Gastro-oesophageal reflux occurs when the contents of the stomach are brought back up (regurgitated) into the food pipe (oesophagus)1. Reflux is common in babies and usually does not affect their health. However, if the symptoms become a problem, then this may be a more serious condition known as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)2. GORD in babies may be associated with a food allergy or cow’s milk allergy.
Reflux and regurgitation can be very worrying for parents, however this is quite normal for babies in the first few months of life. Reflux usually happens within a few minutes of feeding and is due to the muscles in the bottom of the food pipe (oesophagus) being too relaxed2. It affects more than 40% of babies and usually gets better by itself3. Most babies will grow out of these symptoms by the time they are 12 months of age2.
Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, however, is a serious condition that happens when the symptoms of reflux are more severe and lead to other complications3. As well as frequent vomiting, some of the symptoms of GORD in babies include1,3:
- Bile (green/yellow fluid) or blood in the vomit
- Weight loss or poor weight gain
- Irritability and difficulty settling
- Difficulty swallowing
- Refusing to feed
- Difficulty breathing
If your baby is experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, please discuss your concerns with your child’s healthcare professional.
Some babies can develop GORD as the result of an allergy to the protein found in cow’s milk2. In these cases the symptoms are delayed and similar to many other conditions that are common in babies. This can make diagnosis difficult, even for doctors. If cow’s milk protein allergy is suspected, your healthcare professional may suggest removing cow’s milk protein from your child’s diet. For breastfed babies, this may involve eliminating cow’s milk from the mother’s diet. For bottle fed babies, this will mean changing to a low allergy formula, prescribed by your doctor. It is important that any diet changes are done in partnership with your healthcare professional.
GORD in babies may be associated with a food allergy or cow’s milk allergy
- RCH Melbourne. 2010. Gastro-oesophageal Reflux in infants. Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. Viewed 29 May 2016 http://www.rch.org.au/clinicalguide/guideline_index/Gastrooesophageal_Reflux_in_infants/
- Allen K and Ho SS. 2012. Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease in children: What’s the worry? Australian Family Physician Vol: 41 No: 5, viewed 29 May 2016 http://www.racgp.org.au/afp/2012/may/gastro-oesophageal-reflux-in-children/
- NICE Guidelines. 2015. Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease in children and young people: Diagnosis and Management. National Institute for Health care and Excellence. Viewed 29 May 2016 nice.org.uk/guidance/ng1