Signup for our newsletter to receive pregnancy, parenting and child health updates.

articles and blog

As babies continue to develop, they will produce many different sounds and reactions, such as hiccups, burping and spitting up.

It's important to know that these are usually normal for most babies and not signs of distress. However, the symptoms listed below may be a cue that your baby is having gastrointestinal problems.

These symptoms may simply be a temporary adjustment to a new food or a sign of a serious gastrointestinal issue, but it is best to consult your child's pediatrician to rule out any problems.

Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Distress

Diarrhea

After a baby's first few days, normal bowel movements may occur around once a day in formula fed babies and around several times a day in breastfed babies. Formula fed babies' bowel movements are yellow and formed, while breastfed babies' bowel movements are often soft, seedy and yellow-green.

Diarrhea in babies is a very watery, loose bowel movement that occurs more frequently. There may or may not be signs of cramping. Loose bowel movements can cause dehydration in infants and should be treated immediately.

Vomiting

Spitting up milk after feedings is a common occurrence for newborns. Sometimes this will occur as a dribble of milk accompanied by a burp. This happens because the sphincter muscle between the esophagus and stomach is not yet strong enough to keep food down in the stomach. This muscle will become stronger as your baby develops and spit up will lessen.

However, vomiting after a feeding can indicate a problem. Instead of a burp and a dribble of milk, vomiting is forceful or projectile in nature and includes a large quantity of milk. It may be a temporary digestive upset or it may indicate a condition that prevents normal digestion. In formula fed babies, intolerance to formula or overfeeding may cause vomiting.

Check with your baby's pediatrician if your baby is vomiting repeatedly and forcefully, vomiting blood or green bile, becoming lethargic or showing others symptoms.

Reflux

Reflux occurs when food in the stomach travels back up the esophagus and typically out the mouth. The esophagus can become irritated by the stomach contents and the stomach contents may be breathed into the lungs. You may be able to feel or hear "rattling" in your baby's back and chest from this. Babies who constantly spit, gag or choke during feedings may be experiencing reflux. Tips below may help minimize reflux:

  • Feed your baby often but with smaller amounts of food. Smaller meals can aid digestion.

  • Check to make sure your baby's diaper is not too tight.
  • Periodically burp your baby during a feeding.
  • After feedings, handle your baby gently and try not to jostle them too much.
  • Keep your baby upright during and after a feeding.
  • Feed your baby slowly.

If your baby has breathing problems during or after feedings, choking spells, feeding refusal, excessive fussiness or if the reflux becomes worse, contact your baby's pediatrician.

Stephanie Neuhaus, MD

Methodist Physicians Clinic Hawthorne Court

Dr. Neuhaus answers your questions about child health and parenting. She enjoys being a pediatrician because it allows her the opportunity to help people every day. Dr. Neuhaus is always open and honest with her patients and she is excited to watch them as they learn and grow. She strives to build lasting relationships with her patients and their families. Dr. Neuhaus, a mother herself, believes in always listening to patients' moms. They know when something is wrong with their child and d ...

Learn more about this expert