“My baby vomits, then passes out and becomes limp for about 1-2 minutes. The doctor says reflux. Can this be true?”

Learn from Pediatrician Sarah Livelo about possible reasons here!

baby vomits then passes outPin

Mom’s Question:
My 3-week-old baby vomits, then passes out and becomes limp immediately for about 1-2 minutes. He has done this five times.

We took him to the hospital but got different answers from different student doctors there. I wanted an experienced one, but my pediatrician was not affiliated with the hospital, so I didn’t have a choice.

When he was released, one doc said it was reflux. He also has eosinophilia, and the docs don’t know why he has it, either. Has anyone had this happen, or does anyone know what it could possibly be? I’m at my wit’s end. Thank you for any help.


Baby Vomits, Then Passes Out: Possible Reasons to Investigate

Vomiting in Babies

Regurgitation or spit-ups are surprisingly normal events for babies – around 60% have had this by the time they turn four months old! The official medical term is gastroesophageal reflux (GER).

Nevertheless, I would keep persisting with getting good medical advice since your baby is so young. All babies vomit from time to time, and it can look like a lot when it is only a couple of teaspoonfuls. You didn’t say how much and how frequently your little boy vomits. Knowing your baby’s past medical history would also greatly help in finding the correct diagnosis.

Vomiting and Passing Out in Babies Is Not A Common Combination

Passing out, known medically as syncope, can happen to as much as 20% of children by the time they become teenagers. While it may be a benign medical condition, it isn’t as common as vomiting in young children, and a combination of vomiting and passing out is, of course, even more uncommon. In your baby’s case, are your baby’s symptoms caused by just one medical condition or a combination of two? It’s hard to tell at this point, which is why this article has quite a long list of possible reasons.

Passing Out May Be Because of an ALTE (Apparent Life-Threatening Event)

Before we consider the main underlying medical condition that your baby may have, let’s look at what happened as a result of that condition.

An apparent life-threatening event (ALTE) is a set of acute or sudden symptoms that may have caused intense fright or worry to a baby’s parents or caregiver. Some examples are sudden changes (or complete stop) in breathing for several seconds, changes in the color of the skin (pale or bluish), choking or gagging, or changes in muscle tone (such as limping).

This is more common in babies less than one-year-old, and about 50% are younger than two months old. About 50% of infants have a normal physical examination despite the symptoms.

Common causes of ALTEs are conditions affecting the lungs, heart, gastrointestinal tract, and brain. Examples are respiratory tract infections, febrile seizures, and gastrointestinal reflux.

The treatment heavily depends on the underlying medical condition, as well as the child’s physical examination findings. Essentially, treating the initial cause of the ALTE is the main goal.

It may be possible that your baby has had ALTE episodes that are triggered by something else.

Because overall, this is not a common situation, it’s difficult to be sure what initial condition he may have based only on the information you’ve given. It’s still best to bring your son to his pediatrician so he can be properly evaluated. If he or she isn’t available, a pediatric neurologist is also a good choice. The earlier, the better!

Possible Causes of Vomiting and Passing Out

Gastroesophageal Reflux and Sandifer Syndrome

One common reason for vomiting episodes to happen again and again in babies is gastroesophageal reflux (GER). It’s when the contents of their stomach are regurgitated back out (spit-ups) and is most often normal in infants.

Most babies grow out of this condition on their own. Usually, your baby’s overall development is not affected unless your baby has very severe reflux, which leads us to…

Gastrointestinal reflux disease (or GERD) is different from GER. It is basically the forceful regurgitation of milk due to the muscle or valve at the entry to the esophagus still being weak or underdeveloped. If a child seems uneasy or uncomfortable even after or between vomiting episodes, they should be seen by a pediatrician for a proper assessment of GERD.

A special type of GERD is Sandifer syndrome, which includes gastroesophageal reflux paired with unusual body movements after feeding. The most common are spasms, but babies may also arch their backs.

Could your son have been arching his back in a way that might have been mistaken for going limp? Or is the limp coming from an ALTE episode? We’re not completely sure, which is why he should be evaluated properly by a specialist for this.

Regardless of the diagnosis, more frequent burping can help relieve any acid reflux. but don’t put the baby all the way beyond your shoulder, as this puts more pressure on the tummy. He might bring up milk rather than air.

You can try smaller, more frequent feeds (for example, every two hours) rather than a big feed all at once. You can also slightly elevate the head of his crib.

Apnea and Neonatal Sepsis

By definition, apnea is when an infant or a child suddenly stops breathing for at least 20 seconds. Their heart rate can slow down, and their oxygen levels can decrease momentarily. Apnea is usually seen in preterm infants. Was your baby born prematurely?

If your child does have apnea, along with the vomiting, it’s possible he may have a serious bacterial infection. In babies less than 28 days old, this is called neonatal sepsis. Does he also have a fever, loose stools, cough, or cold? How is his appetite? These symptoms may help point out an infection.

Babies like your son may need to undergo several laboratory tests to confirm this diagnosis. Sometimes, a specialist may join the medical team to help assess your child. Treatment will most likely be done in the hospital for several days, which includes antibiotics.

Eosinophilic Gastroenteritis

Another possibility, though rare, is eosinophilic gastroenteritis. This is a very uncommon disease with symptoms similar to GERD and food allergy – nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain – but weight loss and difficulty swallowing are also commonly seen. As for how rare this is, for example, for every set of 100,000 people, only ten may have this condition. It’s more common in adults rather than children.

It may be considered in patients whose blood tests show high eosinophils, but a specialist’s evaluation combined with an endoscopic biopsy would confirm this condition.

Vasovagal Syncope

Syncope is the medical term for fainting (passing out), and vasovagal syncope is a benign type of fainting that occurs after a trigger, such as pain or stress. This is the main reason for nearly 50% of kids who lose consciousness and are brought to the hospital’s emergency department. It’s possible that vomiting is painful, which further causes him to pass out.

Vasovagal syncope is typically benign. It can either resolve on its own or will need to be further evaluated by a doctor. Unless there are other illnesses involved, kids usually won’t need any specific medications for this. However, it is important to sort out why your baby is passing out.

Ingestion of a Toxic Substance

Has there been any recent situation where your baby might have accidentally swallowed something other than milk? Besides infection, another possible cause of repeated vomiting and passing out is ingesting a potentially toxic substance, including inappropriate medicines.

Some other examples of these substances include household cleaning agents and even lead that chips off of old house paint or old toys. Some parents have unintentionally misplaced cleaning agents in places that are easily accessed by infants and toddlers. This is, of course, not likely for such a young baby as yours, but I still wanted to mention the possibility.

Several possible substances can cause these symptoms, so it would be best to be evaluated by a medical team if you suspect this. The treatment will depend on the type of substance he ingested.

Good luck getting medical support; it is important you persist in getting help and advice as to what is best for your baby. Try not to get too distressed with it all, as your little boy will be picking up on your anxiety.

I hope this helps,

Read Next



Any parents out there with similar experiences of babies that vomit and pass out? Please share!

Leave a Reply

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Heidi

    My little boy is 8 weeks old. He went completely limp and was unresponsive a few days ago.

    I drove to the hospital just up the road thinking he might be dead. It was the most terrifying experience of my life. He was out for about 10 mins.

    We were sent to the Bath RUH and kept over night so they could do observations. They diagnosed him with reflux and prescribed Ranitidine.

    I have to say, I’m skeptical about the reflux thing. They did nothing to prove that this was the case. Only monitored his blood pressure, pulse and temp! 🙁

  2. Abbey

    My 1st child use to do exactly that. Very scary. Took him to royal children’s. He had many tests, like MRI etc. We were in hospital for a week.

    Finally the diagnosed it as silent reflux seizures. He was put on Losec, which helped a lot. We were then seen by the pediatrician for months to make sure he had put on weight. Very scary though.

    Good luck. I just put my 9 week old girl to bed and she vomited out her nose and mouth. Let’s hope she’s not the same.

  3. Shelby

    Hi, my 5 week old does almost this same thing.. It started a week after I got to bring her home from the nicu. We have been to the hospital three tines in the last three weeks..

    If I were you ask for a upper gi to be done and if they still insist it’s reflux tell them to do a ph probe.. I would hold off as long as possible they will have to sadate him to do that maybe ask for a EEG instead..

    My daughter has had a EEG EKG upper gi complete blood and urine work ups. I think the only difference between our situations is that my daughter does not projectile vomit.. She chokes and will go blue and sometimes go limp.. We just spent the holidays in the hospital.. We now have an app. With a gi specialist down at the children’s hospital.. If I were you I would tell your doctor to refer you to a gi as well.

    YOu should hold off as long as possible on the mri; they will have to sadate him and with how young he is that will be hard on you as well as him. You should also wait on any cat scans because his brain is still growing and they don’t know how the radiation will effect that’s development.

    I would go with the upper gi ph probe and an ultra sound. do these as well as a complete blood and urine work up those things will help them find something out. Also, could your son be constipated? They were always asking me that while we are there.

    These are some of the things we are doing at home to help with the reflux they think my daughter has:
    – Elevating her bed keeping her upright for at least 30 mins after every meal.
    -They have her on some medication and this last time they told us to never lay her flat not even while changing her or for tummy time.

    Also make sure his diaper in not tight around his tummy.

    I have been doing these things with my daughter but they don’t seem to be helping much in her case but I also don’t believe that she really does have reflux, but we continue to do them in hopes that it will help.

    I hope that your son gets better soon. I know how hopeless it feels when you don’t think the doctors are right.. I have been dealing with this for the last three weeks and my daughter does it two or three times a day on average.

    So keep your head up and if I find out anything new I will be sure to write you a comment in hopes that it helps with your son as well.

  4. Teresa

    Our one year old son has just done this twice within the last 2 weeks. He get a temp, vomits 3 or 4 times over a period of 30 mins or so then all of a sudden passes out.

    I have been to my GP, who is referring us to a pediatric specialist. So now we await tests to see if they can find out anything.

    He has never vomited like this before up to now and has never passed out for no apparent reason before either.

    Was very scary the first time it happened, but he was still breathing and eventually came to after a few minutes.
    Very horrible knowing you can do nothing about it and now just have to wait and see if they find anything.

    If anyone has had similar instances and has had results, would be very interested in hearing them.
    Thanks, Teresa

  5. Cecilia

    I had something like this happen to my son when he was 5 months old. He got up from a nap and then vomited exorcist style and went limp, I knew something was not right especially since he never even spit up before. I called his dr who sent us to the hospital. There they ran every test imaginable, x-rays, MRI the works and they could not find anything wrong with him. Finally after 3 days in the hospital and being poked and probed with no answer I requested to be sent to the Childrens Valley Hospital.
    We were not even there for 4 hours when they had already found out and fixed the problem, and all it took was an ultrasound. My son had intussuception. Basically it is when your intestine turn in on itself, like when your turning a sock inside out, they inserted a hose through his bottom and blew it back out like a balloon.

    Problem was fixed and it has never happened again. There is no known cause for this, they called it a freak accident with a very easy fix if caught on time.

    I don’t know if this helps you but I just want to tell you not to give up and keep looking for an answer. Nobody knows your child better than you do, so follow your gut reaction and if one dr can’t give you an answere try another and another. Wish you the best of luck.

  6. Shelly

    My daughter has had 3 episodes where she went completely limp and barely could hold her eyes open. She is 1 year old. She will give a weak cry thru this bc she knows something isn’t right, and then after about 2 minutes she comes to.

    We as well have no answers from Drs. My daughter has spinabifida so we are not sure if it is connected with that or not. Any info would be greatly appreciated.

  7. Niamh

    Hi all,
    I just feel really lost at this time. I have a beautiful baby daughter Alanna rose who is 18 weeks old. At 3 wks she became unconscious while I was winding her, she became completely limp and turned white.Mmy 1st response was that she choked or aspirated but she was still breathing although this was hard to determine, she did not become blue but would not respond to any stimuli.

    I ran to my local doctor with her (who was 2 minutes away), she called an ambulance. I am a nurse and gave Alanna 2 rescue breaths on the way to docs. I was unsure of what to do. We were brought by ambulance to the local pediatric unit (30 mins away).

    Alanna was unresponsive on arrival but breathing (just). After 5 minutes in hospital she came back to herself crying normally (she had been unresponsive for 40 – 50 mins at this stage… no exaggeration, very scary)

    During her 1st feed in the hospital the doctors witnessed her do the same but she responded after 5-6 mins. She was diagnosed on clinical examination as having reflux but they could not explain why this happened!!? Can anyone shed light on this or should I just forget it and thank God for what I have?

  8. MomtoRefluxer

    We just had a similar episode with our son over the weekend. He got a tummy bug and was vomiting violently and so frequently and then he would go unconscious for a few seconds after these episodes. We took him to the ER and they kept him and ran bunch of tests to make sure it was not a seizure (EEG, ct-scan, blood work, etc).

    My little guy also suffers from reflux, but this is the first time that he has actually vomited like this. It was very scary! His lips turned blue and he turned pale color and went limp.

    I am curious as to why this happened and what causes it.

  9. Julie

    I can understand you completely. My 6 year old has these episodes. She has been having them since she was born. The doctors have done EEGs on her and still cannot tell me why.

    I watch now for the indicator that it is going to happen. She yawns, and i know that she is going to vomit and pass out. The area around her mouth turns blue and she goes completely limp then after it is over she seems fine.

    I have been told she may be having a form of seizure but it never shows on the EEG.

  10. Christina

    Thank you Paula for responding, and I will try a few of your suggestions.

    Well, he vomits a lot and I mean like exorcist type vomit, not spit up, we have reduced from 4 ounces to 2 ounces per feeding and feeding him more often. He is burped at every 1/2 to 1 ounce after ingestion. He has been on rice cereal mixed in with formula per peditrician orders. (he has finally gained weight thanks to this) He still vomits 2-4 times a day like this. He also vomits at diff times, not just after feeding.

    He has already been tested for pyloric stenosis, and it came back negative. He also goes blue all around his mouth at diff times but his lips are normal color.

    We have tried him on breastmilk, and a couple other formulas and now is on soy. I don’t know what type of formula you are referring to, but I am willing to try anything at this point.

    They did an allergy test at hospital, but will be weeks before results will come in. He has an mri scheduled, and they will be calling me back to schedule an EKG.

    I must say I really like his peditrician and he is trying hard to find out what’s wrong with him, and he also doesn’t think he has reflux.

    He also said at my baby’s appt yesterday he thinks he has a condition called sanderford’s syndrome that causes passing out after vomiting, but I can’t find any info on the net about it. I hope it is this condition cause peditrician said if it is this, he will outgrow this.

    Well thank you, and if you have any other suggestions, I will listen and probably try it out.

    1. Paula @ EasyBabyLife

      Christina, it is called Sandifer’s Syndrome, and it is a spasm related to acid reflux in babies.