Yep, Your Baby Has Reflux – Here’s What You Need to Know About It

baby burp

If you’re like most new moms, your #OOTD is nearly always accessorized with remainders of your baby’s lunch. For infants, spitting up is not only normal -- it’s expected. But you probably want to know when it's a problem.


Does my baby have reflux?

“Let me tell you a medical truth; all babies have reflux,” says Dr. Mark R. Corkins, MD, division chief of pediatric gastroenterology and professor of pediatrics at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center.

Corkins explains that an infant’s nervous system isn't mature enough to fully control his or her lower esophageal sphincter (or LES) -- that muscular valve between the stomach and esophagus that keeps the grub from heading back up.

Infant reflux (aka GER or gastroesophageal reflux) is rarely a problem with the LES valve itself, as many people believe. “It’s the baby’s underdeveloped nervous system forgetting to tell the valve to stay closed,” explains Corkins.

As you probably know, the nervous system is in charge of a whole lot; it just needs some maturing before it can do it all. “You wouldn’t expect your baby to talk or walk at birth,” says Corkins. “This is no different.”

When is all that spit-up a problem?

There’s a huge range in how much spitting up is considered normal: from hardly ever to all the time. As long as it’s not causing another problem, it’s healthy and normal. Yes, this means even if your baby seems to be crying constantly. “Colic is rarely due to reflux,” says Corkins.

More from The Stir: Is It Crying or Colic? How to Tell the Difference

All of this said, sometimes reflux is a problem. If a baby isn’t growing well or is developing lung problems with choking, gagging, coughing, wheezing, and other breathing issues, the doctor may diagnose your baby with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and will start looking at treatment options.

Treatment should always be administered under a doctor’s supervision. “Every case is unique and will require a different treatment approach,” explains Corkins.

What should we do about baby's GERD?

If you think your child’s reflux needs intervention, your pediatrician or pediatric GI (gastroenterologist) will analyze the symptoms to determine the best course of action. Some of those treatment plans may include:

  • Smaller, more frequent feedings.
  • A dietary change. This could mean trying a new formula, or, for breastfed babies, mom may avoid common trigger foods like dairy.
  • Prescription reflux medications, which work to reduce acid.
  • Feeding a more calorie-dense diet. In this case, a dietitian will assess the baby’s nutritional needs and come up with a feeding plan that allows the baby to take in less volume.
  • A combination of the above. 

The good news is that almost all babies grow out of the reflux stage quickly (even if it doesn’t feel so quick to their tired mamas). By the age of 1, about 90 percent of babies’ nervous systems will be developed enough to eliminate their reflux. By 18 months, that number jumps to 99 percent and by age 2 it’s 99.9 percent. If a child is still having issues after his or her second birthday, there is likely another factor at play, and you'll want to have a doctor check things out.

More from The Stir: Tummy Troubles in Babies: Causes and Remedies

The bottom line: If a baby is growing well, breathing well, and not suffering from any other medical conditions, there’s no need to worry. It's much too common for parents to seek reflux treatment when it’s not necessary, says Corkins. “We’ve medicalized something that’s a very natural part of being a baby,” he explains.

In other words, when it comes to infants, spit happens.


Karissa O'Reilly is a freelance writer living in Westchester County, New York. A mom of two, Karissa has kids who are well past the spit-up stage. Her massive piles of laundry are now covered in grass stains instead of sour milk. 

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