Reviewed By: Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
Most babies go through phases where they spit out food, but it's important to keep in mind that they don't do it just to make you crazy. Even though it's never pleasant to be around a baby who spits food out regularly, you'll be relieved to learn that spitting food is totally normal and a necessary step of learning to eat.
To put your mind at ease, we put together a guide on how to deal with a baby spitting out food.
Why do babies spit out food?
To succeed in the process of making your baby eat independently, it's important to allow them to practice as much as possible so they can develop their skills. In most cases, this means that some food is going to be wasted in the process, and that's totally ok.
Babies need to learn how to make certain movements with their tongue and lips when they start eating solid food. Those movements are quite different from the movements required to bottle or breastfeed.
Above all, babies need to understand that they need to chew and swallow the food and not to spit it out. As mentioned above, all children go through the phase of spitting food, but why do they do it?
There are several reasons babies may spit out food. First, they may do it when they encounter foods with textures they aren't used to. They may like the taste, but the texture may feel strange to them, their instinct is to spit it out. Of course, there's always the possibility they don't like the taste of the food you're offering them.
Babies may also spit food because the bites you are offering them are too large. If the food is too large, the little one's instinct may be to spit it out to prevent choking. Try to offer them smaller bites and use a small spoon whenever possible.
Moreover, babies have a tendency to swallow air while sucking and chewing, which means that their stomachs become very full, which makes them prone to spitting food out.
Sometimes, babies spit out food because they're teething, which may lead to an increased body temperature, feelings of tiredness and a general not-so-brilliant mood. If that's the case, it's important to be patient and understand that the baby may only want to eat certain things that don't make them uncomfortable. Since the baby can't let you know what they'd prefer for breakfast, some foods are going to be spit out.
Babies may also be interested in getting your attention too and spitting food may be a way to do that. Or they may spit the food out to let you know that they're already full.
And finally, let's not forget that a baby's main job is to discover the world around them. Sometimes, they may find it quite funny to play with food and see the noises it makes as it falls.
What to do when your baby spits out food?
There are not many things you can do to prevent the baby from spitting out food. The easiest and least frustrating way to deal with this issue is to let it be. Remember that your little one is only learning how to chew thoroughly, so intervening or letting them know you are disapproving of their behavior won't solve much.
When your baby spits out food, it's important to talk to them and acknowledge their behavior. For example, you can tell them things such as, "Wow, was that a big bite for you so you had to spit it out?" The more a baby is exposed to language that explains their actions, the more likely they are to learn.
If you know that your baby is in the spitting out phase and you're going somewhere where this behavior would be frowned upon, like a restaurant or your parent's house for dinner, follow these tips to limit the spitting out as much as possible.
- Make sure everything you offer the baby is easy to handle and to chew.
- Only offer the baby small amounts of food at a time.
- If someone makes a remark, a suitable answer would be to explain that the baby is still learning to chew and they're currently working on their swallowing skills.
It's essential to respect the baby's decision to refuse a certain type of food. Never force the baby to eat because that's a surefire way to undermine the health of the feeding relationship. Give your baby time to practice their chewing and swallowing skills, as these are not things babies can instantly be great at.
Some pediatricians recommend baby-led weaning, which allows babies and toddlers to control what and how much they eat. This is a strategy you could try if you notice that nothing else works and your baby is spitting food out all the time.
What to do if an older baby or toddler is spitting out food?
Sometimes you may find that babies that are close to one year old or even toddlers are spitting out food. If your baby has had lots of practice with finger foods and yet they are still spitting food out, here's what you can do:
- Always make sure the baby is hungry when you're offering them food. They should have the drive to swallow the food they're putting in their mouth instead of spitting it out. This doesn't mean that you should wait until they're starving, but instead, consider spacing out meals (including breastfeeding or bottles) about two hours apart.
- Offer the baby foods that encourage their side to move side to side while also providing the opportunity to bite on something, like veggies dipped in their favorite sauce, for example.
- Lead by example. Babies are great imitators, so place food in your mouth, show them that you chew it, swallow, then open your mouth and tell the baby how the food went into your belly. Chances are the little one will want to be just like their mom or dad and will swallow the food instead of spitting it out.
Sometimes, babies may spit out food because of a medical issue you're not aware of — they may have a sore throat, for example. If you believe the spitting may be because of such an issue, it's important to consult a pediatrician.
If your baby spits out the food regularly when you're feeding them, you may be worried they may not be eating enough. The good news is that even though they're spitting out a lot of food, babies and toddlers are likely getting enough food.
It's still a good idea to talk to your pediatrician, who will evaluate the baby's weight gain during the regular check-ups to see if everything is on track. Most of the time, it may look like a lot of food is coming out, but in fact, it might not be more than a tablespoon.
Parents may be tempted to offer the baby a "top off" in the form of milk, but that may lead to overfeeding, which can, in turn, cause reflux and become uncomfortable for the baby.
Spitting is a normal phase for just about any baby who's learning how to chew and swallow while also getting accustomed to various textures and tastes.
The best way to prevent the baby from spitting out food is by allowing them to explore food as much as they like and lead by example by patiently demonstrating to them how to do it right.
Finally, it's always a good idea to introduce the baby to various types of foods one by one to give them time to get accustomed to a specific texture and taste before moving to another.
The content and advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, advice for specific medical conditions. Always consult a pediatrician to understand the individual needs of your child.