Reflux in infants
All babies spit up or throw up now and then. But some do so more often than usual. This is called reflux. Reflux is short for gastroesophageal reflux or GER. Reflux is common among premature babies. Most babies outgrow it after a few months. Only 1 percent of babies are still spitting up after their first birthday.
Here's what happens with reflux:
- Food first passes through the mouth and the esophagus into the stomach. (The esophagus is the tube that connects the mouth and the stomach.)
- Once the food is in the stomach, it comes back up the esophagus and out of the mouth.
Most babies with reflux are less bothered by it than their parents. They grow and develop normally. But for a few babies, reflux is more serious. The baby needs medication to make sure reflux is not dangerous.
If your baby had reflux in the NICU, the nurses may have shown you how to feed and position your baby to minimize spit up. These tips may help:
- Hold your baby upright during feeding.
- Try smaller, more frequent feedings.
- Burp your baby often, especially if you are feeding him with a bottle.
- Try a different nipple on your baby's bottle so he swallows less air.
- Ask your baby's health care provider if you can thicken the formula or expressed breast milk with a small amount of rice cereal.
- Keep your baby still after feeding.
- Raise the head of your baby's bed 30 degrees or so.
- Keep a stack of cloth diapers or burp cloths handy. Use them to protect your clothes, your baby's clothes and your furniture.
These symptoms may mean that your baby has other problems digesting food:
- The spit-up is bright yellow or green.
- There is a large amount of spit-up.
- Your baby arches his back or cries during feeding.
- Your baby vomits with great force (projectile vomiting).
See also: Share your story
Last reviewed August 2009
Most common questions
How do I calculate adjusted age for preemies?
Chronological age is the age of a baby from the day of birth. Adjusted age is the age of the baby based on his due date. To calculate adjusted age, take your baby's chronological age (for example, 20 weeks) and subtract the number of weeks premature the baby was (6 weeks). This baby's adjusted age (20 - 6) is 14 weeks. Health care providers may use this age when they evaluate the baby's growth and development. Most premature babies catch up to their peers developmentally in 2 to 3 years. After that, differences in size or development are most likely due to individual differences, rather than to premature birth. Some very small babies take longer to catch up.
What does it mean if a baby is born “late preterm?”
Late preterm means that a baby is born after 34 weeks but before 37 weeks of pregnancy. It's important to try to have your baby as close to 39 weeks of pregnancy as possible. In the last few weeks of pregnancy, your baby's organs, like his brains, lungs and liver, are still growing. Waiting until you're at least 39 weeks also gives your baby time to gain more weight and makes him less likely to have vision and hearing problems after birth. Your baby will also be better able to suck and swallow and stay awake long enough to eat after he's born. Babies born early sometimes can't do these things.