This common condition makes babies spit up often, and may cause a lot of discomfort.
When a baby just can’t seem to stop spitting up, that’s a strong sign of gastroesophageal reflux, which is surprisingly common in healthy infants.
What causes reflux in babies? The lower esophageal sphincter (the part of the body just above the stomach that clamps down and keeps the food you eat from coming up) is looser in babies. Infants can have their stomach contents pass into the esophagus up to 30 times a day. However, parents don’t notice every event. Sometimes, the milk will just hit the lower esophagus, then go back down into the stomach. Other times, you’ll see some partially digested milk in your baby’s mouth or dribbling down his chin. There shouldn’t be any other colors to the milk unless your baby is eating solid foods. Gastroesophageal reflux becomes GERD (just add the word “disease”) when reflux causes problems such as poor growth or breathing problems.
So, if lots of babies have this problem, when should you talk to your baby’s pediatrician about GERD? In a word, always. Your doctor wants to know about any problems your baby is having so she can better help your family.
However, do not expect your baby’s doctor to start ordering a bunch of tests. Most likely, he or she will want to get a good sense of when the episodes happen and what your baby is eating.
As long as your baby is gaining weight, eating well and not acting very upset, he or she will fall into the majority of infants who have “uncomplicated” reflux. This means they don’t have any worrisome symptoms other than the spitting-up episodes. These babies will have fewer episodes of reflux as they get older and will eventually outgrow their reflux.
However, having a baby with uncomplicated reflux still isn’t a walk in the park. No one wants to see his or her baby uncomfortable, not to mention all the wardrobe changes parents have to manage! So, what helps with acid reflux in babies?
1. Make sure baby is not overfed.
Infants’ tummies are small, and if you stuff them too full, they will leak out the top.
2. Feed smaller amounts of formula or breast milk more frequently.
This will allow baby to get the same amount of calories, but will put less stress on their tummies.
3. Keep your baby upright after feedings.
This means upright on your shoulder, not partially upright in a swing. This may keep the milk from escaping the stomach and will allow some to pass into the lower intestinal tract, creating more room in the stomach.
4. If your baby is 4 months or older, add some rice cereal to the bottle.
Adding rice cereal (1 teaspoon per ounce of formula or breast milk) has a double benefit. It gives the feedings more calories while taking up less space, and may make food less likely to escape the stomach. However, keep an eye on your baby’s weight gain, as you may end up feeding too much.
5. If you are breastfeeding, consider limiting the amount of spicy foods you eat.
This may help make your breast milk easier to digest.
Medications can be helpful as well. Your child’s doctor might prescribe these for GERD in babies if an infant’s reflux prevents them from wanting food and gaining weight. Antacid medications will cause the milk coming up from the stomach to be less acidic, but it will not cause the reflux to stop.
Most importantly, parents should still continue to put baby on his or her back while sleeping. Belly sleeping is a risk factor for SIDS.
Good luck — and remember, white onesies never go out of style.