The Princess of Puke: Dealing with a barfy baby

SPITWhen the words “Here, I’ll take her” strike fear into your heart because you know she’s gonna puke on the unsuspecting baby holder, you have a barfy baby. I have 3 beautiful baby girls. 2/3 of whom were/are barfy babies. In our house ‘spit up’ is the understatement of the year. This isn’t spit up, it’s bona fide barf. Sometimes it comes out with a good amount of force and shoots a foot or two like a water cannon. Often it misses the shoulder burp rag entirely and you can hear it hit the floor with a tremendous SPLAT. With our second daughter we changed clothes many many times a day – hers and ours. I believe the record was 5 times before 9am. This went on until she was a year old, slowly lessening with each passing month after she started to crawl. We never found a definitive cause for all the ‘spit up’ while it was happening. We were told it was a laundry issue rather than a health concern and that we’d have to wait it out. ugh. We never truly bought into that though.

Most, if not all, babies spit up to some degree. Why some babies spit up so much more is sort of a mystery because the reason can be different for every baby. We have heard or read a bazillion theories from an underdeveloped esophageal sphincter, to overeating, to overactive letdown, to food allergies, to GERD (reflux) and they all make some degree of sense to me. Most health practitioners claim that a ‘happy spitter’ – a baby who is otherwise content – is a laundry problem rather than a health concern. In our case, the ped told us that she was perfectly healthy and would outgrow it. She did, but only by way of the puke stopping and a dry, red, face rash starting. At first we didn’t associate the two (duh!) but as it turns out she’s intolerant of egg – and possibly (hopefully not)  something else since we’re mid elimination diet right now.

As a mom, I can tell the difference between the multiple types of baby barf. There’s the “I just over ate and a little came back up” spit up, the “When you put pressure on my belly after I eat some comes back up” mini puke, and then there’s the “Holy &$%# that was quite a bit of ‘spit up’ a full half hour after you ate” barf. I think the first two are completely normal and to be expected with any baby. They don’t ruin whole outfits or splatter all over the floor like you just dropped your Starbucks and a simple bib after eating will do the trick. The third is the one that gets me (and anyone else who dares hold my barfy baby) and needs more extreme management measures.

Having to change outfits multiple times each day is tiresome especially when each puke reminds you that despite the medical assessment, you are worried about your precious child. On our quest to handle the hurl we encountered tons of advice (wanted and unwanted) and found a few things that helped us to manage the upchucks and still have a social life.

So, let’s see… what are the best ways to gracefully handle the oh-so un-graceful barfy baby?

First and foremost, CHILL. We stressed a lot when baby M was sending rivers of spit up over our clothes, couches, bed, floors, and friends. We were worried about her health, frustrated at the constant clothes changes and wetness, and (let’s not kid ourselves) absolutely and thoroughly sick of smelling like spit up. Our stress levels had absolutely no effect on how much she spewed but it had a direct effect on how we reacted to it. When we relaxed and sort of gave in we found ourselves less bothered and stressed by the messes and that made it easier to just enjoy our baby.

Consider a food sensitivity. Apparently, quite a few babies are sensitive to dairy. Its not the lactose but rather the protein in the cow’s milk that bothers their little digestive tract. This time around, I’ve managed to buckle up and go dairy free which immediately helped baby E (and made me feel eternally guilty for not trying this with baby M). It’s not an easy road for this cheese lovin’, milk drinkin’ mama, but I’m doing it and I feel good about it because little E is not as pukey as her big sis was at this age. Most kiddos outgrow this as their digestive system matures and it rarely continues to be a lifelong issue. Avoiding dairy or another food that your baby seems sensitive to can really mitigate the spit up (and gassiness). Incidentally, baby M’s spitting up did stop around a year but a dry red face rash started… come to find out through an elimination diet she has issues with eggs! And oh how many crêpes we fed that child!

Go for the big guns! Forget about those adorable and tiny little shoulder burp cloths with the cute embroidery that you received at your baby shower and invest in some large muslin cloths or prefold cloth diapers – we really like the Aden+Anais Burpy for when we’re out and about and plain old refolds at home. The more the better and keep them on hand at all times. Get used to always putting one on your shoulder when you pick up your little puker. It seems like a PIA (and it is) but its no where near as irritating as having to change your shirt… again.

Bibs for the baby. I always felt like a bib would be uncomfortable and with M I hesitated to keep them on her. Now I know better. I’m sure that wearing a bib is way more comfortable then wearing your vomit and although the bib didn’t always catch it all, it certainly helps. Changing a bib is much less an affair than changing an entire outfit – especially when laying baby down causes more spit up.

Which brings me to my next point, don’t squish the belly! Diaper changes are the kiss of death when your baby is prone to the puke. LIfting those legs up to situate the diaper is like using the level on a water pump – legs up, puke out. We tried not to change diapers right after feeding, but that’s not always possible. So when we did diaper changes we’d roll her side to side to position the diaper rather than lifting her legs up which squished the belly.

Keeping the baby upright as much as possible after a feeding was the general advice that everyone gave us, but this didn’t really ever make a difference for us. In fact, both baby M and baby E up chucked less overnight while nursing laying down… go figure. I can only chalk that up to their being so calm. I noticed that the more active they were right after feeding the more they’d puke. When they fell asleep right after eating the spitting up was minimized. So, instead of focusing on keeping them upright, we focused more on being calm – saving really active play for after that precious milk was digested.

Related to that last point is this one – the shoulder carry is a no-no after a meal. Putting baby up on my should after a meal (the traditional burping pose) would generally result in one of those fantastic spit ups that would sail straight over me (thank golly) and splatter all over the floor with a loud and definitive splat. This is particularly embarrassing in public places where the noise alone attracts the attention of everyone within earshot. (Ever been to the Canadian Museum of Civilization? Know that awe-inspiring grand room with all the totems? Yea, baby M managed a magnificent splatter that echoed throughout the place and resulted in many people rushing over to give me plenty of advice about the cause of her unsettled tummy.

You know those flannel receiving blankets that become way too small way too fast to be useful as a blanket anymore? Well, if you fold those suckers in four they make a perfect sheet protector for under baby’s head. Our kids co-sleep with us as infants so when they puke all over the bed it means we both sleep in the puddle. While my kiddos spit up less at night, it still happens from time to time and when it does it can ruin an otherwise pleasant night’s rest (I use that word carefully). I keep a stack of those old receiving blankets by the bed and also in the pack n play downstairs and whenever I lay the baby down to play I put one under her. If she yaks, I just swap out the blanket instead of having to change the whole set up.

Pacifiers! Some parents love them, some parents hate them. I don’t have an opinion one way or the other but my kids like them, at least for a time when they’re little. Despite being the only preemie of my little chickens, my first baby was not very pukey at all (… figure that out). She used a pacifier up until about 4 months then one day she spit it out and never looked back. Baby #2 (who we just discovered is intolerant of eggs and who we fondly called the Princess of Puke) really relied on her pacifier. The sucking helped calm her tummy, unfortunately when she tried to comfort nurse she would just aggravate the spiting up, but I didn’t want to deny her the comfort that sucking brought. The pacifier seemed to help her by stimulating digestion as well as soothing and calming her. She’s almost two now and hasn’t used a pacifier in about 5 months. She had absolutely no trouble giving it up (in case you were wondering!).

Burp religiously. Burping is one of those tricky little buggers because if you have a barfy baby burping can seem to be a surefire way to induce the spit up. BUT, I learned that the small spit up that would occur while burping her would always pale in comparison to the much larger one that would happen if I let her marinate on swallowed air! Since the over the shoulder position is off limits, I sit baby on my knee and gently bounce up and down to get the air out. Usually just sitting her up after eating will do it. Don’t lean her too far over her legs though or you’ll be breaking the “don’t squish the belly” rule.

All of these things may seem like a big hassle or a lot of effort and at first they were. But as time went on they became as much a part of my daily as putting on deodorant (remember when that was really hard to remember to do as a preteen and how embarrassed you’d be at school when you realized you’d forgotten). The big payoff is how much these little changes impacted the comfort of my happy little spitters and (not gonna lie) how much less stressed I am when the really cute outfit I spent 20 minutes choosing this morning lasts me through the entire day!!

Hey! If you have a barfy baby and you want to share your experiences with finding (or not) the source of the spit up or just dealing with it on the daily we’re all ears! Please feel free to share your experiences, advice, and tricks right here in the comments!

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