The Not-So-Happy Spitter

[Life with a “Happy” Spitter.]

I knew hours into meeting my daughter – let’s call her E – that she and I were going to have the same feeding issues as my son – let’s call him H – and I had. I once again couldn’t breastfeed, she was also tongue-tied, and I wasn’t going to go through torturing either of us the way I had with H. So, I decided on formula night 1 and thought it would be smooth sailing like it was once I had made that decision for H.

Cut to Day 2 when formula was coming out of every crevice… she was basically vomiting, it was pouring out of her nose, and she couldn’t keep anything down. I was convinced she had an allergy, but that was not it. It was day 1 of a long road with what pediatricians call a Happy Spitter.

There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING happy about a Happy Spitter. E was miserable all of the time. She cried constantly, and her irritability was heightened when she ate. After feeding, she would arch her back and turn red and cry inconsolably until she, well, vomited… I would call it spit up, which it technically was, except that there was so much of it projectiled all over us or our furniture or herself. I went through countless numbers of burp cloths (Burt’s Bees Baby made the best, most absorbent ones) and there was never a moment that E wasn’t wearing a bib (also Burt’s Bees Baby or the muslin Aden and Anais Burpy ones.) It happened EVERY SINGLE TIME she ate. Not only was it exhausting to do all of this clean up and multiple loads of laundry a day in an apartment without a washer/drier, but it was exhausting for E and me who could never really rest. She wasn’t at peace until she spit up, but then she was hungry again, so I’d feed her, and she would spit up, and the vicious cycle repeated itself until I decided I could no longer watch her go through this.

I called the pediatricians almost daily, but it was at E’s one month visit when I finally put my foot down and demanded more help or clarity around these episodes. Her doctor said this was very normal because the esophageal flap is not developed in babies, so many of them experience a regurgitation of their food after eating. It just comes back up because it can – not because of any major issue. I wasn’t sold. But I also wasn’t desperate enough to put her on any of the meds he suggested either. Baby Prevacid?! No way… She was one month old and I wasn’t going to give her anything that could interfere with her developing central nervous system. So, I did what all moms do when they don’t know what to do next and don’t want to listen to their doctor. I went to another doctor for a second opinion.

Dr. Jeremiah Levine at NYU was super thorough and very invested in helping E. We did several tests and scans and sonograms of her insides, and ultimately ruled out a milk protein allergy (no blood in her stool ever) and landed on the same diagnosis – a Happy Spitter. Our family pediatrician was right afterall. I didn’t have many options other then waiting until she grew out of it. He said that once she was about nine months old and sitting up more regularly, the spit up would decrease before ultimately just disappearing. And that’s exactly what happened.

Nine months doesn’t seem like a long time, but when you are dealing with this every single day, and watching your baby in a state of constant discomfort, it wears you out. That said, if this is the worst that ever happens to her, I will take it and would do it over. I’m not oblivious to the fact that there are truly sick children out there dealing with far worse, so I always put it into perspective. She was healthy and this was simply a nuisance.

So for new moms wondering what to do for your Happy Spitter, this is what worked for us and/or what we learned along the way:

  • First and foremost, see a doctor and rule everything else out.
  • Blood in the stool can signify a milk protein allergy if not something worse, so call/see a doctor immediately.
  • If you switch to Nutramigen or Alimentum one of the lactose free formulas, and you don’t see improvement, your baby likely doesn’t have a milk protein allergy. Talk to the doctor about other options because those formulas are very expensive.
  • See a specialist if you’re worried and want a series of tests done. Dr. Levine at NYU is a pediatric gastroenterologist. I knew I would no longer have any doubts once we saw him.
  • If you’re breastfeeding, examine your diet and weed out any allergens. Your doctor can help with this.
  • If you’re formula feeding, use Sensitive formulas. Earth’s Best Sensitive worked really well for us as did Similac PRO Sensitive Non-GMO, but even more so than your doctor, your baby will tell you what works for them and what doesn’t. Make sure baby isn’t constipated or irritable after feedings with formula to ensure they are okay. A lot of these formulas have soy or other known allergens, so make sure your pediatrician helps guide you.
  • We also added rice cereal to E’s bottles. At first, we just had thicker spit up all over us, but eventually, it started to help her keep food down. YOU CAN ONLY DO THIS IF YOUR BABY CAN TURN HIS/HER HEAD! This is so important—you do not want your baby to choke on vomit. Consult your doctor before you do this to determine if necessary and how much to give. If all is okay, we used Happy Baby Multi-Grain Cereal, which worked really well and is organic.
  • Get a lounger and a bouncer STAT. After feeding baby, let them lounge upright or sit in the bouncer, BUT DON’T BOUNCE THEM! Sitting upright for 30-40 minutes after feeding helped tremendously. Staying awake an extra 30-40 minutes is the very last thing you want to do at 3am after no sleep, but you do it because you love your baby.
  • Lastly, get tons and tons of burp cloths, and ALWAYS have baby in a bib. We changed bibs about 10X an hour, no exaggeration.

Remember, every baby is different, so not everything we did will work for every baby, but if I can spare moms and babies even half of the stress of figuring out how to manage this, then I’m happy to share. And know this will resolve itself. Your Happy Spitter will eventually become a Happy Sitter.