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Spilling (reflux) in babies

Spilling (reflux) is when the baby's stomach contents pass up into their food pipe or gullet (oesophagus) and into their mouth. Spilling is quite common in babies, and is different to vomiting, when the baby empties their stomach forcefully.

It's usually worst at 4 months and gets better by the time your baby is 12 months old.

If your baby spills, there is no need to be worried as long as they are growing well. Tests and medications are not normally needed. In fact, medications can be harmful for young babies.

Causes of spilling (reflux) in babies

A muscle valve at the top of our stomach keeps the food and fluids in. In babies, this valve can be quite loose, so stomach contents come back up into their food pipe more easily. As your baby gets older, this muscle valve usually gets stronger and stops the spilling.

Rarely, an allergy to cow's milk (often called a dairy allergy) causes the spilling. It's not usually necessary to change formula or stop having dairy foods. Talk to your GP, Well Child provider, or midwife before making any changes.

Treating spilling (reflux) in babies

It can be hard to know if spilling is making your baby unsettled, as being unsettled is common with all babies. Read more about how to help unsettled & crying babies.

If your baby spills a lot, there are some things you can do to help.

If your baby spills and is also not growing, feeding or sleeping well, your doctor may suggest you try giving a thickener in their milk.

In the past, people gave medicines such as omeprazole or ranitidine for spilling. These are no longer used unless recommended by a child specialist (paediatrician). They do not help most unsettled babies and can increase the risk of serious illnesses such as pneumonia and gastroenteritis.

Getting help with spilling (reflux) in babies

In most cases if your baby is growing well there is no reason to worry about spilling. But if they're not growing, feeding, or sleeping well, you should get them checked by your GP or Well Child provider.

Your baby always needs to be checked by a doctor if they:

Having a baby who spills can be quite upsetting and stressful. You need to look after yourself too. Make sure you get help and support, talk to other parents, and try to get some time out.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2021.

See also:

Unsettled & crying babies

Page reference: 37753

Review key: HIUCB-33560