Baby Spitting Up Clear Liquid – 4 Causes & When To Worry

| Reviewed By Sarah Schulze, MSN, APRN, CPNP

Infants are filled with pleasant surprises, although some can be endearing while others may cause worry for new caregivers.

Spitting up is one of these surprises that you do not anticipate happening as often as it does. 

If your little one is spitting up clear liquid, you may start to panic. Why is this happening?

Spitting up is a normal part of your child’s development as his/her digestive system matures. Sometimes infants’ spit-up may be clear because of excess saliva, digestive juices, excessive mucus, or a combination of causes. Most of the time, there is nothing to worry about. 

Let’s talk a little bit more about why babies spit up and when you should begin to worry. 

Baby Spitting Up Clear Liquid – 4 Possible Causes

A baby’s spit-up can take on a variety of looks. Sometimes it may be milky, and other times, it may look like clear spit. There are a few possible reasons why your little one may be spitting up clear liquid. 

1. Excess Saliva

Babies produce a lot of saliva! Sometimes, this excess saliva is swallowed. When a baby swallows too much excess saliva, they may spit it back up.

If you notice that your baby spits up a clear white liquid, especially after a feeding or a burp, it is likely excess saliva making its way back out.   

2. Digestive Juices Mixed With Breast Milk or Formula

Spitting up during or after feedings is common for younger babies. Babies most often spit up because the muscles of their digestive system still need time to mature and grow stronger.

Sometimes, they may burp and spit up a clear liquid with flakes of curdled milk or formula mixed in. This is normal, especially if they have been given too much milk.

It may also happen while they are playing, laughing, or lying flat or on their bellies.

The muscle between the stomach and the esophagus is weak in young infants, and fluids can come back up easily. This is very common and is not usually a reason for concern. 

3. Excessive Mucus

Babies have an immature immune system and, because of this, are very susceptible to viruses that cause respiratory illness. These illnesses often come with cold-like symptoms that cause congestion in their little noses. 

Like excess saliva, babies end up swallowing the extra mucus built up in their noses, and it ends up in their stomachs. Sometimes they will spit up this excess mucus, which will look like a clear liquid as it comes back up. 

4. Combination of Causes

There are a variety of reasons that your little one may be spitting up. In addition to the causes mentioned above, they may also be spitting up because of a combination of other factors including: 

  • Eating too much or too quickly
  • Swallowing too much air while eating
  • Sensitivities or allergies to foods or formulas
  • Not burping enough during feedings

When To Be Concerned About Spit Up

Some spit-ups can be an indication that your baby isn’t feeling well or that there is something more serious going on.

She may be suffering from food sensitivities or could have Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). If you notice any of the following, you may want to consult with a pediatrician: 

  • Baby spits up frequently, i.e., multiple times during or after each feeding, even with proper burps and feeding techniques
  • Baby doesn’t appear to be gaining weight
  • Baby has signs of dehydration such as fewer wet diapers or sunken soft spot (fontanelle)
  • Spit-ups are very forceful and projectile
  • Your baby has a fever
  • Spit-up is accompanied by signs of pain or discomfort such as extreme fussiness, pushing, or grunting 
  • Baby is spitting up yellow, green, or red liquid

How Much Spit Up Is Normal for a Newborn?

Usually, babies will just spit up 1-2 tablespoons at a time. Oftentimes, it looks like your baby is spitting up more than they actually are.

Try spilling a tablespoon of water on your shirt. It will look like a lot more than it really is.

If your baby is spitting up more than 1 or 2 tablespoons or you notice any of the above signs, consult with your pediatrician to see if there is a reason to be concerned. 

Baby Keeps Spitting Up but Still Wants To Eat

Many infants will spit up a little after some or all feedings or during a burp because their digestive systems are still maturing. After they spit up, they will continue to want to drink.

That’s perfectly normal and doctors refer to these babies as “happy spitters.”  As long as your baby is growing, is gaining weight, and doesn’t seem to be uncomfortable when spitting up, there is nothing to be worried about. 

Baby Spitting Up Saliva Bubbles

Your baby may start blowing raspberries or spit bubbles when they are around 6-8 months old.

This is a normal part of their development and sets the foundation for language skills and fine motor skills such as eating and drinking from a cup. 

Baby Spitting Up a Lot All of a Sudden

If you notice a sudden change in the amount or type of spit-up, for example, if your baby starts spitting up frequently or develops projectile vomiting, you should seek medical attention or contact your pediatrician immediately.

It could be an indicator of GERD or pyloric stenosis, both of which may require medication or surgery to relieve symptoms. 

Baby Spitting Up Curdled Milk

If your baby spits up after her milk has had time to mix with her stomach acid, the spit-up will likely appear curdled. As long as it is happening in normal amounts, it is harmless and not a reason to be worried. 

Related Questions: 

If Baby Spits Up, Should I Continue Feeding?

Overeating or drinking too fast are two of the primary reasons that a baby will spit up.

Babies have tiny stomachs and will often spit up the excess when they are full.  In this case, give your baby a break from the feeding to let her stomach settle and digest. 

Babies may also spit up because they swallow too much air while drinking. If this is the case, they will still act hungry after they spit up because their stomachs are not full.

You may continue to feed your little one, but be sure to take frequent breaks for burping.  

How Much Do Babies Spit Up?

A normal amount of spit-up is about 1-2 tablespoons per feeding. This could happen as often as every feeding or could be less frequent as every baby is different.

Your baby may spit up a lot after one feeding and hardly at all after another one. It could also be different each day. However, 1-2 tablespoons is a general guideline.

Your baby’s attitude while spitting up and rate of weight gain are the true indicators of if they are spitting up too much. 

Final Thoughts

If you have a happy spitter on your hands, rest assured that your baby is just fine! It’s gross, but it’s also normal! 

If this article enlightened you on some more serious symptoms in your baby, take comfort in knowing that most spit-up-related issues are easily resolved with the right medical help.