Recognizing and Treating Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) in Babies

7 mins read

It is normal for babies to spit out milk during and after feeding. However, there is a severe digestive issue that can occur in infants called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD can strike at any time of the day, usually after the baby has been fed.

GERD, also known as acid reflux, causes food and acid from the stomach to come up into the throat and mouth. It is characterized by frequent vomiting, fussiness, and inconsolable crying after feeding. In fact, as one research study points out, “crying was the most frequently reported symptom during reflux episodes.”

Babies suffering from GERD also tend to clench their fingers and arch their backs. The condition makes it difficult for babies to sleep peacefully at night. Furthermore, the research study also observes that, “another phenomenon may cause both the reflux and the crying, such as when overfilling the stomach leads to reflux and to crying from gastric distention (dyspepsia).”

With a little bit of knowledge and preparedness, parents can develop an effective parenting strategy to help their baby through this painful condition. In addition, a doctor can provide valuable input about how to relieve GERD pain in babies.

But what exactly causes GERD, and how can it be treated through a parenting strategy?

Why Does GERD Happen?

At the base of the esophagus, there is a band of muscles called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which opens to let food flow into the stomach and then closes up so that the food stays in the stomach as digestion begins.

However, the LES takes time to mature in infants. Consequently, milk can flow back into the esophagus, leading to vomiting, a burning sensation, and discomfort.  Fortunately, the LES matures within the first year, and GERD eventually stops on its own.

GERD is a serious condition that may interfere with the baby’s ability to gain weight because the condition causes the baby to feed poorly. The frequent vomiting associated with GERD can also deprive the baby of vital nutrients.

Parenting Strategy: How to Treat GERD Naturally

A good parenting strategy and lots of patience can help babies and parents cope with GERD. Both breastfed and formula-fed babies can experience GERD; however, GERD tends to occur less frequently in formula-fed babies. The following parenting strategy tips  can be used to treat GERD in babies:

  • If the mother is breastfeeding her baby, she can try making changes to her own diet, such as removing food items that seem to cause or worsen GERD symptoms.
  • Switching from one formula milk brand to another, especially to a hypoallergenic formula, may be beneficial in some cases.
  • Decrease the amount the baby eats per feeding but increase the frequency of feedings so that there is lesser pressure on the baby’s digestive system.
  • Feed the baby on demand.
  • Feed the baby in an upright position.
  • Position pillows at an incline for the baby to lie down on or sleep on. (Place support around the pillows so that the baby doesn’t fall.)
  • Swaddle the baby.
  • Rub the baby’s back and stomach.
  • Gentle movement is helpful for GERD, so try placing the baby on a bouncer.
  • Warm a towel and place it on the baby’s stomach to facilitate the movement and expulsion of gas and reduce heartburn. (Test the towel’s temperature before use.)
  • Apply warm olive oil or castor oil and massage it lightly around the baby’s navel, then wrap a warm towel around the baby’s belly. (Test the temperatures of the oil and the towel before use.)

Babies respond differently to certain treatments, so whatever works for one baby might not work for another. The key is to experiment until you find what works best.

However, as this research study observes, persistent GERD symptoms require medical attention: Regurgitation when present beyond 6 months of age with no other identifiable cause needs evaluation. Upper GI endoscopy and oesophageal biopsy is a useful means of demonstrating reflux oesophagitis in babies with a symptom profile suggestive of GERD.”

Other research even suggests that “GERD in some subjects is a chronic, potentially life-long condition that begins in childhood, and in those in whom disease onset is early, there may be a higher risk for long-term severe disease sequelae.”

So, if none of the suggested treatments work and the baby is constantly losing weight, then consult a pediatrician.

One important thing to remember is that incessant crying can be very draining for the parents as well as the baby. Adequate knowledge, help, and guidance combined with patience and the right parenting strategy can help parents and children cope with GERD.

Recognizing and Treating GERD in Babies
GERD is characterized by frequent vomiting, fussiness, and inconsolable crying after feeding. Babies suffering from GERD also tend to clench their fingers and arch their backs.


De, S., K. Rajeshwari, K. K. Kalra, R. Gondal, V. Malhotra, and S. K. Mittal. “Gastrooesophageal Reflux in Infants and Children in North India.” Tropical Gastroenterology: Official Journal of the Digestive Diseases Foundation 22, no. 2 (2001): 99–102. Retrieved from

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