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Ask Dr. Sears: Tender Tummies

Q. My 4-month-old was just diagnosed with reflux. What is it, and what can I do to make her feel better?

A. Reflux, also called gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), occurs when a bandlike muscle that joins the esophagus to the stomach hasn't matured yet and allows stomach acids to flow back into the esophagus, irritating the lining and causing heartburn-like pain. Signs of reflux include inconsolable crying (it's a main cause of colic), frequent spitting up or vomiting, restless sleep, fussiness after eating, slow weight gain, and wheezing. Many infants experience some degree of reflux, but most outgrow it by their first birthday. Meanwhile, here are a few easy ways to help provide some relief to your little one:

Offer smaller meals more frequently 

Feed her half as much as usual, twice as often. This is actually the best treatment for reflux, since a smaller volume of food will empty from your child's stomach faster, leaving less for her to spit up.

Consider nursing, if you can 

Babies don't swallow as much air during breastfeeding (air can fill the belly and aggravate reflux), and breast milk empties from the stomach faster than formula, so there's less time for it to flow back into the esophagus.

Monitor symptoms 

If she continues to spit up or wake more often than usual or has episodes of colicky crying—especially right after she eats—your doctor may prescribe medication, such as an antacid, to help relieve her discomfort.

Give lots of cuddles 

Since crying causes increased pressure inside your baby's abdomen—which can, in turn, trigger reflux—cradling and rocking can work wonders.