How is GER different from GERD?
GER is gastroesophageal reflux, which is a completely normal pattern of spitting up that causes no harm to a baby. The valve that closes the top of the stomach just isn't mature yet, and there may even be some benefit to this washing backwards of the stomach contents.
Less common is gastroesophogeal reflux disease, or GERD. This is actually a disease where the stomach acid starts damaging the esophagus. This may be suspected when baby has growth and/or breathing problems. It can only be diagnosed by putting a tube down baby's throat and looking, and may require additional tests. The reason it matters is because studies show that when a doctor labels a child as having a disease it makes the parents more likely to give medications, even when it's explained that the drugs aren't likely to help. In the past, medications were overprescribed. So physicians have been advised to be very careful about which babies they label as having GERD, since most will actually have normal GER.
How common is GER?
About 2/3 of infants will spit up occasionally, and sometimes it will even be quite often. This is an extremely common concearn for new parents. It happens most often around 4 months old, and then only 10% will still do it by 1 year old. It's understandable, since as adults we only vomit when sick. How in the world can you tell whena baby is sick if they spit up all the time?
What are some lifestyle changes that can help with reflux?
There are a few things parents can do right away when they think their baby has a reflux issue. This can help their doctor determine if medications are actually needed, and better yet, help baby feel better.
- Try eliminating dairy, soy, and eggs from a breastfeeding mother's diet. These are the most common allergens for babies. If baby is on formula, they should try a special hydrolysate formula.
- Feed baby more often with smaller meals. If you're breastfeeding, make sure you aren't pumping too much and creating an oversupply. If your letdown is strong, try taking baby off when you feel a tingle and let it drip into a cloth. Latch back on when it slows down. If bottle feeding, try paced bottle feeding.
- Give baby probiotic drops. Studies have shown it reduces symptoms of reflux.
- Sit baby up after meals.
What about medicine to stop baby's reflux?
Although medications are available for true GERD, the pros and cons of each one should be discussed with your doctor, since they all have side effects. Some of the medications that are relatively benign in adults can be more dangerous for infants.