Spitting up and vomiting in babies have become a huge area of parental concern. Some of the concern is positive because it reflects a better understanding of reflux disease; but some may also be negative, reflecting a push to blame vomiting for all problems (such as colic). As a result, there is a trend to place younger and younger infants on medications they may not really need and for which possible side effects have not been determined.
What Causes Reflux in Babies?
After your baby swallows milk, it glides past the back of the throat into a muscular tube (the esophagus) and, from there, into the stomach. At the junction of the esophagus and the stomach is a ring of muscles (lower esophageal sphincter) that opens to let the milk drop into the stomach and then tightens to prevent the milk (and the stomach contents) from moving back up into the esophagus. If the stomach contents should happen to re-enter the esophagus, this is called "reflux."
Infants are especially prone to reflux because:
- Their stomachs are quite small (about the size of their fists or a golf ball), so they are easily distended by the milk.
- The lower esophagus valve may be immature and may not tighten up when it should.
Is Your Baby a "Happy Spitter?"
Every baby spits up or vomits occasionally, and some do quite often or even with every feeding. If, despite the spitting, your baby is
- In no discomfort
- Experiencing no breathing problems from the vomiting
she is what pediatricians call "a happy spitter" and no treatment is needed. Typically, the lower esophagus valve tightens up sometime in the first year, usually around 4 to 5 months of age, at which time the spitting up may go away.