Gastroesophageal Reflux in Newborns

Because newborns have immature digestive systems, gastroesophageal reflux is a common occurrence. Most babies who experience reflux are happy and healthy, even though they may spit up or vomit. Feeding and sleeping modifications can usually improve symptoms for your baby. Although most newborns outgrow these symptoms within one or two years, some require treatment (such as medication or surgery).

An Overview of Gastroesophageal Reflux in Newborns

Gastroesophageal reflux (also known simply as reflux) is quite common in newborns. It is usually due to the immature digestive system of the baby, and goes away on its own in one or two years. For a newborn with reflux, treatment will vary based on a number of factors, including the severity of symptoms and the age of the baby.
In some cases, treatment may not be necessary, because reflux often improves on its own. In these cases, feeding and sleeping modification may be all that is needed.

What Is Gastroesophageal Reflux?

Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when stomach contents come back up into the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach) during or after a meal. A ring of muscle at the bottom of the esophagus opens and closes to allow food to enter the stomach. This ring of muscle is called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
This sphincter opens to release gas after meals in normal infants, children, and adults. When the sphincter opens in infants, the stomach contents often go up the esophagus and out the mouth (through spitting up or vomiting). Reflux can also occur when babies cough, cry, or strain.

What Are the Symptoms?

Spitting, vomiting, and coughing are all common symptoms that a newborn with gastroesophageal reflux might have. In a small number of newborns, reflux symptoms may be more serious. Examples of these symptoms can include:
  • Poor growth due to an inability to hold down enough food
  • Irritability or refusing to feed due to pain
  • Blood loss from acid burning the esophagus
  • Breathing problems.
When these symptoms occur, it is possible that the infant has gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD for short.
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