Most infants with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) are happy and healthy, even though they may spit up or vomit. Usually, feeding and sleeping modifications can improve the symptoms. Although most babies outgrow GERD by the time they are one to two years old, some require treatment, especially if the condition becomes serious.
What Is Infant GERD?Gastroesophageal reflux (also known simply as reflux) is common in infants. Spitting up, vomiting, burping, and coughing can seem like a normal part of the feeding process with infants. Most babies with reflux are happy and healthy, even though they spit up or vomit. However, in a small number of cases, this seemingly normal process can become more serious. When this occurs, it is possible that the infant has gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD for short.
Understanding Gastroesophageal RefluxGastroesophageal 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 (burping) 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.
Symptoms of Infant GERDBesides spitting up, vomiting, and coughing (symptoms that infant GERD shares with reflux), in a small number of infants, symptoms may be more serious. Examples of these problems 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.
(Click Infant GERD Symptoms to learn more.)