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Is It Normal Spitting Up Or GERD?

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Most babies spit up from time to time when they're young, but if your little one seems to be constantly spitting up, isn't feeding well, or showing signs of pain, it's time to talk to your child's pediatrician. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is common in infants -- the National Institutes of Health estimates that two-thirds of 4-month-olds show symptoms of GERD and up to 10 percent of infants are still showing symptoms after they're a year old.

What Are the Symptoms of GERD in Babies?

Most babies who are just "spitting up" do it without any ill effects or signs of pain. If you're concerned that your baby's spitting up could be something more, look for the following signs of GERD:

  • Not gaining weight and growing well despite regular feedings. If your pediatrician expresses concern over your child's weight or growth pattern, be sure to mention any excessive vomiting or spitting up, so your child's doctor can make a proper diagnosis.
  • Coughing or gagging while feeding. GERD can cause throat pain due to stomach acid in the esophagus that is intensified when he or she tries to drink. 
  • Refusing feedings altogether. Every baby will skip a feeding now and then just because he or she isn't hungry, but if your child is spitting up frequently and is regularly refusing feedings, it could be a sign of GERD.
  • Showing signs of abdominal pain. Babies with GERD are spitting up liquid that comes from the stomach, so they often show signs of belly pain, such as arching their backs or pulling their legs up toward their abdomens.

How Will My Pediatrician Know If My Baby Has GERD?

Most of the time, pediatricians diagnose GERD in infants based on the child's symptoms. He or she will likely suggest feeding changes and conservative treatments to see if your child's symptoms improve. If they don't, you may be referred to a pediatric gastroenterologist for further testing. This testing is safe, but it can be more invasive involving a tube being placed down your child's esophagus or nose so the doctor can see your child's throat and gastrointestinal tract, so it's usually done as a last resort. Most babies respond well to conservative treatments.

What Are the Treatments for GERD?

The most common treatments for GERD are feeding changes, involving adding rice cereal to your child's breast milk or formula, avoiding overfeeding and burping more frequently -- as often as every ounce or two of food. Your doctor might also suggest keeping your baby upright during feeding and for 30 minutes after to reduce spitting up. He or she might also suggest a special formula that will be easier for your baby to digest, but you shouldn't change your baby's milk source unless directed to do so by a pediatrician.

Over-the-counter and prescription medications help reduce the symptoms of GERD in many babies who still have problems after feeding changes. These medicines are often the same medications used by adults to control heartburn and acid production, but in pediatric formulations or dosages. Don't give your child any medications unless directed to do so by his or her pediatrician.

For more information, contact a professional like those at Tampa Bay Reflux Center.