Reflux in babies
Babies often bring up milk during or shortly after feeding – this is known as reflux. It's natural to worry something is wrong with your baby if they're bringing up their feeds. But reflux is very common and will usually pass by the time your baby is a year old.
Signs and symptoms of reflux in babies
Reflux in babies is different from vomiting in babies. Reflux is just your baby spitting up whatever they've swallowed.
Signs that your baby may have reflux include:
- spitting up milk during or after feeds – this may happen several times a day
- difficulty feeding – such as refusing feeds, gagging or choking
- persistent hiccups or coughing
- excessive crying, or crying while feeding
- frequent ear infections
When to get medical advice
Reflux isn't usually a cause for concern. You don't normally need to get medical advice if your baby seems generally happy and healthy, and is gaining weight appropriately.
But contact your midwife, health visitor or GP if reflux begins after six months of age, continues beyond one year, or your baby has any of the following problems:
- spitting up feeds often or refusing feeds
- coughing or gagging while feeding
- frequent projectile vomiting
- excessive crying or irritability
- green or yellow vomit, or vomiting blood
- blood in their poo or persistent diarrhoea
- a swollen or tender tummy
- a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
- not gaining much weight, or losing weight
- arching their back during or after a feed, or drawing their legs up to their tummy after feeding
These can be signs of an underlying cause and may mean your baby needs tests and treatment.
Causes of reflux in babies
It's normal for some babies to have reflux. It usually just occurs because a baby's food pipe (oesophagus) is still developing.
It normally stops by the time a baby is a year old.
In a small number of cases, reflux can be a sign of a more serious problem, such as:
- gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) – a long-term form of reflux where stomach contents are able to rise up and irritate the oesophagus
- a cows' milk allergy – this can also cause a rash, vomiting and diarrhoea; many babies will eventually grow out of it and can be treated by removing cows' milk from their diet
- a blockage – rarely, reflux may occur because the oesophagus is blocked or narrowed, or there's a blockage in the stomach and small intestine
Tests that may be needed
Most babies with reflux don't need any tests. It can usually be diagnosed based on your baby's symptoms.
In rare cases, tests may be recommended if your baby's reflux is severe or persistent.
These tests will normally be carried out in hospital.
Treatments and advice for reflux in babies
Reflux doesn't usually require treatment if your baby is putting on weight and seems generally well.
The following treatments and advice may be offered if your baby appears to be in distress or their reflux has a specific, identified cause.
Your midwife or health visitor may want to check how you feed your baby and suggest some changes to help with their reflux.
These changes might include:
- burping your baby regularly throughout feeding
- giving your baby smaller but more frequent feeds
- holding your baby upright for a period of time after feeding
- using thicker milk formulas that are less likely to be brought back up – these are available to buy without a prescription, but only try them if advised to by a healthcare professional
If your doctor thinks your baby could have a cows' milk allergy, they may suggest trying special formula milk that doesn't contain cows' milk.
Babies with reflux don't usually need to take any medication. But sometimes medication may be offered if your doctor feels the problem is severe.
More useful links
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
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