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Vomiting in babies

5-minute read

From birth to 12 months, babies are known to vomit — it’s just one of their design features. However, as normal as vomiting is, it can also be worrying for parents. Occasionally, vomiting can be a sign of illness or complications, but for most babies, vomiting and reflux occurs simply because their guts are still developing.

What are the different types of vomiting

There are a few different types of vomiting and although the result is the same, the reasons are different:

  • Possetting is the name for small amounts of milk brought up after a feed.
  • Reflux happens when the valve at the top of a baby’s stomach is not tight enough to keep milk in there. A baby’s oesophagus (food pipe) is short, so when the valve opens and there’s only a short distance between it and their mouth, vomiting can occur.
  • Projectile vomiting is vomiting with force. Projectile vomiting can be a symptom of a blockage at the outlet of a baby's stomach. If it's happening after most or all feeds, take your baby to a doctor.

What causes babies to vomit?

Generally, mild vomiting occurs because a young baby is still getting used to feeding on, digesting and eliminating milk. On average, a newborn baby’s stomach can hold around 20 millilitres, so it doesn’t take much milk for them to fill up and vomit the excess.

How can I tell if my baby is sick?

Vomiting by itself can be reassuring. However, if your baby has a temperature, is not feeding well, has diarrhoea or a rash, or experiences any other symptoms, your baby needs to see a doctor. If your baby seems healthy and well and is bright and alert, you may just want to monitor their vomiting to see when and how often it happens — but note that the amount that a baby vomits can be hard to work out and may seem larger than it really is.

What’s the difference between vomiting and reflux?

Vomiting caused by reflux generally occurs after feeding. It can seem effortless or cause pain. Some babies with reflux constantly 'spill' after and in-between their feeds. It’s important to think about how your baby’s vomiting affects them. If your baby seems happy, is thriving and gaining weight, you could simply try changing the frequency and amount of feeds you give them. If your baby seems to be in pain and/or not thriving, take them to a doctor. Sometimes medication is necessary for reflux.

Does breast or formula feeding cause more vomiting?

Breastfed babies can vomit as much as babies who are formula fed. There's no real difference between the two. Generally, the only difference is that feeding on formula makes a baby’s vomit smell and look different to that after feeding on breastmilk.

Can solids cause vomiting?

Some babies take time to adjust to digesting solid foods. They can vomit more when solids are introduced. This can occur because of overfeeding. Their stomachs are simply too small to accommodate extra volume. Start small when introducing solids — around 1-2 teaspoons of solids are ideal.

Is vomiting a sign of allergies?

Some allergies can cause vomiting, especially allergies to cow's milk. Your baby can react to particular foods or ingredients if they’re sensitive to them. Your doctor can help guide you to decide which foods are best for your baby.

How can I treat my vomiting baby?

Most babies recover quickly after vomiting and don't need any specialised care. They can seem hungry again straight away or take a while to want to feed again. However, if they vomit a lot and have other symptoms, a doctor needs to assess them.

Generally, babies are not given medication for vomiting unless they can’t keep any milk or fluids down. Dehydration is generally managed by giving intravenous fluids.

Sometimes changing feeding positions and frequency can reduce the likelihood of vomiting. It's still important to always follow the safe sleeping guidelines when settling your baby, even if they vomit. Back sleeping is protective against choking.

When should you see a doctor?

You should take your baby to see your doctor if:

  • you are concerned about your baby's vomiting
  • your baby is showing other signs of illness
  • your baby seems lethargic, sleepy and not interested in feeding
  • your baby is losing weight and not thriving
  • there is blood or bile in their vomit
  • their vomiting isn’t stopping or getting worse

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2022

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