Your infant can cough for many reasons. If your infant coughs during feeding, he might be suffering from gastroesophageal reflux, or GER. GER results when stomach contents back up into the esophagus during or after a feeding and is a common condition in healthy infants, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. See your pediatrician if your infant's cough is persistent and interferes with eating and sleeping. Only a doctor can diagnose the cause of your infant's cough.
The ring of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, located between the stomach and esophagus opens and closes to allow food and fluids to enter the stomach. The esophagus is a tube, or passageway, that connects the mouth to the stomach. In infants with GER, stomach contents go up the esophagus and out the mouth when the LES opens during or immediately following a feeding.
GER can cause coughing when stomach contents are regurgitated up the esophagus. In addition to coughing, GER may cause your infant to spit up and become irritable during and after feedings. Temporary GER in healthy infants doesn't interfere with growth and development or cause extreme distress, according to MayoClinic.com. A more serious illness may be indicated if your baby isn't gaining weight; if she is spitting up forcefully or experiencing projectile fluid; if the spit-up is green, yellow or contains blood; if she has a fever; or if coughing and spitting up begins at age six months or older. See your doctor if your child has any of these additional symptoms.
Normal GER in healthy babies usually resolves by itself between 12 and 18 months, according to MayoClinic.com. In the meantime, you can ease his coughing and other GER symptoms by keeping your baby upright during feedings and making sure he is propped up to a sitting position for 15 to 30 minutes after he eats. Also give him smaller, more frequent feedings, burp him during and after feedings and thicken his milk with rice cereal if you have your doctor's approval to do so. If you add rice to your baby's milk, make sure the nipple hole in his bottle is large enough for the thick milk.
Other Cough Causes
If your infant's coughing is new, she might have a cold that is causing congestion. Other causes of coughing include allergies, sinusitis, croup, whooping cough, respiratory syncytial virus and pneumonia. Make sure she is not in an awkward position during feedings, as this may cause her to take huge gulps and cough.