Why do babies vomit?

It is normal for babies to vomit. They may vomit due to the speed with which they drink, swallowing air while feeding, overfeeding, motion sickness, indigestion, and gas, as well as other less common reasons.

Babies are adorable, but they are also fragile and prone to making messes, all of which can be overwhelming for a new mother. When they say that all babies do is poop, eat and cry, they are not lying, however they are leaving a few things out; babies also spit up and vomit. However, this can be scary for mothers, and especially new mothers. Humans usually vomit when they are sick and it is not a pleasant sensation. Babies are more delicate than adults; hence its no wonder than mothers panic when the babies start to vomit. Still, it is a surprisingly common situation.

As every new parent has figured out, it is common for babies to spit up. This is where the baby spits up a small amount of milk usually right after feeding. However, when that spit up turns into vomiting, it can be quite scary. Vomiting is different from spit up. Firstly, spit up involves just spitting up a small amount of milk, whereas vomiting may involve throwing up a small amount of milk or food, more than in spit up, to actually emptying the entire contents of the stomach. In the earlier days, the baby may even vomit mucous and/or blood. This mucous and blood are usually remnants of the amniotic fluid and/or uterine lining that the baby may have ingested before or during birth. The mucous may also be produced by the stomach lining of the baby in preparation for absorbing milk feeds. Hence, it is quite normal.

A baby tends to gulp down the milk; this milk then enters the esophagus and flows down into the stomach. There are valves that separate the esophagus and the stomach. These valves allow the milk and food to flow into the stomach, but stop the stomach’s contents from flowing back into the esophagus. The initial speed with which the baby drinks the milk, as well as air he may have swallowed while feeding can cause the baby to vomit. Also, these valves in a baby are not as strong or developed, hence they may not be completely effective in stopping the stomach’s contents from coming back up. This usually happens when the baby overfeeds.

Overfeeding, motion sickness, indigestion, and gas can also cause a baby to vomit. A prolonged bout of crying or coughing can also trigger a reflex to vomit. Some babies may also have allergies which may cause vomiting; this is especially true if the parents have a family history of allergies. Hence, the baby may be allergic to cow’s milk, or cow milk proteins present in breast milk, formula, wheat, or other types of food.

Mild infections or severe infections such as meningitis can also include vomiting as a symptom. GERD, officially known as gastroesophageal reflux disease can also cause vomiting. Other rare conditions that can cause the baby to vomit include Pyloric stenosis, in which the muscle controlling the valve leading from the stomach into the intestines has thickened so much that it won't open up enough to let food through. This is a rare condition that may affect a baby before it turns four months old.

As long as the baby is a happy spitter, which means that he is content, is in no discomfort, is growing and putting on a healthy weight, and experiences no breathing problem from the vomiting, then there is no cause for concern.

The main concern is when the baby appears to be sick or is not gaining weight, can’t or won’t feed, or is showing other symptoms such as fever, dehydration, having trouble breathing, rash, shortness of breath, swollen abdomen, excessive drowsiness, lethargy, severe irritability etc. It is also a concern when the baby vomits more than once or twice a day, vomits after every feeding, is vomiting for more than 24 hours, is projectile vomiting, the vomit has more than just a small amount of blood, or it contains bile. If any of these instances occur, or if the mother’s gut is saying that something is wrong, then the baby should be taken to see a doctor or to the hospital ASAP. 

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