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On Happy Spitters

Oct10

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So in your blog (which I just discovered and am voraciously devouring backwards), you mentioned Ike was a “happy spitter.” Reading your description of him, I actually said out loud, “Holy shit,” and then read said description to my husband. You’re totally describing our boy, who’s almost four months old now and is pretty much covered in milk in various stages of digestion at all times from head to toe. We didn’t know this was unusual (he’s our first) and your blog was our first introduction to the idea that maybe that’s not what all kids are like.

I guess my question is, is there any danger involved in being a happy spitter, provided he continues to gain weight and doesn’t get listless? Reflux? Esophageal erosion? Is that a thing? When does it fade away? Does Ike continue to spit up now that he’s eating actual food?

Also, um, what is regular baby spitup like? How often does it happen and is it like fresh breastmilk or more like the cottage cheese variety of spitup? Just so I have a frame of reference.

I can’t believe I consulted one billion breastfeeding and baby websites and books and yours was the only one that mentioned this phenomenon. And I include my pediatrician in that list.

Thanks for your help!
Mel

Oh. GOD. The happy spitting. I’d blacked it out. Repressed it. All six months or so of it.

Which there! Is your answer to many of your sub-questions: Yes, it stops. No, there are no long-term dangers or lurking after-effects. We saw a marked decrease in the spitting up (affectionately known in our house as the turbo-hork) once Ike started solid foods. By the time he could sit up unassisted, it more or less stopped completely.

I wish I could better pinpoint the end for you, but it was more like one day Ike threw up and it occurred to me that huh, that hadn’t happened in awhile. (As opposed to happening after every feeding, usually multiple times.) Then at some point later I realized I couldn’t even remember the last time he spat up at all. The towering pile of burp rags was moved to a drawer and more or less retired. He no longer vomits or spits up or ANYTHING, AT ALL, EVER, in case you’ve come across comments that “happy spitters” are more prone to overactive gag reflexes or will always just throw up more often than other children. While that might be anecdotally true for some babies, my pediatrician thoroughly dismissed that concern when I brought it up.

And oh, did I ever bring it up. At EVERY appointment. I waved my hand impatiently through all the other developmental questions about sleep and milestones, because can we talk about the vomit? Because I really need to talk about this vomit. I’d had TWO whole other babies, and neither of them EVER spat up like Ike. In frequency or volume. Oh my God.

But at every appointment, the doctor said the same basic things:

1) If he’s gaining weight, he’s getting enough milk. Calm down.

2) Even though it SEEMS like a lot of milk is coming back up, it actually isn’t. Take a tablespoon of water and toss it on your bed and see how it matches up to the spit-up stains. Calm down.

3) If he was suffering from Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) and required medication, he’d have other recognizable symptoms. He’d be a “scrawny screamer” instead of a “happy spitter.” He’d grimace, cry, go on nursing strikes, pull his legs up or basically exhibit signs of colic. A happy spitter just sort of sits around and casually yaks on himself and isn’t bothered by it in the slightest. No big thang, Mom, calm down.

4) It’s not an allergy. For one: “Food sensitivities in breastfed babies are not nearly as common as many breastfeeding mothers have been led to think.” For two: allergies manifest with symptoms like screaming, fussiness, obvious discomfort, colic, rashes, hives, skin problems, congestion, actual for-real vomiting, weird stools, etc. Excessive spitting without tummy discomfort points to an immature esophageal tract and probably nothing more. Calm down.

5) He’s going to outgrow this. Promise. There’s no telling WHEN (could be six months, could be a year), but it WILL stop and he WILL be okay. Alsocalmdown.

And my doctor was right. Ike wasn’t in pain and continued to nurse and gain weight like a champ. At around four months, the doctor DID say that we could maybe consider adding a tablespoon of milky cereal to his diet, since sometimes that seems to kinda…remind the esophagus to grow up and mature already. I think maybe she was just tired of listening to me complain about it.

I waited another month or so and offered Ike a tiny bit of cereal. We weren’t super consistent with it at first, but sure enough, the spitting up seemed to improve after that. It’s entirely possible that it was just a coincidence — that Ike’s digestive tract would have matured on its own by six months anyway — but I guess it felt good to at least THINK that we were doing something about it. Placebo effect for us poor, vomit-stained parents.

While Ike was my only happy spitter, you’d never know that now. He never gags or horks up actual food (outside of illness, of course) any more or less than any of my kids. He has no allergies or food sensitivities and is absolutely giant for his age. (16 months old and closing in on the 2T hand-me-downs, oh my GOD.) And I already barely remember the haze of months that I spent covered in every flavor and variety of baby spit-up.

(Which, to answer your last question in the most disgusting way possible: “Normal” baby spit-up can be runny, undigested breastmilk/formula…OR the curdled cottage-cheese kind. Basically just depends on how long he’s held it in before barfing it back up. At the peak of the happy spitting, we usually got hit with both kinds. Ike would nurse and yak a little up immediately, then randomly surprise us as soon as we put the burp rag down with a dose of the chunky variety. Babies! So disgusting and gross! God.)

Photo source: Zoonar/Thinkstock

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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33 Responses to “On Happy Spitters”

  1. Stephanie Oct 10 at 12:59 pm Reply Reply

    We have a happy spitter. She’s almost 7 months old, and all the burp cloths that her older sister never needed have been used over and over again. It sort of seems to be slowing down, but it still happens a little bit after every feeding (and sometimes a few times before the next nursing session/bottle). She’s not in pain, it’s just a pain in the ass to know that the moment you don’t have that burp cloth in front of her mouth, she’ll throw up all over you. The doctor was a little concerned at her 6 month appointment because her weight gain dropped off her growth curve (she only gained a quarter pound in a month), and he attributes that to more movement, but still spitting up. We’re going back next week for a weight check to see if she’s maintained her new growth curve. If she hasn’t, she’ll probably be put on zantac or something. I can’t wait for this spit up to stop!

    • Myriam Oct 10 at 3:15 pm Reply Reply

      You might want to check with your doctor if he is using a growth chart provided by a formula company. Breastfed babies usually don’t gain as much as formula-fed babies around the 6 month mark. This might explain the slow weight gainh.

  2. Brittany Oct 10 at 1:15 pm Reply Reply

    I’m glad you answered this question.  I always suspected I had a happy spitter, but I too had no other babies to compare her with. I was amazed when I realized my friends’ babies only spit up a few times a day, and even then, just a little at a time.  You know, as opposed to having your entire shirt soaked once or twice every hour.  Good luck to the OP.

  3. Annie W Oct 10 at 1:17 pm Reply Reply

    This is my baby!  Except strangely when she’s around my family who doesn’t believe she’s a spitter upper.  But that’s besides the point, she’s three months old now, and it’s good to hear that there is an end!  But my Dr. said as long as she’s gaining weight and happy there’s nothing to be worried about.  So glad to hear she’s not the only one!

  4. laura Oct 10 at 1:18 pm Reply Reply

    My second did not stop it with the spit up until, gosh, she is almost 20 mo and sometimes she still spits up (thankfully rarely) when she is playing (crawling, rolling, upside-downy) after a meal. Solid foods did NOTHING to stop it, it only made it GROSSER. But she wasn’t a happy spitter (she was actually grimacing/recoiling so much, it looked like a baby seizure and her dr ordered an EKG to be safe; true story, that was traumatic). A few things I’d watch out for, if the spit up is acidic it can erode the teeth enamel (only a fear if you are an early teeth getter or a long-term spitter). so wipe the teeth down after meals or spit ups (if she has teeth). Also, it can be a risk factor for ear infections.

  5. Hannah Oct 10 at 1:33 pm Reply Reply

    I have three boys, and the oldest & youngest were both happy spitters. Like, I was nervous passing them to people asking to hold them because I KNEW they were going to get barfed on (we call it “bloorf” here. As in “ewww, mom, the baby bloorfed again!”)

    The oldest did it until he was a year old; the youngest is nine months and stopped a couple of months ago I guess? Neither one has had any lingering after-effects and they are both healthy kiddos.

    So don’t fret, keep those burp cloths handy, and remember that this too shall pass. :)

  6. Corie Oct 10 at 1:35 pm Reply Reply

    My son was a happy spitter. Our pediatrician said the same thing as Amy’s – as long as that’s the only symptom, it’s nothing to worry about. Some kids just spit up a lot. I did notice a bit of a correlation between my caffeine intake and the amount he spit up, but it wasn’t a strong one (he spit up regardless, but seemed to do it a bit more after I’d had an extra soda or another cup of coffee) and there weren’t any signs of an allergy. He eventually outgrew it – after he was more than a year old, and after he’d been fully transitioned to cow’s milk.

    And on a somewhat related note, if your son frequently spits up in his car seat, don’t forget to clean the seat and base occasionally, and definitely before storing it (if you’ll be storing it to use again for another baby). That stuff seeps down in ways you never would have imagined, and as I just learned when I got our car seat out of the attic to prep it for my daughter (due in 4 weeks, but could be here any day now!), dried on spit up gets more disgusting with time. (In my defense, my husband is the one who put the dirty car seat in the attic before I had a chance to clean it one last time. And I sincerely hope this one isn’t a happy spitter, too!!)

  7. Zoë Oct 10 at 1:50 pm Reply Reply

    All three of mine were happy spitters, each one worse than the one before. It didn’t matter if they were breastfed or on formula, it still came back up (formula belches stink so much worse than breastmilk ones). I think the youngest was 8 months old before it really stopped, and now she is two, there are no lingering after effects, although she does seem to have a problem with refried beans. She was up half the night the last two times she had them. I don’t know if it was an upset stomach or reflux. Anyway, that’s beside the point. Spitting up is nasty, but it doesn’t last forever.

  8. Leigh Oct 10 at 1:57 pm Reply Reply

    My almost-7 month old is a not-happy spitter and has been on reflux meds since just before 2 months. I also had no clue how much spit up was normal as a first time mom. That said, she’s definitely starting to spit less and less. She would ALWAYS spit in her infant car seat and I think the angle (45*) was to blame. We’ve switched her to a RF convertible in my car that’s closer to 38-40* installed (as allowed by the car seat manual and technician that installed it) and she rarely spits in the car anymore.

  9. Julie Oct 10 at 2:33 pm Reply Reply

    My oldest was one of those too, though not quiet as bad as Ike. But he did keep spitting up till around a year, and I kept asking the Dr “so, when is he supposed to outgrow this again?” I think in our case, a large part of the early spitup was due to me having oversupply, so he’d simply have too much for his little tummy to handle – he’d also end up gagging or sptting back out the first few mouthfulls of milk when letdown triggered, especially if we hadn’t nursed in a while, like the first feeding of the morning. But he did eventually outgrow it.

  10. Melissa Oct 10 at 2:46 pm Reply Reply

    My first was a happy spitter (we actually prefer the term baby puke volcano) who would literally sit and smile and giggle as she spewed. She mostly grew out of it by about 6-7 months, when she started solids, though we got hit once in a while until closer to 12 months. With my second, I think I can count the number of times she spit up in her entire first year on just two hands. Totally different baby, and it was amazing not to have to walk around with flannel receiving blankets covering ourselves and every surface of our house.

  11. Allison Oct 10 at 3:10 pm Reply Reply

    I had a happy spitter, too.  She’s now a 3 year old who eats everything she can get her hands on and hasn’t spit up outside of illness for a very long time.  I think it decreased around 6 months like Ike.  My doctor offered to give her meds, but didn’t think she needed them.  She gained weight fine and never seemed to be in pain.

    My second baby had some major gas (and later spit up) associated with my own dairy intake, but since I’ve been dairy-free RARELY spits up.  Like maybe once a week, if that.  When he does we’re caught totally off-guard because we never really had to unpack the burp cloths with him and don’t have them laying everywhere in our house like we did with my daughter.  I just wanted to give some hope that #2 won’t necessarily be the same way.  

  12. AmyRenee Oct 10 at 3:14 pm Reply Reply

    I would add that a lot of moms in my breastfeeding support group do find that eliminating dairy can help sometimes for nursing moms. I kept a food diary for a few days and discovered that, as I had suspected, chunky spitup correlated with my ice cream or cheese binges. So in the name of “trying something, anything, even if it’s just a placebo” I would suggest keeping a food diary and possibly try eliminating dairy if you think it might help. My little guy continued to spitup some, but it stopped being cottage cheese-y and foul smelling when I stopped eating dairy, and comes back when I think “oh, he’s outgrown this, I can eat cheese”. There is good info on dairy sensitivity on the KellyMom page Amalah linked to. Good luck and I hope your spitter stays happy!

  13. AmyRenee Oct 10 at 3:18 pm Reply Reply

    oh, and another good piece of advice I got from a friend – instead of a baby blanket, nurse with a full bath towel on your lap, especially if you are dressed for work, etc. You can still use it as a blanket if you need to, but it’s much more absorbant than a blanket and much larger than a burp cloth

  14. Myriam Oct 10 at 3:28 pm Reply Reply

    My best friend’ baby boy was a happy spitter. They never held him facing them, but only facing out, to avoid getting puked on. For her, it stopped when he started to stand up. We was formula-fed and always wanted to feed, At one point, they put him on a schedule where his feedings were spaced out, and it helped a lot. She realized he was not hungry, but actually over-fed and unconfortable from it. Babies often confuse stomachache with hunger / same body area! On the allergy / intolerance issue : my daughter was allergic to milk protein. She was exclusively breastfed. We found out when she was 9 months and I wanted to introduce dairy to her diet. We got it confirmed with a skin-prick test at the allergist. She never appeared to be sensitive to dairy in my diet however. She did however would get red patches whenever dairy (or egg white, or soy, or red food coloring) would touch her skin. Patience, and good luck!

  15. Kristn Oct 10 at 4:02 pm Reply Reply

    My nephew was a happy spitter.  I had 2 boys of my own who almost never spit up (like once a week) and was surprised by the amounts coming out of my nephew.  The only warning I have about it is that she didn’t notice when spit up changed to vomit one weekend.  It took an outsider saying “that doesn’t look like spit up” for her to notice and at the point he was severely dehydrated with a bad case of rotavirus.  Just because there is stuff coming out doesn’t mean it is always “spit up”.

  16. Karen Oct 10 at 4:46 pm Reply Reply

    I am reminded of a story from my happy spitter. We were on vacation with her at 2 months. My husband was taking a picture of me and my daughter (facing out, of course) and the exact moment prior to snapping the shutter, she had this huge puke and so it was caught in mid-air spewing out like water coming over a waterfall in fast-frame. It’s so awesome.

  17. Ann Oct 10 at 6:04 pm Reply Reply

    I have two kids and my first was a happy spitter in the same way everyone else is describing.  She would puke all the time, but it never bothered her in the least.  My second, however, was an UN-happy spitter.  She had reflux and needed medication, and the difference between a happy spitter and an UN-happy spitter was pretty obvious in person, for what that’s worth!  At 4, my happy spitter doesn’t have any kind of overactive gag reflex.  My younger, the UN-happy spitter, does actually throw up more often (like, when she’s really congested or when she coughs really, really hard).  It’s still maybe once a month, so it’s not all the time, but it’s more often than my older daughter by a long shot.

    Given my experience with my kids, I’m always shocked when my friends have kids who don’t puke all the time.  I can’t even imagine how nice it must be to not have to keep big piles of burp clothes and bibs all over the house!

  18. Astrid Oct 10 at 6:15 pm Reply Reply

    My son was a happy spitter. I think part of is was my crazy milk supply and he just always had more than he needed. He grew out of it mostly around 9 months probably, although occasionally he will still (at 15 months)  nurse more than he needs too (usually after I get home from work when he hasn’t seen me all day) and will spit up a little, but nothing like when he was tiny. My diaper bag used to have at least two full changes of clothes for him and an extra shirt for me, and even that sometimes wouldn’t be enough. I don’t miss it.

  19. Carolyn Oct 10 at 6:35 pm Reply Reply

    Haha, my first would spit up ALL THE TIME in such great quantities that we were doing a load of laundry every day pretty much just to have anything NOT spit up on to wear! :) I didn’t realize how much he spit up until I recently saw my friends with their new babies and they DIDN’T have a burp rag perpetually on their shoulder! I was SHOCKED! ;) 

  20. Susan:) Oct 10 at 7:22 pm Reply Reply

    Oh lord I’ve just been reminded of the fact that I spent the first year of my niece’s life covered in spit up! It stopped at one year for her. Thank goodness.

  21. Kellie Oct 10 at 11:58 pm Reply Reply

    My son was a happy spitter. I learned to:

    1. Always put a bib on him after nursing. It saved me from having to change his clothes a bajillion times.

    2. Cut acidic foods out of my diet. For me/him, that meant tomatoes and coffee. Once I cut tomatoes out of my diet, the problem decreased dramatically. No pizza, salsa, spaghetti, ketchup or any of that. Even just a tiny bit if ketchup with some fries, and I would notice an immediate difference. Later I learned that many babies have the same issue with tomatoes. Funny thing is that now he’s 13m and tomatoes are one of his favorites. No issues with them at all.

  22. kj Oct 11 at 9:28 am Reply Reply

    OH MY GOSH the spitting.  I could have written this question. And this answer.  Our first 6 months were all spit-up, all the time.  SO MANY ANTECDOTES jumbling around in my head about that, but really the best thing to do is just ride it out – with a bib on baby at all times, a diaper bag overflowing with burp cloths and new outfits, burp cloths on your shoulder and/or easily washable shirts (and pants) (and shoes) on you, and a sturdy washable blanket covering the carpet during tummy time.  It ended somewhere in the range of 4-6 months for us, and it sort of happened without us noticing just like Amy said.  We decided that if being a spit geyser was going to be our baby’s biggest issue, we were fine with that – in the end, its biggest consequence is on your laundry machine.

  23. Olivia Oct 11 at 2:25 pm Reply Reply

    Both of my children were happy spitters, my first more than my second, and the spitting slowed down considerably at about 4 months. My son is now 5 months and no longer horks after every feeding, so of course I am totally unprepared and without a burp cloth when he does.

  24. Amy Oct 12 at 12:54 pm Reply Reply

    Oh my god, the tomatoes and the spitting. I thought it was just my kid! If I ever had the teeniest sliver of a raw tomato I’d be covered in baby spit up for the next feeding. Oddly, dairy in my diet which he has a full on allergy too never triggered this effect.

  25. Rachel Oct 13 at 1:24 am Reply Reply

    Two happy spitters here, too (though the first was colicky, his discomfort didn’t seem tied to the constant horking). Both of mine were breastfed, and I did notice food sensitivities (one peanuts, one corn), but as their digestive tracts matured these went away. As other posters have mentioned, I also had oversupply issues. Both boys outgrew the constant upchuck once they adjusted to solids.
    I will say– I gave probiotics to my second son, and it made a huge difference. He still spat up, but not with the force or volume he had at first (I’m guessing you know the feeling of baby puke pooling inside a nursing tank or running down your back after a midnight feeding. gaah), he had none of the gas and discomfort often associated with oversupply, and he outgrew the spitting earlier than my firstborn did. I wish I had known about them the first time around, as I have a feeling the colic wouldn’t have been so debilitating. Worth a bit of research, anyway.
    You may not have many hand-me-down worthy baby clothes, but otherwise there’s nothing to worry about!

  26. Mel Oct 14 at 8:35 pm Reply Reply

    OP here – thanks for the response and for all the comments and suggestions!  I do feel bad handing him to other people – I warn them he will probably spit up and they say they’re fine with it…but often I think they don’t know what they’re agreeing to.  

  27. Ellen Oct 16 at 1:43 pm Reply Reply

    Oh yes, that was my baby, too. Our doctor said to expect it to stop at around 9 months, and like magic, it did stop at 9 months. (I think it took us another three to warily put away the giant stack of burp cloths and towels, though.) One thing I didn’t really realize until later was that if you don’t wash your spat-up-upon clothes pretty much RIGHT AWAY (i.e. you let them sit in the laundry basket while the spit-up dries on there because you’re busy and tired and HAVE A BABY), your clothes are pretty much toast. I had a bunch of cotton shirts I wore a lot in those days that got these weird … not stains, but stretched out/wavy areas in the weave. Just warped spots. No way to fix that, at least that I could see, so I just tossed them. Luckily they were all cheap shirts from Target, but if you have something you care about that gets hit, soak it or wash it ASAP.

  28. Britt Oct 16 at 3:44 pm Reply Reply

    As the mother of a baby with reflux, I can tell you that you’ll KNOW if the spitting up is a problem. My daughter used to scream her head off during every feed, then promptly throw up at least half of it. This wasn’t happy spitting, either. This was full on, stomach spasms, projectile vomiting. After getting her on medication, she now sometimes just spits up a little more than usual, but she can eat without crying. (Yay!) Babies don’t suffer in silence, so if there’s a problem, you’ll know about it. As long as your baby is happy and gaining weight, he/she is probably just fine. I also second the idea that the car seat is a terrible angle for refluxers

  29. Jamie Jan 10 at 5:37 pm Reply Reply

    Oh my. I love you all so much! Just knowing there are others out there with crazy happy spitters! I remember thinking it was normal, until I observed my sister (whose baby boy is 6 days younger than my 3 month old girl) laid her baby down on his playmat right after eating without a bin attached or burp rag underneath his head. I was in shock! It was then that I realized that my baby is not quite normal. We NEVER see what she is actually wearing because she ALWAYS wears a bib. We travel with a minimum of 3 outfits, 4 bibs, and 4 burp rags everywhere. I feel like I have to give a disclaimer to anyone brave enough to hold her! I feel so much less alone with you all out there. My pediatrician sad the same as everyone else- if she is happy and growing, no big deal. She will outgrow it.

  30. Alyse Feb 26 at 1:53 pm Reply Reply

    I realize this is an old post but i just wanted to add my experience in case it helps. My DS was born at 35 weeks and had to stay in the NICU for 20 days. Even though 35 weeks isnt terribly early, he was still considered premature. The doctors and nurses had to go over every possible side effect of being born early even if most didn’t apply to our son. One side effect they mentioned was increased spit up due to their digestive system being immature. Sure enough our son was a happy spitter untill one year and then magically stopped (finally!) I worried but my ped assured it was fine. It did decrease once we started solid foods but didnt entirely stop till one year. So just so other mommies know, being born early, even if only slightly can cause your baby to be a happy spitter so dont worry!

  31. Athena Apr 20 at 7:03 pm Reply Reply

    Sounds like my son too, from amount 3 months to… actually, I’m not 100% sure when he stopped. We still get the occasional spit-up now at 8 months, and sometimes this includes his solids, but the constant baby puke days stopped a while back. It might actually have been starting solids that did it.

    Before 3 months he had a lot of gas issues because I could never, ever get him to burp. Other people could, though even that was patchy at times, but oh no, not mummy. Mummy just meant “I’m gonna fall asleep now”, which I got told so many times was a good thing because he was relaxed so he’d burp easier and… yeah, just no. I could not budge burps out of him ever.

    Then at the 3 month mark he settled and started burping himself and was fine and happy and omg the spit up EVERYWHERE. Whenever anyone took him from me after a feed I just quietly handed them the burp rag because dude, you’re gonna need this. Now we just have a few stationed at strategic locations and`

    • Athena Apr 20 at 7:06 pm Reply Reply

      (geez child stop smacking my laptop. That was an early post sorry)

      and they’re more for my boobs (or, the boob he’s not nursing off) than his messes, because bras totally suck and I’ve mostly stopped leaking enough now that I just can’t be bothered with that crap (up until nursing I’d stopped wearing bras years and years ago). Also because bras and lying down to nurse just do not mix, not for me anyway.

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