Regurgitation, also known as spitting up, is quite common in infants. It is usually caused by immature muscles in the digestive tract. Contrary to gastroesophageal reflux (GER), which is a genuine health concern, spitting up is not painful and does not have any repercussions on the child's health.
When infants regurgitate, they usually spit up no more than one ounce (30 mL) of milk. Though it may seem like your child is regurgitating more than an ounce, it only appears this way because the regurgitated contents usually contain gastric juices and saliva as well. In spite of spitting up, babies remain happy and continue to gain weight. Regurgitation in infants is very common and often occurs after a feeding.
Unlike simple regurgitation, infants with GER experience discomfort when spitting up and may lose weight or be very slow to gain weight. The problem is therefore considered more serious. On occasion, infants may refuse to feed or are fussy during feedings. GER can appear several hours after a feeding.
In infants, the esophageal sphincter is not completely formed. Located between the stomach and the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach), that valve-like sphincter prevents food from flowing back up towards the mouth. Furthermore, the mechanism involved in transferring the stomach contents to the intestines is not fully developed either. Both regurgitations and GER gradually disappear during the child's first year as the digestive tract matures and the child begins to stand upright more consistently.
Premature babies, children who have had surgery for esophageal disorders, who suffer from pulmonary problems (asthma, cystic fibrosis), who lack muscle tone and have other developmental problems (Down syndrome, for example) are most at risk for regurgitation and GER.
The physician will conduct a medical examination and, if necessary, will request additional tests. These tests, which vary in complexity, may include a barium meal or the insertion of a tube equipped with a camera into the child's esophagus, for example. If the physician prescribes additional testing for your child, do not hesitate to speak to the nurse or the physician to find out if there are precautions you should follow before the test.
Unlike GER, simple regurgitation does not have any serious consequences on the child's overall health. If left untreated, GER may lead to other complications including:
A few simple measures can be taken to reduce spitting up:
In addition to the aforementioned measures, medications that are safe for children can be used to effectively treat GER. In exceptionally rare situations, surgery may be required.
If you have any questions, speak to your pharmacist.
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The patient information leaflets are provided by Vigilance Santé Inc. This content is for information purposes only and does not in any manner whatsoever replace the opinion or advice of your health care professional. Always consult a health care professional before making a decision about your medication or treatment.