As a mother cradles her baby, she wonders if the baby is suffering the typical symptoms of GERD in babies.

Know the Signs and Symptoms of GERD in Babies

GERD, or acid reflux, is not typically something we associate with babies. When most people think of GERD, they think of heartburn, acidic food, caffeine, overeating and discomfort caused by the foods we eat. However, babies aren’t yet eating solid foods, so how can they get GERD?

GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a condition whereby the contents of the stomach move up through the esophagus causing acid to irritate and burn the lining of the stomach and esophagus. Additionally, this movement of stomach acid can move upward from the esophagus into the oral cavity. Typically, infants experience ‘infant reflux’ whereby there is irritation caused to the lining of the stomach and esophageal lining, but it may not be acidic or damaging to the esophagus and stomach lining. As a mom, you may not be able to pinpoint that your baby has irritation to their esophagus and stomach lining, however, your baby is likely communicating symptoms that may look like colic, gas, or general discomfort during and after feeding.

So how do you decipher between colic, GERD, and a bad day? Here are some collective symptoms of GERD in babies.

  •   frequent vomiting, spitting up, or “projectile” vomiting
  •   a consistent cough
  •   recurrent pneumonia
  •   colic; especially following feeding and associated with gas and abdominal pain
  •   choking or gagging with food or a general refusal to eat
  •   poor growth; isn’t gaining weight or isn’t gaining sufficient weight
  •   regurgitation

These typical symptoms of GERD in babies on their own may not collectively amount to a GERD diagnosis. But if your infant experiences many or most of these symptoms then it is time to consider that he/she may be suffering from GERD.

If all or several of these symptoms describe your infant, contact your doctor. Typically when faced with symptoms of GERD in babies, your baby’s doctor will recommend some strategies to decrease the irritability your baby is experiencing. If these symptoms persist, your doctor may prescribe medication to decrease the stomach acid in your baby’s system. Occasionally, the doctor will recommend an endoscopy or a pH probe to ensure that the cause of the problem is completely understood. The good news? Only 5% of babies with GERD continue with the condition past their first birthday. In addition, utilizing some of these strategies below can tremendously help.

  •   Elevate the head of your baby’s crib.
  •   Keep your baby elevated at least 30 minutes after feedings.
  •   Feed your baby smaller amounts of milk but more often.

These strategies are designed to help minimize the backflow of acid into the esophageal lining and oral cavity. This can help minimize your baby’s discomfort. Warning: occasionally doctor’s will recommend thickening your baby’s liquids. It might be a good idea to consult with a specialist or get a second opinion to ensure this is the best option as thickening a baby’s liquids can have a negative impact on the development of their swallow skills.

Typically, babies grow out of GERD before their first birthday. Why? The culprit of infant GERD may not be their diet, but rather the maturity of their digestive system. Frequently babies’ LES (lower esophageal sphincter) has yet to fully mature. This can inhibit food from being able to transport from the esophagus to the stomach. If your child is older than the age of 2, the symptoms of GERD would more likely be associated with diet.


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About Melissa Elchison

Melissa Elchison is currently pursuing her clinical fellowship as a speech and language pathologist. Previously, she studied education and was an early childhood researcher at The Ohio State University and University of Cincinnati. She enjoys barre classes, traveling with her husband, and trying new recipes.