Baby Reflux Symptoms Guide

Latest update: January 9, 2019

Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD
Medical fact-check: Dr Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.

GER or GERD? This Baby Reflux Symptoms Guide helps you find out if your baby has infant acid reflux, and which type it is. It's important to react timely to the signs and to know when to seek medical advice.

What is acid reflux in babies?

All babies spit up regularly. That's absolutely normal because their digestive system needs time to develop. There is a muscle at the top of the stomach which can take 6 to 12 months to tighten; once it does, milk stays in the stomach.

Food that has reached the stomach, may go backward, and reach the esophagus and mouth again. That's when we see the typical spitting up a bit of her milk after a feed, or she might truly vomit. Or, she may just be uncomfortable for a while after feeding.

This totally harmless form of baby acid reflux is called GER (Gastro Esophageal Reflux). It usually occurs in the first months and most babies outgrow it by 6 to 12 months old.

But some babies spit and vomit more than others. And it is accompanied by severe tummy aches, poor weight gain, very difficult feeding, ... They have something more serious going on: GERD (Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disorder).

This is a medical condition that definitely needs medical help. Let's have a look at the symptoms to help you decide what your baby has.

Does my baby have reflux - GER or GERD?

The harmless infant reflux type GER (Gastro Esophageal Reflux) is very very common. Your baby simply spits a bit after a feeding. She may be uncomfortable for a little while after feeding. She may also vomit a little from time to time.

Normally though, your baby would not be truly disturbed by this - other than a few moments of distress. If your baby is otherwise well and developing normally, there is nothing to worry about.

Symptoms of the more serious GERD (Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disorder) type infant acid reflux include:

  • Spitting and vomiting very often (regularly more than 5 times a day). See your doctor immediately if this happens
  • Uncomfortable and/or screaming when lying flat on the back (supine position). In contrast, more comfortable and calm when held in an upright position
  • Uncomfortable during feeding - often even crying and screaming
  • Interrupted feeding: i.e. your baby stops several times during a feed to swallow the refluxed milk back down
  • Coughing often after feeding (the returned food and acids reach the throat and stay there for a while)
  • Not gaining weight as should
  • Not thriving
  • Tummy aches: screaming often, back arching, etc.
  • Sleeping poorly, waking up screaming

Always contact your doctor to discuss any of these symptoms if you notice them.

If your baby is projectile vomiting, take him or her to the doctor immediately. This is a symptom that is sometimes confused as a symptom of GERD, but is a classic sign of pyloric stenosis, which requires urgent medical attention. So if you do notice projectile vomiting, don't delay and see your doctor ASAP.

Any of the other symptoms on top of that help you discover the GERD as well.

Remember that there is also the so-called Silent GERD: baby does not spit or vomit but has all the other discomforts (the food reaches the throat but does not come out).

Always consult your doctor when you suspect the GERD type of infant acid reflux.

Read on for tips to help your baby sleep at best in spite of baby reflux: