What are the Most Common Causes of Acid Reflux in Babies?

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  • Written By: A.E. Freeman
  • Edited By: Kathryn Hulick
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2018
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Acid reflux in babies is a common condition. A baby who is otherwise healthy may experience acid reflux, which is also known as Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER). While the symptoms of acid reflux in babies are similar to those in adults, the causes are slightly different. Babies who experience acid reflux usually do because their digestive tracts are not fully developed yet.

When a baby has GER, he may spit up his food more frequently than normal. He may also cough or vomit his food up. Since the experience after eating is so unpleasant for a baby with acid reflux, he may refuse to eat during feeding times. In some severe cases, acid reflux in babies may cause breathing problems or prevent them from growing since they will not eat.

Most babies will outgrow acid reflux naturally as their systems develop. If a baby exhibits more severe symptoms, his parents should take him to a doctor. Babies can also experience gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is a more severe version of GER.

The most common reason for acid reflux in babies is that the lower esophageal sphincter is not fully developed yet. The lower esophageal sphincter is a muscle that connects the stomach to the esophagus. In healthy adults and babies, the muscle opens to let food and liquid into the stomach. It should only open when a person swallows.


Sometimes, the muscle is not strong enough to close tightly and prevent regurgitated food from escaping the baby's stomach and going back into his esophagus. The food will usually go up the esophagus and back out the baby's mouth. In some instances, though, the baby may swallow the food again, making it difficult to determine if he is suffering from acid reflux.

The lower esophageal sphincter usually develops enough strength to function properly as the baby grows older. Until the muscle develops, parents can attempt to prevent acid reflux in babies by giving them smaller portions of food more often, feeding them in an upright position and if necessary, or thickening their milk with cereal. Burping babies after they eat can help prevent spit-ups.

In some cases, the esophageal sphincter muscle is unable to strengthen and mature on its own, causing GER to continue as the baby grows. Surgery to tighten the muscle may be necessary. The procedure is rare, though, and usually only performed when GER is so severe as to interfere with a baby's ability to breathe and grow.



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