Understanding GERD in Babies: Causes, Symptoms, and Care

reflux baby

Knowing Infant Reflux – Normal Spit Up V/s GERD

Spitting up milk, also known as reflux or gastroesophageal reflux, is a common occurrence among infants. It is a normal part of their daily activities and is typically not a cause for concern. Reflux happens when the contents of the baby’s stomach flow back into their food pipe, known as the esophagus. In most cases, this is considered gastroesophageal reflux (GER), which is a benign condition that usually resolves on its own.

GER is characterized by reflux without any troublesome symptoms. It is a temporary and self-limiting condition that does not require medical intervention. Infants with GER may spit up milk after feedings but are generally content and show no signs of discomfort.

But there are instances when infant reflux can become more severe and persistent, leading to a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is a more serious form of reflux that may cause troublesome symptoms and complications. It is important to differentiate between normal reflux (GER) and GERD to determine if medical intervention is necessary.

GER is commonly observed in infants under the age of 12 months, primarily due to the lower tone of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) during this developmental stage. However, it’s important to note that GER and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also occur in school-aged children. Various factors, including diet, genetics, and other influences, can contribute to the development of GERD.

Who are reflux (GERD) babies ?

Reflux babies, also known as infants with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), are babies who experience the regurgitation or spitting up of stomach contents into the esophagus. This occurs when the muscle between the stomach and esophagus, known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), is not fully developed or weak, allowing the stomach contents to flow back up.


Reflux in babies is relatively common and often improves as they grow older. It can cause discomfort for the baby and concern for parents due to symptoms such as frequent spitting up, irritability, difficulty feeding, and poor weight gain.

However not all babies who spit up or experience mild reflux symptoms are considered reflux babies. Reflux becomes a concern when it causes significant distress, affects the baby’s growth, or leads to complications such as aspiration or respiratory issues.

Causes leading to GERD in Infants

Several factors can contribute to the development of GERD in babies-

Babies have underdeveloped digestive systems, including a still-maturing LES. This immaturity can lead to the incomplete closure of the sphincter, allowing stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus more easily.

Sometimes elder babies may have a sensitivity or intolerance to certain foods, such as cow’s milk protein or soy protein. Consumption of these foods can irritate the digestive system and contribute to reflux symptoms.

In some cases, a baby’s stomach may empty more slowly than normal, causing the contents to stay in the stomach for a longer period. This can increase the likelihood of reflux.

A hiatal hernia occurs when a portion of the stomach pushes up through the diaphragm muscle, which can weaken the LES and lead to reflux symptoms.

Feeding a baby too much at once or feeding them too quickly can overwhelm the immature digestive system, leading to increased pressure on the LES and a higher risk of reflux.

Incorrect positioning during feeding, such as allowing the baby to lie flat or slouched, can contribute to reflux episodes. It’s important to keep the baby in an upright position during and after feedings.

Excessive weight in babies can put extra pressure on the stomach, potentially leading to reflux symptoms.

Certain medical conditions, such as neurologic disorders, gastrointestinal abnormalities, or conditions that affect muscle tone, can increase the risk of GERD in babies.

How to recognize a Reflux baby – Symptoms & Signs

Identifying if your baby is experiencing reflux can be challenging since many infants spit up to some degree, which is considered normal. However, if you suspect your baby may have reflux, here are some signs and symptoms to look out for:

Frequent spitting up

If your baby consistently spits up large amounts of milk or formula after feeding, it may be a sign of reflux. This can occur immediately after feeding or even hours later.

Irritability during or after feeding

Reflux babies may become fussy, agitated, or show signs of discomfort during or after feeding. They may arch their back, pull away from the bottle or breast, or cry excessively.

Poor weight gain

If your baby is not gaining weight adequately or not following their growth curve, it could be due to reflux interfering with their feeding and digestion.

Excessive crying

Reflux babies may exhibit excessive crying, particularly during or after feeding. They may be difficult to console, and their crying may worsen when lying down.

Difficulty sleeping

Reflux can interfere with a baby’s sleep, causing them to wake frequently or have difficulty settling down due to discomfort.

Persistent coughing or wheezing

Some reflux babies may develop a chronic cough or wheezing due to the stomach acid irritating their throat or airways.

If you notice these symptoms persistently and they are causing significant distress to your baby or impacting their growth, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional. They can evaluate your baby’s symptoms, conduct a thorough examination, and provide appropriate guidance and treatment options to manage reflux effectively.

Care for Reflux Babies

Keep your baby in an upright position during feedings and for at least 30 minutes afterward. This helps gravity keep the stomach contents down and reduces the likelihood of reflux episodes.


Offering smaller feedings more frequently can help prevent the stomach from becoming too full, reducing the chances of reflux. Consider feeding your baby smaller amounts at shorter intervals.

Burp your baby during and after feedings to release any trapped air that may contribute to reflux. Gently pat or rub your baby’s back to encourage burping.

Keep your baby in an upright position for at least 30 minutes after feeding. You can hold them against your shoulder or prop them up in a supported position, such as in a bouncer or infant seat.

Elevate the head of your baby’s crib or bassinet by placing a firm pillow or wedge under the mattress. This helps keep their head and upper body elevated while sleeping, reducing the likelihood of reflux during the night.

Dress your baby in loose, comfortable clothing that does not put pressure on their abdomen. Tight clothing can increase reflux symptoms.

Avoid vigorous bouncing, jostling, or sudden movements immediately after feedings, as this can exacerbate reflux symptoms.

Ensure proper positioning and latch if you are breastfeeding, and consider paced bottle feeding if using a bottle. These techniques can help reduce the amount of air your baby swallows during feeding.

If your baby’s reflux symptoms persist or worsen, or if you have concerns about their well-being, it’s important to seek guidance from a healthcare professional. They can provide further evaluation, offer additional strategies, or recommend appropriate medications if necessary.

Remember, every baby is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. It may take some trial and error to find the strategies that provide the most relief for your baby’s reflux symptoms. Patience, persistence, and support from healthcare professionals will help you navigate this challenging time and ensure the best care for your little one.

End Note

Recognizing and managing GER and GERD is crucial to prevent complications and ensure the well-being of children. Monitoring diet, adopting lifestyle modifications, and seeking medical attention when necessary can help mitigate the impact of GERD and minimize the risk of associated complications.

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