On Happy Spitters
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!
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/ThinkstockPublished October 10, 2012. Last updated October 29, 2017.