Acid Reflux in Infants: Is My Baby Spitting Up Too Much?

Baby boy (18 weeks) frothing at the mouth
Acid Reflux in Infants. Vanessa Davis / Getty Images

What is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux is a condition in which acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus. It is also called Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). The acid in the esophagus causes irritation and inflammation of the tissue lining the esophagus and can be extremely uncomfortable. Significant damage to the tissue of the esophagus can occur. Acid reflux is a very common affliction in people of all ages.

The exact cause of GERD is not known but it may occur when the lower esophageal sphincter, a muscle which is located at the bottom of the esophagus and normally functions to prevent food and acid from backing up into the esophagus, malfunctions. It may also be caused by another condition called hiatal hernia. Hiatal hernia can be caused by persistent or violent coughing, vomiting, or straining when the upper part of the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm. Food allergies and eating habits can also contribute to the development of GERD.

In infants, overfeeding is a common culprit of acid reflux.

Symptoms of Acid Reflux in Infants

The most common symptom of acid reflux in infants is frequent spitting up. Other symptoms may include:

    How Much Spitting Up is Too Much?

    It's very difficult to say exactly how much an individual baby should or should not spit up. Children who spit up daily but are happy, do not seem uncomfortable and are gaining weight properly probably do not need to be treated. Infants who spit up daily, develop other symptoms, often seem fussy, and fail to gain weight, on the other hand, need to be evaluated by a physician and likely require treatment.

    If you are worried about how much your baby is spitting up talk to your pediatrician.

    Regurgitation in infants is common, research shows that about 50% of infants under the age of 3 months spit up or regurgitate at least one time every day and this number increases at the age of 4 months. However, research also shows that for most infants reflux spontaneously resolves around the time they learn to sit up (about 6 months of age).

    Proper Feeding Makes a Big Difference

    There are several things as a parent you can do to prevent or minimize acid reflux in your baby, including:

    • whenever possible, breastmilk is the best diet for preventing or minimizing reflux in infants
    • make sure your baby is always propped up during feedings and for about a half hour after eating
    • do not allow your baby to swallow air from a bottle
    • do not overfeed your baby or allow your baby to eat too quickly (you may need to try different nipples if bottle feeding)
    • burp your baby frequently during and after feeding

    Treatment for Acid Reflux in Infants

    Is acid reflux is persistent and causes bothersome symptoms or complications such as failure to gain weight, your baby may need additional treatment for acid reflux.

    Some common treatments include:

    • dietary changes if allergies are suspected
    • the use of thickened formula
    • medications such as antacids, H2 blockers (Zantac), or proton pump inhibitors (Prilosec)
    • in extreme cases, a surgery called fundoplication

    Sources:

    American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. Pediatric GERD (Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease). Accessed: March 31, 2015 from http://www.entnet.org/content/pediatric-gerd-gastro-esophageal-reflux-disease

    Barrett's Esophagus. Lower Esophageal Sphincter. Accessed: March 31, 2015 from http://www.barrettsinfo.com/content/info_2b1_les.cfm

    Boston's Children Hospital. Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER) in Children. Accessed: March 31, 2015 from http://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/gastroesophageal-reflux-ger

    E Medicine Health. Acid Reflux. Accessed: March 31, 2015 from http://www.emedicinehealth.com/acid_reflux_disease_gerd/article_em.htm#acid_reflux_gerd_overview

    Medscape. Pediatric Gastroesophageal Reflux. Accessed: March 31, 2015 from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/930029-overview

    NHS Choices. Reflux in babies. Accessed: March 31, 2015 from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/reflux-babies/Pages/Introduction.aspx

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