Recognizing GER (or GERD) and What to Do About It
Is your sweet little baby crying a lot at night? Do you suspect there might be something going on that is keeping him/her from falling asleep or staying asleep all night? There are a multitude of reasons why an infant will wake up crying at night. For some, it could be as simple as not wanting to go to sleep or just wanting to be held; for others, it could be a physical ailment causing distress. It’s hard enough to listen to your baby cry when you are ready to go to bed, but if she sounds like she’s in pain, it makes it a whole lot worse. If this is the case for your baby, GER could be the problem.
What is GER?
Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER) occurs when stomach acids re-enter the esophagus and is very common for newborn babies. These acids cause a painful burning sensation, which is why GER is also called acid reflux or heartburn. With GER, the sphincter at the lower end of the esophagus is not fully developed, which allows stomach contents to come back up. Because of this, baby will spit up excessively. The good news is, once the sphincter fully develops, GER is no longer be a problem (and if it is, baby might have a case of GERD).
What is the difference between GERD and GER?
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is basically a severe form of GER that is more sustained, usually past 12-14 months of age. If the symptoms of GER last longer than this or are preventing your baby from eating, talk to his/her pediatrician about GERD and treatment options.
What are the symptoms of GER?
The primary symptom of GER is spitting up more often than usual, especially just after a feeding. However, there are other signs your baby is suffering from GER that can accompany excessive regurgitation:
- She arches her back during or after eating
- She cries hard consistently for more than 3 hours a day, often in the evenings (colic)
- Gagging or challenges with swallowing
- Fussy after feeding
- She doesn’t eat well or eat enough, leading to poor growth and malnutrition
- Difficulty breathing
- Weight loss
- Wheezing, a high-pitched whistling sound heard when baby is breathing
How can I help my baby deal with GER?
There are several simple strategies to start with in helping your baby handle GER. See if symptoms ease by keeping baby upright for at least 30 minutes after feeding, elevating the head of baby’s bassinet or crib slightly (this is done by placing a folded blanket under the head of the mattress or pad), and feeding baby smaller amounts of food more frequently so his stomach isn’t overfull.
If these don’t help, your baby’s pediatrician may recommend thickening bottle contents or trying solid foods. There are medications that work to lower stomach acids and intestinal gas, but these should only be used if recommended by a pediatrician. In extreme cases, surgery can be performed to prevent reflux.
It can be so difficult to be patient and level-headed when your newborn baby is crying at night. As a parent, you are understandably tired and ready for a break. But if your little one is suffering from GER, there is a good chance it is interfering with his sleep, or worse, his growth. Don’t be afraid to ask his pediatrician if you need help or advice.
Check here for more tips on helping your newborn baby sleep.