GERD in Infants

All babies are messy during mealtime—and afterwards. Spitting up, or reflux, is very common in younger infants and can be due to overfeeding, weak abdominal muscles, an immature or weak lower esophageal sphincter (LES), or a slow digestive system. In rare cases, reflux in infants is due to food allergies or lactose intolerance, the body’s inability to process lactose, a sugar found in milk.

In people with acid reflux, the acid from the stomach comes up into the esophagus. Acid reflux can be painful for babies and can cause irritability and discomfort. Most babies grow out of it around one year and don’t require treatment other than simple dietary changes. However, babies who have more severe symptoms or are irritable, don’t gain weight, and vomit on a consistent basis may need to take medication or even have surgery.

The pain from reflux can make falling or staying asleep difficult for your infant. If you’re having trouble getting your infant with acid reflux to sleep, here are some suggestions that may help.

Schedule Time Between Sleeping and Eating

Because acid reflux occurs after meals, don’t put your infant to bed immediately after a feeding. Instead, burp them and wait 30 minutes before lying your baby down for a nap or for the evening. This will help make sure they’ve digested the meal.

Change Positions

Like acid reflux in adults, acid reflux in infants can be made worse by position, especially after eating. Because very young infants can’t sit up by themselves, make sure your infant remains upright for 30 minutes after eating. This may help aid digestion before your child sleeps.

Raise the Head of the Crib

Raising the head of your infant’s crib can also help relieve the symptoms of acid reflux. You can do this by placing a towel underneath the mattress. Even though lying on the stomach is felt by some to help relieve acid reflux, it isn’t recommended for infants when sleeping, as it’s linked with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Babies with severe GERD sometimes have symptoms of apnea (the absence of breathing), so always place your baby on his or her back for sleeping.

Work with Your Pediatrician

Sometimes acid reflux causes babies to regurgitate, or throw up, everything they have eaten. A baby that hasn’t had enough to eat will likely have trouble getting to sleep. If your infant is having problems sleeping and you suspect acid reflux, work closely with your pediatrician to find a solution. Your infant may need medication, a change in formula, or—in rare cases—surgery. Your pediatrician can also recommend ways to help your baby sleep.

Take Medications as Prescribed

If your baby has acid reflux and is taking medication, make sure you give them the medication exactly as prescribed by your pediatrician. Be aware of any side effects and when to call your doctor in an emergency.

Follow Normal Bedtime Routines

Sleep is important, both for infants and for their parents. Make sure to establish a normal bedtime routine and the follow it nightly. Rocking your infant to sleep in an upright position can help soothe them and minimize symptoms of GERD.