As a new parent, you're probably all too familiar with the sudden urge to Google every last thing about your baby's health. And let's be honest, there are few things more unsettling than seeing your little one vomit. But fear not! We've done the research (and so should you) to help alleviate some of that parental anxiety and answer the age-old question: "Why does my baby vomit?"
What is vomiting?
Before we dive into potential reasons why babies might toss their cookies, let's first establish what exactly is happening when they vomit.
Vomiting (also known as emesis by us fancy medical types) is the act of forcefully expelling stomach contents through the mouth and sometimes nose. This can occur for a variety of reasons ranging from something as simple as overfeeding to something more serious like an infection or blockage.
How does vomiting work?
If you're anything like us, then throwing up isn't exactly on your list of favorite activities (shocking). So how do our bodies manage to make this unappealing task happen?
Well buckle in, because it involves quite a bit of coordination between various organs and muscles. When triggered by signals from either our brain or gastrointestinal tract (sometimes both!), our diaphragm will contract while sphincters around our stomach relax. All this motion creates enough force for food and gastric juice contents to make their way back up where they came from (yum).
Reasons why babies vomit
Now that we have a working understanding of what vomiting actually entails, let's take a look at some possible reasons behind why it might happen specifically in infants:
Doesn't matter if you're eight weeks old or eighty years old - eating too much in one sitting can lead to nausea and subsequent vomiting. Babies don't yet have the ability to recognize when they're full, so it's up to their caretakers to ensure that feedings are spaced out appropriately and that baby isn't consuming more than they can handle.
Ah, yes. Acid reflux - another experience we wish upon no one (except maybe our worst enemies). Infant acid reflux occurs when stomach contents flow back up into the esophagus due to an underdeveloped lower esophageal sphincter. Symptoms might include spitting up (often soon after eating), coughing, or general fussiness during mealtimes.
GI (gastrointestinal) infections occur when bacteria or viruses (or potentially space aliens) invade the digestive system. In infants, this could present as vomiting along with other symptoms such as diarrhea or a fever. These types of infections can be caused by unsafe food preparation practices or poor hygiene (looking at you weird uncle who never washes his hands before holding the baby).
Food allergies/lactose intolerance
Just like adults, babies can develop food intolerances/allergies. Certain proteins found in dairy products for example may trigger an immune response leading to vomiting and/or other gastrointestinal symptoms (not fun).
When should I call a doctor?
While occasional vomiting is certainly unsettling, there are situations where medical intervention is necessary. Call your pediatrician if:
- The vomit contains bile (yellow/green-colored)
- Your little one appears dehydrated
- They haven't had a wet diaper in 6+ hours
- Vomiting lasts longer than 24 hours
Keep in mind that young babies often spit up without any underlying cause; however it never hurts to err on the side of caution!