Baby Barf: What Clear Spit Up Means and What to Do

Maybe it’s because it’s been a while since my daughters were babies. But I don’t remember having a newborn that spits up clear liquid. I remember my youngest spitting up stinky breast milk on my husband. Probably because it was hilarious. But I don’t remember the clear liquid.

Not to worry, though, because I knew this was possible that mamas go through. When a breastfed baby is spitting up clear liquid, that can definitely throw you through a loop. After all, water is clear, and you shouldn’t be giving water to a baby under the age of 6 months.

Even a formula-fed baby spitting up clear liquid can happen, and that’s quite different from regular spit-up or even baby vomit.

Babies throwing up clear liquid sounds like some kind of horror movie. An old coworker of mine once told me her baby was spitting up clear liquid with white chunks. A neighbor had her baby spitting up clear liquid hours after eating. Both of these mamas freaked out over their babies throwing up clear liquid.

And guess what? You don’t have to worry. If your 2-month-old is spitting clear liquid, it is seldom a cause for concern.

When a baby vomits clear fluid, there are some things to know. Sometimes it’s just a baby spitting up saliva bubbles. Other times the baby spits up a clear liquid that smells like vomit.

So, let’s get right down to it and discover why your baby is spitting up clear liquid, plus what you can and should do about it.

Is it normal for my baby to spit up clear liquid?

The short answer is that it is normal for a baby to spit up clear liquid. It might take you by surprise at the time since you usually expect to see curdled formula or breast milk.

baby spits on cloth
P.C.: Flickr!

Why it happens could be from several different things. Sometimes it’s saliva. Sometimes it’s from breast milk or formula. Sometimes it’s mucus, and sometimes, all of the above blended into a gross cocktail that makes you have to squelch your urge to purge.

For babies, that whole first year is full of spit-up. Some babies barely spit up. That was my eldest. Others spit up often. That was my youngest.

Basically, what you need to remember is that babies have a developing digestive system. It is still growing and setting up, which may come to spit up in various forms. So, clear or white or even a little chunky in a curdled way, this spit-up situation is pretty normal.

Why does my baby keep spitting up clear liquid?

Ah, I’m so glad you asked! Now that we know that, for the most part, a baby spitting up clear liquid is normal, let’s get to the WHY of the situation, shall we?

Maybe it’s vomiting

Some babies are natural gobblers. But if they gulp milk down too quickly, they may take in more than their tiny, growing tummies can handle at once. So your baby may vomit up the excess.

Vomit is different than spit-up in that it shoots out forcefully. It may have some clear stomach juices, which is why you may see the clear liquid. Other times it could have little lumps that look so much like cottage cheese, it will take YEARS ever willingly to eat it again.

But the good news is this: vomiting is not usually something to worry about with your baby, even if the vomit is clear.

However, if your baby is vomiting often or has a fever, you should contact your pediatrician.

It’s those darned teeth

Somewhere in the 4th and 7th months, and possibly after (my eldest didn’t get her first tooth until around her first birthday), your baby will start cutting teeth. And this milestone is painful for the baby and you by proximity.

Babies tend to drool A LOT during the teething stages. You’ll see this clear goo oozing from their mouth. And yes, they may even spit up that extra drool.

Helping soothe your baby’s teething discomfort can help reduce this mess. You can check out my teething tips here for more on that!

Excess drool, though, will happen, and there’s little you can do, even if they spit up this clear liquid. And if you notice it’s more than spit up and is robust vomiting coupled with a fever and lethargy, call the doctor. Other than that, don’t worry!

Baby is sick

The worst thing about babies and small children is that they get sick more often. Their immune systems are developing, so you need to take extra care with babies.

When you breastfeed, you’re giving your baby some of your immunity. Vaccines you’ve had can protect your baby through that milk. But for all babies, around the age of 6 months, the immunity you’ve given them through the milk and carrying them inside you for 9 months lessens.

This means the baby will be building her own immune system.

That’s why it will seem like the baby gets cold more often. And while you can blow your nose when you have a cold, babies have not yet mastered this skill. Nor have they learned to cough up mucus to clear it away.

sick baby fever

So, they swallow all that gunk, and sometimes, it may come back up. It will look clear or occasionally cloudy. If this persists and fever and diarrhea come in, it will definitely be clear. And with those other symptoms, call your pediatrician, who can give your baby proper care and get you through this clear spit-up storm!

Just a reminder:

For babies under 2 or 3 months old, fevers of 100.4°F or higher should be called by your doctor immediately. For older babies between 3 and 6 months, the fever should be 101°F or higher when you call the doctor. And any fever that goes on for over 5 days, no matter the age or temperature, needs medical treatment.

The joys of reflux

Reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux (GER), happens when your baby regurgitates breast milk, formula, or baby food and spits it up. It seldom causes alarm when your baby seems happy and is gaining weight though it is something you should bring up with the pediatrician at a checkup.

If your baby has reflux, it will become its worst at around 4 months, but by the time you’re celebrating their first birthday, it should be gone. Sometimes in rare cases, it can signify something more severe.

Don’t freak out! It’s rare, but it could be affiliated with an allergy. There could be some kind of obstruction in the digestive system, or it could be what they call GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Adding the “D” means that your baby might refuse to eat, vomit, not gain weight, and seem quite unhappy all the time. Your doctor can certainly help with this, so if this fits you and is not common, call them immediately!

Another rare condition

It’s not as likely, but pyloric stenosis might be the problem. This is when the muscle on top of the outlet to the stomach is narrowed and restricts food, making it hard to get into the small intestine.

This happens for babies 6 months and under and is marked by forceful projectile vomiting. Think The Exorcist.

While it is serious, it’s also rare. But if your baby has this condition, it can be corrected with surgery.

What is the difference between spit-up and reflux?

About half of the baby population out there spits up. As I’ve said before, my eldest never really spit up. My youngest did, though. You may observe this with your own children. Spit-up and reflux are the same things.

The difference is that if it is severe, your baby will not gain weight well and will seem unhappy. Even if you think you’re paranoid, you can always call your pediatrician to help you get peace of mind or treatment for your child. Most babies will outgrow this messy habit in a few more months.

How to prevent spit-up problems

Babies have primitive digestive systems that grow and become more efficient as they get bigger. For the vast majority of you with babies that spit up clear liquid and anything else, this will all be over with as they get bigger.

But do you have to endure lots of spit-ups?

Nope! Here are some tips to help you keep that spit up, clear or otherwise, at bay!

  • Put baby upright

When feeding your baby by breast or by the bottle, try to hold her in a more upright position. This should help the fluid flow downward and keep it there. After each feeding, you should also keep your baby upright for a good 30 minutes.

Another pro tip here: don’t engage in tummy time or active play right after a feeding. Give it that 30 minutes first. Oh, and it is a BAD idea to put a spit-up-prone baby in a baby swing. My friend Camille can tell you that from her own experience. She set her daughter Eva into the baby swing after a feeding.

Camille, who had been utterly exhausted, had not showered in days. She thought since Eva was chipper, she’d put her in the swing and hurry into the shower. Eva was still chipper despite spitting up when she came out, but the swing had spread the mess everywhere. Needless to say, she needed another shower after that.

  • Watch how much you’re feeding
baby feeding by breast

Try giving her smaller amounts in more frequent servings with babies that spit up a lot. This will ensure she gets what she needs to nourish herself and help her grow without it overfilling her tiny tummy. Please note that with each passing week, her tummy will grow, and this should all balance out.

  • Help her burp

As their digestive systems grow, they will outgrow the need for your assistance in burping. But until then, take the time to burp your baby as you feed her and afterward to keep air from burbling up in the belly.

  • Make sure she sleeps on her back

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping SIDS from happening. Plus, it helps with spit-up!

  • Keep tabs on your diet

If you’re breastfeeding, keep a log of what you’re eating. Sometimes, babies are sensitive to the foods we eat. It could be dairy or something else but keeping tabs on what you’re having can help the pediatrician get to the bottom of what’s causing your baby to spit up.

  • Medication

After seeing the doctor, your baby may be given medication in rare situations. It depends on the diagnosis, but it will help your baby feel better!

When should I be worried about this?

For most scenarios, spit-up, even of the clear variety, is little cause for concern. You’ll just be in for more laundry and clean-up. However, if your baby has a fever, is listless, and isn’t putting on weight, that certainly causes concern. With your doctor, you can get your baby back in good health.

But for all those other spit-up situations, chalk it up to the fun parents get to have! Good luck!

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