Spitting Up vs. Vomiting: Knowing the Difference

spit up

As a parent, it’s essential to differentiate between spitting up and vomiting in your infant. While both are common in babies, they have different causes and implications. This post provides an in-depth look at how to tell them apart and when to seek medical attention.

Understanding Spitting Up

Spitting up, also known as reflux, is common in healthy infants. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it typically occurs due to an immature lower esophageal sphincter, which allows stomach contents to flow back up into the esophagus and out of the mouth.

Signs of Spitting Up

  • Mild and Effortless: Spitting up is usually gentle and occurs with little apparent effort.
  • Small Amounts: The volume is typically small, often just a mouthful.
  • No Distress: Infants usually don’t seem uncomfortable or upset when they spit up.
  • Common After Feedings: It often happens shortly after eating but can occur at other times.

Understanding Vomiting

Vomiting, or forceful expulsion of stomach contents, is more intense and can be a sign of illness or a digestive issue. It can involve more significant amounts of material and might cause distress or discomfort to the infant.

Signs of Vomiting

  • Forceful Ejection: Vomiting involves a strong, often forceful expulsion of stomach contents.
  • Larger Volumes: The amount is usually more substantial than with spitting up.
  • Signs of Distress: Infants may cry or show signs of discomfort before or after vomiting.
  • Associated Symptoms: Vomiting can be accompanied by other symptoms like fever, diarrhea, or lethargy.

Common Causes of Spitting Up and Vomiting

  • Spitting Up Causes: Overfeeding, swallowing air during feeding, or lying down immediately after eating can contribute to spitting up.
  • Vomiting Causes: Infections (such as gastroenteritis), food intolerances, and more serious conditions like pyloric stenosis can cause vomiting.

When to Seek Medical Advice

Consult a pediatrician if you observe the following:

  • For Spitting Up: If it’s frequent and your baby isn’t gaining weight or shows signs of discomfort.
  • For Vomiting: If vomiting is frequent, projectile, or your baby shows signs of dehydration (fewer wet diapers, dry mouth, no tears when crying), lethargy, or irritability.

Tips for Managing Spitting Up

  • Feeding Position: Keep your baby upright during and after feedings.
  • Avoid Overfeeding: Offer smaller, more frequent feedings.
  • Burp Your Baby: Burping can help release any air trapped in the stomach.


Understanding the difference between spitting up and vomiting is crucial for new parents. While spitting up is usually normal and resolves on its own, vomiting can be a sign of something more serious. Always monitor your baby’s overall health and feeding patterns, and don’t hesitate to seek medical advice if you have concerns.

For more information on infant care and health, visit Nikki the Mama Coach. My site offers comprehensive resources and support for new parents.

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