All babies spit up in the first few months of life, but some continue to do so with additional symptoms that can be disconcerting to you as a parent. If your baby also vomits, coughs, refuses food, is irritable and has blood in his stools, he may suffer from acid reflux, or gastroesophagael reflux. This condition happens when the ring at the bottom of the esophagus isn’t fully closed and food comes back up into the mouth. Most babies outgrow it, but if your child's symptoms become severe, speak to your pediatrician about exploring alternative formulas to reduce your baby’s symptoms and discomfort.
At one time, pediatricians recommended parents thicken their babies’ formulas to help reduce reflux and spitting up. Now anti-reflux formulas are available that are thickened with added rice starch. These are more convenient and do not require larger nipple holes for your baby’s bottle as opposed to if you added rice cereal to a standard formula. According to a 2007 study in the “Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology,” reflux babies who were given anti-reflux formula spit up and vomited less than babies getting regular formula. The American Academy of Family Physicians states these formulas are safe and nutritionally sound for reflux babies, but it is still unclear whether or not they help with long-term growth and development.
Hypo- and Non-Allergenic Formulas
About 5 percent of babies exhibit reflux symptoms, such as unexplained crying and vomiting, due to a milk allergy because their bodies form antibodies against the large proteins in cow’s milk, notes HealthyChildren.org. Hypoallergenic formulas contain proteins already hydrolyzed so your baby is less likely to form antibodies and suffer from acid reflux. If your baby has excessive vomiting, the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition recommends a two- to four-week trial of hypoallergenic formula. If your baby still shows symptoms, there are non-allergenic, or amino acid, formulas available.
Specialized formulas tend to cost more than standard formulas but are probably worth it to you if it means your baby will suffer less acid reflux symptoms. After adding water, standard powdered formula for a full-term baby costs about 14 cents per ounce and ready-to-feed formula is about 27 cents per ounce, as of time of publication. An anti-reflux formula costs 18 and 31 cents per ounce for powdered and ready-to-feed varieties, respectively. A hypoallergenic formula ranges from approximately 25 to 37 cents and a non-allergenic powdered formula is 35 cents per ounce. No ready-to-feed non-allergenic formula is currently available.
Acid Reflux Recommendations
Aside from formula changes, lifestyle changes can be beneficial for an acid reflux baby. Avoid overfeeding your baby by allowing him to eat smaller amounts more frequently. Burp your baby often during and after a feeding. Gas bubbles that cause burps may bring other stomach contents with them, making your little one uncomfortable and prone to spitting up. Keep your infant upright for about 20 to 30 minutes after each feeding. Pressure on his stomach from tummy time may force the formula back up.
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Gastroesophageal Reflux in Infants
- American Academy of Family Physicians: Infant Formula
- Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology: Effects of Prethickened Formula on Esophageal pH and Gastric Emptying of Infants with GER
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Remedies for Spitty Babies
- Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition: Pediatric Gastroesophageal Reflux Clinical Practice Guidelines
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