Spitting Up (Reflux)

Symptom Definition

  • The effortless spitting up or reflux of 1 or 2 mouthfuls of stomach contents
  • Smaller amounts often occur with burping (“wet burps”)
  • Larger amounts can occur after overfeeding
  • Usually seen during or shortly after feedings
  • More than half of all infants have occasional spitting up (“happy spitters”)
  • Main Cause: poor closure of the valve at the upper end of the stomach
  • Complications: choking on spit up milk, heartburn from acid on lower esophagus, poor weight gain
  • Also called gastroesophageal reflux (GE reflux), regurgitation

See More Appropriate Topic

  • If large volume and comes out forcefully, see Vomiting

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Blood in the spitup
  • Choked on milk and turned bluish or became limp
  • Newborn (< 1 month old) looks or acts sick at all

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You think your child needs to be seen
  • Poor weight gain
  • Frequent unexplained fussiness
  • Age > 18 months
  • You have other questions or concerns

Parent Care at Home If

  • Normal reflux with no complications and you don’t think your child needs to be seen

Home Care Advice

  1. Feed Smaller Amounts:
    • Bottlefed: Give smaller amounts per feeding (at least 1 ounce less than you have been). Keep the total feeding time to less than 20 minutes. (Reason: overfeeding or filling the stomach to capacity always makes spitting up worse)
    • Breastfed: If the mother has a plentiful milk supply, try nursing on 1 side per feeding and pumping the other side. Alternate sides.
  2. Longer Feeding Intervals: Wait at least 2½ hours between feedings, because it takes that long for the stomach to empty itself. Don’t add food to a full stomach
  3. Loose Diapers: Avoid tight diapers. It puts added pressure on the stomach. Don’t double your infant up during diaper changes. Don’t let people put pressure on the abdomen or play vigorously with your child right after meals
  4. Vertical Position: After meals, try to hold your baby in the upright (vertical) position. Use a front-pack, backpack, or swing for 30 to 60 minutes. Reduce time in sitting position (eg infant seats). After 6 months of age, a jumpy seat is helpful. (The newer ones are stable)
  5. Expected Course: Reflux improves with age. Many babies are better by 7 months of age, after learning to sit well
  6. Call Your Doctor If
    • Your baby doesn’t improve with this approach.
    • Your child becomes worse or develops any of the “Call Your Doctor” symptoms