Infant reflux explained

By Martha Li on February 11, 2014

As an expectant mom, you were likely gifted with a truckload of bibs, burp cloths and adorable outfits for your little one. It may have seemed excessive at the time (how were you possibly going to use all this stuff before baby outgrew them?), but then your bundle of joy arrived and started spitting up daily – multiple times a day, in fact. Suddenly, you find yourself changing outfits three or four times a day and, boy, did you ever wish you had more burp cloths handy!

All babies spit up, but if you find that yours seems to be spitting up more often than others, it may actually be infant reflux. Infant reflux is one of the most common feeding problems with newborn babies. Here’s what you can do to offer your little one some relief – and maybe even lighten the laundry load.

What is infant reflux and who gets it?

Gastroesophageal reflux (GER), more commonly known as acid reflux, or infant reflux for babies, is a digestive disorder that occurs when stomach contents containing acid flow back up into the esophagus. 

Given that a newborn’s digestive system has not fully matured, GER is a condition that many babies will experience at the first stage of their life. According to Health Canada, about half of healthy three- to four-month old infants regurgitate at least once daily. Because GER is so common among newborns, healthy infants who experience few to no symptoms are often dubbed as “happy spitters” and they usually stop spitting up between the ages of 12 and 14 months.

What to do if your baby has GER

“Breast milk is the most digestible food for an infant, so continue to breastfeed on demand and burp your baby after feeding on each side,” says Emily Burt, an Edmonton-based registered dietician who specializes in infant and maternal nutrition. “For an infant who is on formula, burp him after he consumes one to two ounces.” And whether you breastfeed or formula feed, Emily recommends holding your baby upright for 30 minutes after a feeding as this may help to minimize spit-ups.

GER or GERD?

Reflux is normal, says Edmonton RD Emily Burt, but if it’s persistent, or your maternal instinct is telling you something is wrong, your baby may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is a more serious, chronic form of GER. 

According to the website AboutKidsHealth.ca, an online destination developed by SickKids Hospital, watch for these symptoms of GERD:

  • effortless spitting up of food or feedings with discomfort
  • coughing, when regurgitated food gets into the trachea (breathing tube)
  • irritability before feeding; the baby will arch back, twist her neck, or pull away from feeding
  • crying before or during feeding
  • poor weight gain

“The ‘D’ in GERD is when the symptoms are troublesome and may indicate signs of true GERD where the mechanics [of your baby’s digestive system] are off,” says Emily. ”If this is the case, it’s best to bring your baby to see a pediatrician immediately.”

Your child's doctor will complete an examination and may recommend smaller meals or more frequent burping. Further tests could include X-rays or a scope of the digestive tract.


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February 2014.


By Martha Li| February 11, 2014

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