Baby Reflux Symptoms Guide

Author Name: 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 :

Article Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD - Founder, senior sleep consultant

Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Heidi Holvoet, PhD, is the founder of the Baby Sleep Advice website and movement, an award-winning author, baby & toddler sleep consultant with 15+ years experience as well as a certified lactation counselor.

Over the years, Heidi has received several awards inluding a Mom's Choice Award (MCA) and National Parenting Awards (NAPPA) for her Baby Sleep Advice website, programs and books. Also, Baby Sleep Advice was awarded "Most Trusted Infant's Sleep Solutions Company 2023" in the Benelux Enterprise Awards 2023.

Heidi continually conducts personal research and participates in continued education and in that way stays up to date with current scientific and pyschosocial infant care.

Association of Professional Sleep Consultants

She is also a member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants of which she was one of the earliest contributors. She obtained her PhD degree in physics at the University of Ghent in Belgium.

Heidi is passionate about helping babies and their parents sleep more and better, with her trademark approach that has been proven and praised time and again by parents worldwide to be effective and truly no-tears. Respect for you as a parent and your baby, is at the heart of Heidi's warm and kind support. Her approach always keeps in mind a baby's needs and abilities at any given age, is based on pediatric science and the most up to date knowledge in infant care and sleep science.

As well as the award-winning baby sleep programs, Heidi offers popular 1:1 consults and easy-access 30-minute SOS Sleep sessions.