baby sick over shoulder
Louise Broadbridge
Louise Broadbridge

Reflux in babies

It is not uncommon for babies to bring up some of their milk during or after feeds.   However, in some cases this can be a little more extreme and distressing for parents.  Known as reflux, this can develop when your baby is just a few weeks old but they will usually grow out of it by their first birthday.

What is reflux?

Your infant’s digestion system is still immature and their oesophagus – also known as their food pipe – is not yet fully developed.  Added this, their oesophageal sphincter is also quite weak and means that instead of staying in the stomach, milk travels easily back up the oesophagus.

For most babies, this won’t really cause a problem other than needing to make sure you have a muslin handy to mop up any milk. But for some little ones, it can lead to discomfort and even stop them gaining weight at a healthy rate.

How do I know if my baby has reflux?

One of the most noticeable signs of reflux is that your baby is bringing up milk during or after feeding several times a day. There may also be signs that they are unsettled while they feed – this could include coughing and hiccupping.

Reflux can also cause discomfort and your baby might arch their back and turn their head during feeding or seem like they don’t want to feed. It also be difficult to settle them and they may cry for long periods.

Poor weight gain can also be a sign of reflux as some babies do not keep down enough milk to meet their needs. When the reflux symptoms are severe, this is usually considered to be gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).

Babies with GORD may appear to be frequently in pain and their crying may seem hoarse. Waking frequently at night, coughing and gagging during feeds and frequent ear infections can also be signs of GORD.

How is reflux treated?

If your baby is gaining weight as normal and seems happy and healthy, you don’t need to worry too much about reflux. However, if they seem distressed or you are worried about their development, it is a good idea to speak to your health visitor or GP for advice.

There are things you can do to help ease the symptoms of reflux. This includes feeding your baby in a more upright position and then keeping them in an upright position for as long as you can after a feed.

Some parents may find wearing their baby in a sling helps as it allows their infant to sleep after a feed but stay in an upright and supported position. Stopping and burping your baby regularly can also help.  For information on safe baby wearing visit the Lullaby Trust guide on swaddling and baby wearing

Reflux is more common in babies who are formula fed, although it can be a problem for breastfed babies too. If your baby is bottlefed, try feeding them little and often instead of fewer larger feeds.

Giving less milk at each feed will reduce the risk of the baby taking too much and then bringing it back up. Make sure your little one is still getting the amount of milk they need though by offering more feeds throughout the day.  This is less of an issue with breastfed babies who control how much milk they take during each feed and are usually fed on demand.

You may hear people suggesting that you should tilt your baby’s Moses’ basket or even put them to sleep on their front or side. It is vital that you do not do this – always make sure your baby is put down to sleep lying flat on their back to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

In some cases, your GP might recommend that you switch to a different brand of formula designed to help babies with reflux. These are usually thicker than standard brands or you may be given a thickening powder to mix into your usual milk.

There are also some medicines your GP can prescribe to help reduce the amount of stomach acid your little one is producing which might help ease their discomfort if they appear to be in pain. The symptoms of reflux can be very similar to cow’s milk protein allergy, which can be eased by switching to a special formula or eliminating dairy from your diet if you are breastfeeding.

In extremely rare cases where the reflux does not resolve by itself as your baby gets older, surgery might be recommended but this is viewed a last resort.

What is silent reflux?

Sometimes babies will bring up food from their stomachs but isn’t of spitting it up, they will swallow it back down. Known as silent reflux, this is less obvious to parents but can still cause distress and discomfort.

If your baby is suffering with Colic or Reflux, why not sign up to our workshop with our Colic Expert Becky!

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