The medical term for “spitting up” is gastroesophageal 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 connects the mouth and the stomach.
Spitting up isn’t the same as vomiting. Babies usually don’t notice when they spit up. Vomiting is forceful and painful.
Spitting up is common for babies because their digestive system isn’t fully developed yet. It most often occurs when they’ve eaten too much or swallowed air while feeding. Spitting up is common for most babies until about the time they can eat solid foods (around 6 months to 1 year of age).
These symptoms can be scary, especially for first time parents. In most cases, simple spitting up can be normal and does not usually mean the baby has an allergy or intolerance. Slowing down or altering feeding often improves these symptoms.
Path to well being
Each baby is different in how often and how much they spit up. There are things you can do to help prevent or ease spitting up.
Feed your baby in an upright position. Try to feed in a calm setting so your baby isn’t anxious or distracted. If you breastfeed, burp your baby after each feeding or when you change breasts. If you bottle-feed, burp your baby every 3 to 5 minutes. Make sure the hole in the bottle’s nipple is the right size. If it’s too large, milk can come out too fast. If it’s too small, air bubbles can form.
After a feeding, let your baby’s stomach settle. Continue to hold them in an upright position for 20 to 30 minutes. Avoid laying them down or moving them around too much.
Try not to overfeed your baby. Some babies spit up less if you give them less milk at each feeding but feed them more often.
Things to consider
Spitting up is messy, but it’s 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:
- 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 sluggish
- Spits up green, red, or brown liquid
- Has a fever
- Has difficulty breathing after eating
See your doctor if your baby has any of the symptoms listed above. First, your doctor will check to see if your baby is healthy and growing well. Next, they will check to see if your baby has breathing problems. If your doctor thinks your baby is fine, nothing else needs to be done.
If your baby’s reflux is causing health problems, your doctor may prescribe medicine. This medicine is the same one used for heartburn in adults. The doctor may do other tests if your baby still doesn’t gain weight or develops other symptoms.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Is my baby’s spitting up normal or do they have a reflux problem?
- What is causing my baby to spit up and is there anything I can do to prevent it?
- Is my baby spitting up because of a reaction to something they or I ate?
- At what age can I expect my baby to stop spitting up?
- Is my baby at risk for any health problems?
National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus: Spitting Up – Self-Care
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.