We’re all familiar with the following scenario: you’re holding a baby, cooing over how cute she is, when suddenly the shoulder of your favorite shirt is covered with spit-up. If she’s someone else’s baby—great. You wrinkle your nose, hand her back, and start dabbing the undigested milk or formula off your clothing. If she’s your baby, well…this is probably the third time you’ve been spit-up on this morning, so chances are you don’t even bat an eyelash.
In infants, the phenomenon we colloquially refer to as “spitting up” is actually due to baby reflux. Just like in adult acid reflux, baby reflux occurs when the stomach contents flow back up into the esophagus, sometimes resulting in regurgitation. This occurs frequently in infants because the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which normally keeps stomach acid and digesting food in place, is not yet mature. Add to this the fact that babies spend most of their time lying flat and are on a completely liquid diet, and reflux is almost unavoidable.
The good news is that most babies grow out of infant reflux by their first birthday, and reflux typically is not a major health concern (just a cleaning hassle for you!). Signs of baby reflux include the following:
· Frequent vomiting
· Choking or gagging during feeding
· Gas or fussiness during or right after feeding
· Regurgitation and re-swallowing
· Difficulty feeding or refusing to eat
It is important to note that sometimes infant reflux is more serious, especially if symptoms lead to weight loss or difficulty gaining weight. If this occurs, it is possible that your baby has gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, which occurs when frequent reflux irritates and damages the esophageal lining.
Diagnosing baby reflux or determining if there is something more serious going on is a task you should leave to a medical professional (i.e. your pediatrician, not webMD). However, as a general guideline, the Mayo Clinic suggests definitely taking your baby to the doctor in the following situations:
· Your baby experiences frequent projectile vomiting
· Your baby is refusing to eat and isn’t gaining weight
· Your baby has trouble breathing or a chronic cough
· Your baby is spitting up green or yellow fluid, blood, or anything that looks like coffee grounds
Before you jump to the worst case scenario, keep in mind that more than likely, your baby is experiencing normal baby reflux and will grow out of this as her digestive system matures. However, it’s never a bad idea to consult your pediatrician if you have concerns or feel that further testing is necessary—better safe than sorry!