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What are the signs of reflux in babies?

baby feeding from a bottle

Key points:
1. Is your baby vomiting, irritable, and crying frequently after eating? These might be signs of reflux in babies or gastroesophageal reflux (GOR).

2. Whether breastfed or formula-fed, babies can experience reflux, where food and stomach acid flow back into the esophagus.
3. Reflux often occurs because the muscle at the bottom of the esophagus isn’t fully developed, causing discomfort as milk and acid regurgitate.
4. Tips like upright feeding, smaller portions, and burping can help alleviate mild reflux, but consult a doctor if signs persist.

Does your baby vomit, is irritable, and cries often after eating? If that’s the case, they’re probably signs of reflux in babies or gastroesophageal reflux (GOR).

It doesn’t matter if a baby is breastfed or formula-fed, they can both suffer from reflux. This ailment occurs when food and stomach acid flow back into the esophagus, and sometimes out of the mouth.

Babies usually suffer from reflux because the ring of muscle at the bottom of the esophagus (which opens and closes to allow food to enter the stomach) hasn’t fully developed yet. This means that when your baby’s tummy is full, milk and acid can come back up the food pipe, causing discomfort. Although this problem is messy and may be frustrating, you shouldn’t be alarmed ーit is one of the most common baby feeding problems! Around 25% of all babies experience some degree of it.

The good news is that GOR usually disappears without any treatment when kids reach 12 to 18 months of age. Only about 5% of infants over the age of 12 months will continue to regurgitate.


Signs of reflux in babies

But how can you know if your baby suffers from reflux? Here are some of the signs you should look out for:

  • Regurgitates milk/food
  • Irritability
  • Feeds poorly
  • Coughs frequently
  • Vomits frequently
  • Cries after being fed
  • Experiences discomfort, gas, or abdominal pain after feeding (heartburn)

Tips to reduce reflux 

If your baby experiences mild reflux but is feeding well, the following tips may help:

  • When you feed your baby, do it in an upright position.
  • After each feed, your baby should be placed in an upright position for 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Give them smaller portions, but more frequently ーthis can help decrease the chances of regurgitating.
  • Make sure you do not overfeed your baby, this can aggravate reflux.
  • If your baby is bottle-fed, make sure they burp every 2 or 3 minutes during the feeds.
  • Invest in good “slow flow nipple” bottles, so the milk doesn’t come out too fast.
  • On average, a burp every 2 to 3 ounces would be helpful.
  • Depending on your baby’s age, thickening the formula with rice cereal may improve reflux.
  • Your baby may be allergic to milk-based formula, so you might have to consider switching formulas.

Make sure you take note of the times per day your baby feeds, hours of the day when they cry the most, and how often and how much they’re vomiting. This information will be important for your doctor.

Overall, if your baby suffers from reflux or not, you should try to avoid the following as much as you can:

  • Put your baby in car seats after feeding.
  • Putting diapers or clothes that are tight around the abdomen.
  • Expose your baby to smoke.
  • Force feed your baby.
  • Use distractions like TV shows, DVDs, or toys –make sure your baby is relaxed and doesn’t get overly excited at mealtimes.

When to contact your pediatrician

Although you shouldn’t be alarmed if your baby vomits occasionally after feeds, some signs of reflux in babies that you should mention to your doctor are:

  • Your little one is irritable during or after feeds, cries a lot, and arches their back.
  • Your baby regularly vomits large amounts. 
  • Your baby vomits green or yellow fluids.
  • They fuss or refuse to eat.

Although this problem is messy and may be frustrating, you shouldn’t be alarmed. However, being aware of the signs of reflux in babies may help you prevent this issue.

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3 Responses

  1. My babygirl was dealing with this problem… she was bottle feeding (because I didn’t have much milk for breastfeeding) didn’t vomit very much, but other symptoms were exactly like you described here… we spent 7 days in hospital, because she refused feeding at all and was very iritable… She got Nexium twice a day, was feeded in upright position, burped 2-3 times during feeding and it all got better when she got 4 months- when we included rice, meat, vegetable… Maybe a little bit early, but our differential diagnose was “milk dislike”… While we were in hospital, they performed milk protein and lactose intollerance tests- they were negative… Finally, I recommend to all parents experiencing this problem- lots of patience, love and cuddling their babies, to follow your advice and talk to their doctor if necessary.

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