Milk Coming Out of Baby’s Nose? Why it Happens and What To Do

twin babies crying on a bed possibly due to milk coming of their noses

Is milk coming out of your baby’s nose? Don’t worry, we can help answer some of your questions and assuage your worries. Read below to find out why it might be happening and what you can do about it.

It’s no secret that newborn babies come with a hefty learning curve and getting to know your new tiny human can be a time full of surprises. One of the strangest things you might see while feeding your newborn is breast milk or formula coming out of their nose.

While it might be totally freaky (and gross) at first, milk coming out of your baby’s nose is usually no cause for panic. This is just one of those weird and wonderful parts of new parenthood. Still, you might be wondering how and why this happens and what you can do about it. We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know about milk coming out of your baby’s nose!

no milk coming out of baby's nose
Worried about milk coming out of baby’s nose? Read on to learn more!

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Is it normal for milk to come out of baby’s nose?

As they learn to suck and swallow milk or formula, babies often make a mess during and after feedings. While most new parents expect spit-up and diaper blow-outs, you might be surprised to see the milk you just fed them come back out through their nose. It can be scary to see this but try not to panic!

Milk coming out of a baby’s nose is totally normal and fairly common in newborns. One study found that 67% of infants 0 to 3 months old experience this at least once. So while it’s gross, it’s just part of being a baby. Most of the time there’s no need to worry, just clean up the mess and move on to baby snuggles.

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Why does milk come out of a baby’s nose?

Newborns are notorious for spitting up, hence all those burp cloths you received at your baby shower. Also known as infant reflux, this is a natural reflex that pushes milk up from the stomach into the esophagus. Often this reflex can cause forceful expulsion of baby’s food, known as spit-up. Since the nose and mouth are connected, instead of coming out of the mouth, the spit-up sometimes comes out the nose. This reflex is not to be confused with Gastroesophegeal Reflux Disease, which is more serious and often requires medical attention to treat.

Known as nasal regurgitation, milk coming out of baby’s nose is most commonly caused by underdevelopment of the digestive tract, namely the lower esophageal sphincter. In all humans, this valve is what prevents stomach contents from going back up the esophagus. However, in many babies, especially twins who are often born premature, this valve has not yet fully developed by birth. Once the valve has developed fully, reflux issues should be greatly reduced. 

Other causes of milk coming out of a baby’s nose include:

  • Lying flat for long periods
  • Swallowing air during feeding
  • Overfeeding
  • Distractions during feeding
  • Cleft palate
  • Sneezing or coughing during feeding

Some of these causes can be tough to avoid with infants, who are known to sleep for 16 hours a day and eat any time they’re awake. That said, there are things you can do to help prevent milk from coming out of your baby’s nose. 

a woman nurses a baby in an upright position with no milk coming out of baby's nose

How can I prevent milk from coming out of baby’s nose?

The first time you see milk dripping from your baby’s nose, you might wonder what you can do to prevent it from happening. Although some of the causes are unavoidable, there are things you can do to greatly reduce the chances of milk coming out of your baby’s nose. 

Address Feeding Issues 

Sometimes nasal regurgitation can occur, often caused by breastfeeding issues. These include a bad latch due to tongue or lip tie, overactive letdown, an imbalance of foremilk and hindmilk, or an allergy. Talk to your pediatrician and/or visit a lactation consultant for help.

When bottle feeding, it is common for baby to eat too fast or too much at once. Keep baby on a feeding schedule to avoid overfeeding. Look into paced feeding, a breastfeeding technique that can help bottle-fed babies eat more slowly and reduce reflux.

If spitting up is happening with every feeding, you may want to look into different formulas to help the baby digest better and keep food where it belongs.

a woman holds a baby while bottle feeding them upright to prevent milk coming out of baby's nose
Feeding in an upright position can prevent milk coming out of baby’s nose

Switch Up Your Feeding and Nap Positions

Gravity is your friend when it comes to preventing nasal regurgitation and the number one way to reduce reflux is to hold baby upright (close to a 90-degree angle) during feeding. You can achieve this position with different feeding holds, such as the cradle hold or sitting baby up in your lap while feeding. If you need more support, try a bouncy seat or infant feeding chair.

Even though your baby might be milk drunk and sleepy afterward, keep baby upright for at least 15 minutes. This allows their food to settle and begin digesting. Remember to always follow safe sleep practices and avoid using inclined sleepers, and check to make sure they haven’t been recalled. Just hold your baby over your shoulder while they snooze until you can lay them down to sleep.

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Milk Coming Out of Baby’s Nose? Why it Happens and What To Do

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Get the Air Out

Babies need to burp frequently during their feedings to prevent the build-up of air bubbles. These bubbles will grow until they burst, sending food back up the esophagus. To help prevent this be sure to burp the baby often. Experts recommend burping the baby every 2 to 3 ounces.

If baby is having a hard time burping, switch positions until one comes. The best positions include over your shoulder, sitting upright on your lap or laying across your lap face down.

Don’t resume feeding until the baby has burped, even if it’s just a little one. It’s better for baby to be hungry for a minute than to have all their food come out their nose!

When feeding, be sure to keep the bottle at a 45-degree angle and keep the nipple full to reduce air bubbles. And don’t forget to always get a good burp out after feeding time as well!

burping your baby to make sure no milk comes out of baby's nose

Try Out Different Feeding Accessories

Every baby is different and they each require unique feeding positions and devices that allow them to suck and swallow breast milk and formula with ease. If your baby is experiencing reflux frequently, try switching up your feeding devices. Look for ones that reduce reflux, including slow-flow nipples and bottles such as the Dr. Brown’s Anti-Colic Options+ Bottle or the Playtex Baby Ventaire Bottle. One thing you want to avoid is using bottle props, as these can lead to overfeeding and more regurgitation.

What do I do if milk is coming out of baby’s nose?

It can be super scary when baby starts spewing milk from their nose. First of all, don’t panic! Unless the baby is in distress or having a hard time breathing, simply comfort them, wipe away the spit-up and move on. Then, try to keep them upright for as long as possible. Make note of the amount and frequency of milk coming out of their nose and try one of the above suggestions during your next feeding. 

Sometimes regurgitation will happen while the baby is sleeping after a feeding. Your baby may or may not wake up if this happens. Simply clean it up and keep an eye on them in case it happens again. The most important thing to do is monitor how often it happens, try to reduce the risk and report any concerns to their doctor.

an infant gets an exam at the doctor's office to check if milk is coming out of baby's nose
Let your pediatrician know if milk is coming out of baby’s nose often

When should I call a doctor if milk comes out of my baby’s nose?

While nasal regurgitation is normal and usually not a cause for concern, you may want to let your doctor know. This is especially true if it happens every time you feed and your attempts to reduce it don’t work.

The biggest risk occurs when the baby is regurgitating more food than they are keeping down. In this case, they are likely not getting adequate nutrition which can impact overall growth, weight gain, and development. If you notice the baby is not gaining or is losing weight, call your doctor immediately.

Rarely, a baby with milk coming out of its nose will need immediate medical attention. If your baby suffers from constant nasal regurgitation, is having a hard time breathing, refuses to eat, or seems distressed while eating, have them seen. You should also monitor their spit-up and report any color or consistency changes to your pediatrician.

Occasionally, milk coming out of a baby’s nose can be due to an undiagnosed cleft palate. If nasal regurgitation still happens regularly despite changing up positioning and equipment, definitely call your pediatrician for an in-depth check-up. 

Nearly all cases of reflux clear up by the time baby turns one. If your baby is still spitting up frequently after this point be sure to let their doctor know.

Mother holding baby to ensure no milk coming out of baby's nose

Don’t Stress Over Milk Coming Out of Baby’s Nose

Feeding your newborn isn’t exactly rocket science, but when issues arise it can make you feel helpless and scared. Try not to stress if your baby has milk coming out of their nose, just clean up the mess and assure your little one that all is well. Start taking steps to reduce the chances of nasal regurgitation and monitor your baby’s food intake and output. If you have any concerns, check in with your pediatrician for extra guidance on how to handle this messy but totally normal phenomenon. 

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Written by Maigen Beaulieu 
Twiniversity Staff Writer