Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is very common among infants, but most outgrow it by the time they reach their first birthday, and it is rare for GERD to continue past the age of two. This condition occurs when acidic stomach contents move backward (reflux) into the lower esophagus, often because the muscle (called the lower esophageal sphincter) that connects the esophagus and stomach relaxes inappropriately or is weak. Symptoms of GERD in babies include routinely spitting up food or vomiting after eating, irritability or sudden crying after eating, a “wet burp” or “wet hiccup” sound, and poor weight gain or weight loss. Like adults with GERD, babies are probably experiencing the discomfort of heartburn.
I discussed the safety of putting tiny babies on antacids with Sandy Newmark, M.D., a California-based pediatrician on the faculty of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. He said that in general it is safe to put an infant on an antacid, although he noted that any medication can have side effects. He also said that because many doctors jump too quickly to these drugs, parents should be careful to make sure they are given for the right reasons. For example, if a baby just spits up a lot but is happy, growing, and thriving, there is no need to treat, Dr. Newmark said. He also explained that since food allergies can cause GERD, he usually looks into the mother’s diet if she is breastfeeding, or the baby’s formula if she is not, before he recommends starting medications. He also suggested some simple measures that can help relieve a baby’s symptoms: elevating the head of the crib and keeping the baby upright after feeding.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
More information on GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease).