Babies spit up -- a lot. It often happens when they eat too quickly or too much. It's normal, but it sure can scare parents.
A University of Michigan study says doctors should be careful about using labels to describe babies with upset stomachs.
Dr. Beth Tarini, an assistant professor of pediatrics at U-M, says when doctors use terms like gastroesophageal reflux disease -- or GERD -- the only thing most parents hear is "disease."
"It can transform the way the parent views the child's health. It can take a parent who has a healthy child, and have that parent start to believe that that child is actually sick," Tarini says."Parents come into the office, understandably distressed that their baby is spitting up."
Tarini says sometimes physicians, in trying to help the parents, will reach for anything they can do to help, which can lead to the overuse of antacids, like Zantac.
"Sometimes medicines can seem like an easy fix. Early on we started doing it because we thought it might help, but as studies have rolled on, we've learned these medicines are not helping," she says.
Tarini says use of antacids have a small risk of increasing the chance that a child could get pneumonia.
"But the larger risk what that what we might be doing to the parent in their perception of the child's health. It's my job to make sick children healthy, and not healthy children sick. My concern is that by medicalizing something that's distressing, but a normal part of development, I can inadvertently have the parents thinking that the child is ill."
Tarini says an alternative to medication is feeding the infant more slowly until its intestinal system becomes more mature and the reflux subsides.
She says parents should be concerned if a baby that spits up or cries a lot isn't growing or thriving.
"We're not talking months here. If it continues for a few weeks, you'll know that the child is having impaired growth because we see them so frequently in the first year of life," she says.