Breastfeeding is natural, but it takes practice to get it right. Here's what you need to know about spitting up, gagging, and other concerns during breastfeeding.
Is it Normal for My Baby to Spit Up After Feedings?
Sometimes, babies spit up when they eat too much, or when they burp or drool. Many infants will spit up a little after some — or even all — feedings or during burping because their digestive systems are immature. That's perfectly normal.
As long as your baby is growing and gaining weight and doesn't seem uncomfortable with the spitting up, it's OK. The amount of spit-up often looks like more than it actually is. But spitting up isn't the same as forcefully vomiting all or most of a feeding.
What’s the Difference Between Spitting Up and Vomiting?
Vomiting is a forceful projection of stomach fluids. Spitting up is a more gentle "flow" of fluids that come up. Babies don’t usually react to spitting up, but a vomiting baby will usually look upset or cry.
If you're concerned that your baby is vomiting, call your doctor. In rare cases, there may be an allergy, digestive problem, or other problem that needs medical care. It helps to keep track of how often and how much your baby is vomiting or spitting up.
How Can I Keep My Baby From Spitting Up?
If the doctor says your baby's spitting up is normal, here are some things you can do to help lessen it:
- Burp your baby after each feed from each breast. Sometimes giving smaller feeds more often can help, rather than giving larger-volume feeds.
- Keep your baby upright after feedings for at least 30 minutes. Holding your baby is best, since the way your baby sits in an infant seat may actually make spitting up more likely.
- Don't jiggle, bounce, or actively play with your baby right after feedings.
- Keep your baby's head above the feet while feeding. Don't hold your baby in a dipped-down position when feeding.
- Raise the head of your baby's crib or bassinet. Roll up a few small hand towels or receiving blankets (or you can buy special wedges) to place under — not on top of — the mattress. Never use a pillow under your baby's head. Make sure the mattress doesn’t fold in the middle, and that the incline is gentle enough that your baby doesn’t slide down.
If your baby also gets bottles of breast milk or infant formula supplements:
- Burp after your baby drinks 1–2 ounces from a bottle.
- Don't give the bottle while your little one is lying down.
- Make sure the hole in the nipple is the right size and/or flow for your baby. For example, fast-flow nipples may cause babies to gag or may give them more milk than they can handle at once. Many breastfed babies do well with the slow-flow nipple until they are 3 months old, or even older.
Many babies outgrow spitting up by the time they're sitting up.
How Can I Keep My Baby From Gagging?
Sometimes the force of your milk (especially when it “lets down”) is so strong that it can cause your baby to gag and pull off of the breast. If this happens during feeding:
- Try nursing your baby in a more upright position (head above the breast). This may ease the force of the milk.
- Nurse in a side-lying position, which also might help slow the flow of milk.
- Make sure your breasts are not engorged or over-full. Nursing every 2–3 hours can help prevent engorgement. If your breasts are too full and you’re concerned about a forceful letdown, express or pump a little bit of milk a few minutes before feeding time to avoid a strong letdown.
If your baby is pulling off and gagging or coughing during feeding, sit your baby up in a seated burp position. Gently pat the back to help your baby calm down before continuing feeding. If you’ve tried the steps above and this continues to happen, talk to your doctor or lactation consultant.
If your baby sometimes gags or chokes while taking a bottle of breast milk:
- Try a different nipple with a slower flow.
- Practice “paced” bottle feeding. This is where you slow down the milk flow from the bottle by holding it at less of an angle and allowing your baby to pause for breaks.
My Baby Bites During Breastfeeding. What Can I Do?
Babies will often play with their mothers' nipples with their gums, not meaning to cause any harm. But once they start teething, a baby might bite down, not knowing this is hurting mom.
Sometimes you can tell when your baby's about ready to bite down — usually when satisfied and starting to pull away from the breast. When you sense that your baby is finished feeding and may be bored or feeling playful, end the feeding. Break the suction by slipping your finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth.
If your baby is already biting down, pull your baby closer to you to make it more difficult to pull off easily. Then, break the suction. React calmly without raising your voice.
Here are more ways to make baby less likely to bite:
- Before a feed, give your baby something to chew on. Make sure it's big enough that it can't be swallowed or choked on and that it can't break into small pieces. A wet washcloth placed in the freezer for 30 minutes makes a handy teething toy. Be sure to take it out of the freezer before it becomes rock hard — you don't want to bruise those already swollen gums. Wash after each use.
- Say, "Mommy is not for biting. You can bite this." Then, offer your little one a teething toy or ring.
- Praise your baby — with a hug, kiss, or cuddle — whenever they nurse without biting or trying to bite.
Usually this is enough to stop the biting, but if your baby continues, talk to your doctor or lactation consultant for advice.