Spitting Up in Babies


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Why do babies spit up?

Babies spit up when they've eaten too much or when they've swallowed too much air while feeding. Spitting up usually happens when babies burp. It can also happen when your baby is drooling. Spitting up is not vomiting. Babies usually don't notice when they spit up. Vomiting is forceful and painful. Spitting up is common for most babies until about the time they can eat solid foods (usually around 6 months to 1 year of age).

The medical term for "spitting up" is gastroesophageal reflux, or reflux. It happens when milk or solid food in the stomach comes back up into your baby's esophagus (the esophagus is the tube that joins the mouth and the stomach).

What can I do to help my baby?

Feed your baby by placing him or her in an upright position. If you bottle-feed you baby, burp him or her every 3 to 5 minutes. Make sure the hole in the nipple on the bottle is not too large, or milk will come out too fast. Avoid laying your baby down following a feeding or moving him or her around too much before the food settles in the stomach.

Some babies spit up less if their formula is thickened with rice cereal. Ask your doctor if you can add 2 to 3 teaspoons of rice cereal to each ounce of formula. You might have to use a nipple with a larger hole so the thicker formula will come out easily.

Some babies also spit up less if they are given less milk at each feeding, but are fed more often.

Will reflux cause problems for my baby?

Spitting up is messy, but it is normal during your baby's early months. It rarely involves choking, coughing or pain.

However, you should contact your doctor if you notice your baby has the following symptoms:

  • Is not gaining weight.
  • Spits up a large amount of milk (more than 1 or 2 tablespoons)
  • Spits up or vomits forcefully
  • Has fewer wet diapers than normal
  • Seems very tired or lethargic
  • Spits up green or brown liquid

Should I take my baby to the doctor?

If your baby experiences any of the symptoms listed above, you should see your doctor.

First, your doctor will make sure your baby is healthy and growing well. Your doctor will also check to see if your baby has breathing problems. If your doctor thinks your baby is fine, nothing else needs to be done. Your doctor will probably want to see your baby regularly.

If your baby's reflux is causing excessive problems, your doctor may prescribe medicine to help treat it. This medicine is the same one used for heartburn in adults. If your baby continues to not gain weight or develops other problems, your doctor might do some additional tests.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 11/14
Created: 12/96

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