I want to explore a common issue that many parents encounter with their little ones: infant reflux. I understand that having a baby with reflux can be worrying and challenging. This post will cover what infant reflux is, its potential causes, symptoms, and how to differentiate it from spitting up and allergies.
What is Infant Reflux?
Infant reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER), occurs when stomach contents flow back into the baby's esophagus. This can happen during or after feeding, causing the baby to spit up or vomit. While it may be distressing for parents to witness, infant reflux is relatively common and typically resolves on its own as the baby grows and their digestive system matures.
The primary cause of infant reflux is an immature lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is a muscle located at the junction of the esophagus and stomach. It acts as a one-way valve in adults, preventing stomach contents from flowing back into the esophagus. In infants, however, the LES may be underdeveloped, allowing stomach contents to reflux back into the esophagus. Reflux is "common" but also not normal.
Other potential factors that can contribute to infant reflux include:
Consuming air while feeding
Food allergies or intolerances
The most common symptom of infant reflux is frequent spitting up or vomiting after feeding. However, not all babies with reflux will spit up, and some may experience "silent reflux," which can be more challenging to identify. Other symptoms of infant reflux include:
Irritability during or after feeding
Arching of the back during or after feeding
Poor weight gain or growth
Gagging or choking
Wet burps or hiccups
Frequent waking or difficulty sleeping
Reflux vs. Spitting Up
Spitting up is a normal occurrence in infants, and most babies will spit up to some degree during their first year of life. The main difference between reflux and spitting up is the frequency and severity of the episodes. While occasional spitting up is normal, frequent episodes accompanied by other symptoms may indicate a more serious issue, such as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), which requires medical attention.
Reflux vs. Allergies
It can be challenging to differentiate between infant reflux and food allergies, as both conditions can cause similar symptoms, such as irritability, vomiting, and poor weight gain. One distinguishing factor is that food allergies may cause additional symptoms, such as skin rashes, diarrhea, and blood in the stool. If you suspect that your baby may have a food allergy, consult your pediatrician for further evaluation and guidance.
If your concerns are with a potential allergy, discuss this concern with your pediatrician. You may also visit Free to Feed. They are a team of allergy experts dedicated to helping resolve your baby's reactivity symptoms faster so you can meet your feeding goals.
Infant reflux can be a distressing experience for both parents and babies, but it's essential to remember that, in most cases, it is a temporary issue that resolves as the baby grows. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and differences between reflux, spitting up, and allergies can help you navigate this challenging phase with confidence. As always, if you have concerns about your baby's health, consult your pediatrician for guidance and support.
About the author: Kellie Green is a certified and licensed Speech Pathologist, as well as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), who specializes in infant feeding. She operates a private practice in Columbus, OH, Green Living & Wellness.