Pediatric Reflux Disease

This information is useful for children
Why Yale Medicine?
  • Our unique Pediatric Aerodigestive Disorders Program features pediatric specialists including gastroenterologists, ear-nose-and-throat surgeons, pulmonologists and nutritionists.
  • Our team-based program provides a thorough, coordinated diagnosis and treatment plan.
  • We offer access to the latest research, techniques and equipment.

Gastroesophageal reflux—or when acidic stomach juices, or food and fluids move back up to the esophagus—is common and normal among infants. In fact, it is so common that parents mostly know it by a different name: spitting up. “When babies spit up and then smile afterwards, we call them ‘happy spitters,’” says Yale Medicine's Anthony Porto, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine. “We’re more worried about it than they are.” 

But when repeated regurgitation begins to cause an infant pain with feeding, then doctors and parents should think about treating this condition. At Yale Medicine, our unique Pediatric Aerodigestive Disorders Program includes not just pediatric gastroenterologists, but other pediatric specialists including ear-nose-and-throat surgeons, pulmonologists and nutritionists. We work as a team to evaluate, treat and coordinate treatment plans.

Pediatric gastroesophageal reflux refers to the backward movement of stomach acid into the esophagus. In infants, having gastroesophageal reflux is normal, a result of of their physiology: The muscle in their lower esophageal sphincter opens and closes at random times; its length is shorter in infants and does not reach adult length until they are 2. Because the baby is eating frequently, there’s a high chance of some spit up. Still, the reflux usually improves by the time a child is 9 months to a year old.

“Most happy spitters will not require any treatment other than reassurance and waiting,” Dr. Porto says. “And a lot of laundry.”

On the other hand, pediatric gastroesophageal reflux becomes a disease when that regurgitation irritates the esophagus so much that the child experiences pain or a burning sensation.