Search IconSearch

Rumination: How This Rare Eating Disorder Can Affect Kids

It may be mistaken for digestive problems

Child with rumination.

It’s normal for a baby to spit up as their digestive system develops and they get the hang of feeding.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

But if a child continues to regurgitate beyond their first year, there might be something else going on.

It’s most likely something bugging their digestion, like gastroesophageal reflux (yes, kids can have it too), gastroparesis or a swallowing problem. If there’s no underlying medical condition at play, though, a pediatrician might start to consider rumination syndrome.

Rumination is a rare eating disorder characterized by repeated regurgitation of undigested or partially digested food after eating, without any nausea or retching.

Experts aren’t sure exactly why this happens to some children and people with developmental disabilities, but they do know that it’s closely tied to anxiety, says child and adolescent psychiatrist Tatiana Falcone, MD.

“Anxiety can come in so many different ways — it can come as a headache, a stomach ache or as rumination disorder,” she explains.

Here’s what we do know about this condition.

Getting the right diagnosis

Unlike with other eating disorders, a child who ruminates eats food normally. Only, after they eat — usually within 30 minutes to an hour — some of the food they ate flows backward from their esophagus and stomach up into their mouth.

Parents may notice some children rechewing and swallowing the food. Others may spit it out.

They aren’t doing this consciously; rumination is a learned reflex response, Dr. Falcone says. And because it’s a behavioral issue, it’s treated much differently than a digestive problem, so it requires careful diagnosis.


“First you have to think about gastrointestinal issues,” Dr. Falcone says. “Before we make a diagnosis, we want to make sure we rule out any physical conditions that could be causing this.”

Treatment starts with behavioral therapy

Many children with rumination disorder benefit from breathing training that teaches their diaphragm to relax when they’re eating, Dr. Falcone says.

They may also benefit from other steps to reduce anxiety in their lives overall, like adhering to regular sleeping and eating schedules, and having relaxed mealtimes that aren’t rushed.

“Anxiety can be exacerbated by stress in the home, neglect and troubled parent-child relationship problems,” Dr. Falcone says.

The good news, she notes, is that most kids are eventually able to overcome their rumination symptoms. However, it’s important for parents to know that they may be at risk for developing other anxiety disorders later in life.

“Sometimes, the rumination disorder gets better and they go years and years with no symptoms, and later we might see sleeping problems or headaches or stomach aches,” Dr. Falcone explains. “So it’s important to teach some of these behavioral and relaxation techniques to help kids control the anxiety, because those might also be useful later.”

If your child is regurgitating food consistently, start by seeing a primary care physician. They can start the process of figuring out what’s going on and refer you to a digestive specialist or psychologist if necessary.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

People sitting in circle at group therapy
July 18, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
Chronic Hives and Mental Health: Self-Care Tips

Combat stress and anxiety — common chronic hives triggers — by focusing on sleep, staying active and leaning on others for support

Couple in bed, one asleep, the other typing on their cell phone
July 18, 2024/Sex & Relationships
How and When Emotional Cheating Crosses a Line

Fostering romantic and/or sexual feelings for other people outside of your relationship can lead to long-term consequences

Female painting a still life of a vase and fruits on canvas and easel
Self-Care Is Important When You’re Living With HER2-Negative Metastatic Breast Cancer

Taking care of yourself extends beyond symptom management and includes things like passion projects and meaningful moments

Person crying with heart-shaped hole in their chest
July 9, 2024/Mental Health
How To Overcome an Existential Crisis

Connecting with loved ones, keeping a gratitude journal and reframing the situation may help the dread dissipate

Group of women sitting in chairs in circle, some holding brochures, at cancer support group
HER2-Low Metastatic Breast Cancer: Finding Community

Support groups, financial assistance and survivorship programs are all readily available

Silhouette of person, with brain as four puzzle pieces
The Mandela Effect: How False Memories Trick Your Brain Into Believing

Our collective misremembering of events comes from a surplus of false memories

Silohuette of person, with light aimed at their eye and brain
June 20, 2024/Mental Health
Feeling Stuck? Brainspotting May Help

This alternative brain-body therapy focuses on unlocking pent-up feelings, memories and tension that may be stuck in your brain and body

Older person smiling, taking in the outdoors
June 13, 2024/Mental Health
Put Intention Behind Your Walking Meditation

While walking, be mindful of your body, your mind, your place in the world and all five of your senses as you pave a path forward, one step at a time

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims