomiting, even in little ones.
They can also bring about nausea, diarrhea, lethargy, and fever — all of which could lead to dehydration very quickly. Comforting your child and preventing dehydration are key to a quick recovery. Your pediatrician will be able to give you an oral rehydration plan and make you aware of what else to look for as your child recovers.
"It is important if you notice an increase in volume, force or frequency of spit-up, or any other symptoms or concerns of vomiting, to call your pediatrician," Mitzner recommends, "They can help determine cause and also ensure that your baby stays hydrated." Vomiting in babies can also indicate a possible dairy/soy intolerance, an intolerance to their current formula, or even a physical condition that prevents normal digestion.
Checking in with your pediatrician will give you better insight as to what is going on, and how best to help your baby going forward. Vomiting can be scary for both baby and parent, but staying calm and checking in with your doctor is the best thing you can do.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.