Every parent knows what it's like to pick up their sweet little baby… and be "rewarded" with a pile of spit-up. But while all babies spit up at some point—typically after a meal—there's a difference between a little spit-up and actual vomiting. Is your baby throwing up…or just spitting up? Here's how to tell the difference between baby spit-up vs. vomit.
What is baby spit-up?
If your baby is spitting up a lot, they're in good company. The majority of young babies are prone to spitting up a teaspoon or two of their milk or formula. Also known as infant reflux, this spit-up happens because a muscle between their esophagus and stomach has not matured yet. Therefore, their food often flows back into their mouths instead of staying in their little bellies—especially during a burp. Some people think their baby is vomiting after feeding, but they're most likely just spitting up If your baby is struggling with spit-up after every meal, you may want to consider switching formulas to one that is formulated to reduce spit-up. Enfamil A.R. can reduce spit up by more than 50% in one week.
As long as your baby seems comfortable and is continuing to gain weight, there's no need to worry about this common and normal issue. After three months, the muscle in their esophagus grows, which helps them keep more food in their tummies. By the time babies are a one year old, they'll almost never spit up.
What is baby vomiting?
Spitting up is common among young babies, but baby vomiting is a different concern. Whereas spitting up is a fairly gentle motion that results in dribbling from the mouth, infant vomiting involves a more forceful flow. With vomiting, the stomach contents come out faster and more strongly, and the vomit may land a few inches away from your baby. When people talk about "projectile vomiting," this is what they mean. Pay attention to your baby's mood, too; if they seem unhappy, sick, or uncomfortable, you're more likely dealing with vomit than spit-up.
When should I worry about baby vomiting?
Baby vomiting has numerous causes, and you should know when to contact your pediatrician. Between two weeks and four months of age, persistent vomiting may be caused by an uncommon but serious issue called pyloric stenosis. Babies who have pyloric stenosis experience a thickening of the muscle at the stomach exit, which prevents food from continuing onward to the small intestine. If your baby forcefully vomits less than half an hour after feeding and still seems hungry, call your pediatrician immediately.
Babies and young children may also vomit due to a stomach or intestinal infection—aka the stomach "flu." Typically caused by a virus, these infections are sometimes accompanied by fever, diarrhea, and stomachaches. You'll likely be able to tell if your baby is feeling under the weather just by monitoring their behavior but keep an eye on the vomit itself. If you see green bile or blood, or if the vomiting lasts for more than a day, call your pediatrician immediately as they may require medical treatment.
The bottom line
Most of the time, babies' spit-up is no cause for alarm. But if they seem ill, are vomiting forcefully, or your parental intuition suggests that something isn't right, your pediatrician can help clear up any confusion.
Is your baby struggling with other feeding issues? Learn about different feeding issues and tummy troubles that many babies face and how you can remedy them.