Merck Manual

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Quick Facts

Feeding Problems

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Dec 2019| Content last modified Dec 2019
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NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
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What are feeding problems?

Feeding problems in babies and young children include problems taking in food or keeping it down or getting the wrong amount of food (either too little or too much).

Common feeding problems include:

  • Spitting up

  • Throwing up

  • Overfeeding

  • Underfeeding

Feeding problems are common and usually minor, but sometimes your baby or young child may need to be seen by a doctor or treated in a hospital.

What is spitting up?

Spitting up is when the formula or breast milk your baby has just swallowed comes back up and flows out of the baby's mouth or nose. The flow is usually gentle, not forceful like throwing up.

Spitting up is normal for babies.

  • Almost all babies spit up and almost always stop by 12 months

  • Spitting up happens because babies can't sit up after eating, and because the valve that keeps the food in the stomach is weak

  • Spitting up that causes pain to your baby, doesn't go away, or keeps your baby from eating or gaining weight is called acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux)—your baby may need medicine to treat it

Go to a doctor right away if your baby’s spit up is green or bloody or makes your baby cough or choke.

How can I prevent spitting up?

To keep babies from spitting up:

  • Feed babies before they get really hungry

  • Burp them every 4 to 5 minutes while feeding

  • Hold them upright during and after feeding

  • Make sure the bottle nipple only lets out a few drops with pressure or when it’s upside down

What is throwing up?

Throwing up is food in the stomach being forced back up your baby’s or child’s throat. Most throwing up in babies and children is caused by a stomach virus.

  • Throwing up is a sign of sickness or a problem—babies between 2 weeks and 4 months rarely throw up for no reason

  • Most throwing up goes away on its own without treatment

  • If your child is throwing up, give small amounts of fluids often

Throwing up too much can cause dehydration, which is not having enough water in your body.

Go to a doctor right away if your child is throwing up and has any of these warning signs:

  • Severe belly pain

  • Can’t keep fluids down

  • High fever

  • Feels weak and tired all over their body

  • Throws up for more than 12 hours

  • Has green or bloody throw up

  • Doesn’t urinate for 8 hours

What is overfeeding?

Overfeeding a child is giving more food than the child needs to be healthy and grow. This can cause children to spit up, have diarrhea, or become overweight or obese.

To prevent overfeeding:

  • Don't automatically feed your baby just because your baby is crying—see if there's another reason for the crying

  • Don't give your baby a bottle as an activity or let the baby have a bottle all the time

  • Don't reward good behavior with food

  • Don't make your child finish food when not hungry

What is underfeeding?

Underfeeding is not giving your child enough food to be healthy and grow. It usually happens if a baby is too fussy to feed or has trouble sucking or swallowing.

A child who is underfed may have failure to thrive.

  • To make sure your baby gets the right amount of nutrition, always mix formula according to the instructions

  • Community social agencies, such as the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) program, can help you pay for food and formula and learn the best ways to mix formula and feed your baby

  • If your baby is very underweight, doctors may care for your baby in the hospital to make sure your baby gains weight

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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