Reflux in Babies: Understanding Symptoms, Treatment, and Support

Reflux in Babies

As a parent, seeing your little one struggle with reflux can be heart-wrenching. But did you know that reflux in babies is common and usually resolves by 12 months if you take the right action?

Understanding the signs, symptoms, and available treatments can make a world of difference in providing the care and support your baby needs. Read on to discover the fascinating world of baby reflux.

Short Summary

  • Recognise signs and symptoms of reflux in babies, such as spitting up milk or coughing.
  • Understand the difference between GERD and CMPA to diagnose reflux correctly.
  • Get help from healthcare and reflux professionals for managing baby reflux with diet changes, positioning tips & medication options.

Recognizing Reflux in Babies: Signs and Symptoms

Baby posing for professional photograph whilst awake

Babies reflux when their stomach contents, including acid, flow back up into the esophagus or food pipe. This condition is also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Some signs and symptoms of reflux in babies include:

  • Spitting up milk
  • Silent reflux (where they don’t bring up milk or vomit)
  • Being unsettled during or after feeds
  • Frequent hiccups
  • Coughing

 

While reflux in babies is common, certain factors might lead to more severe forms of reflux called GORD or be related to a cow’s milk protein allergy.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

GERD, also known as gastro oesophageal reflux disease, in infants is a more serious form of reflux that might need medical help, as it occurs when the baby’s stomach produces too much acid, causing discomfort and complications.

Symptoms of GERD in babies may include regurgitating food or projectile vomiting, which can irritate their baby’s food pipe (esophagus).

This condition can negatively impact a baby’s growth and development, making it crucial to recognise and address the causes of GERD.

Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy

Cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA), also known as cow’s milk allergy, is another potential cause of reflux-like symptoms in babies.

This allergy can manifest as dry patches of skin, green or bloody stools, and a swollen or tender tummy. Diagnosing CMPA involves reviewing the patient’s medical history, which may include frequent ear infections, performing a physical exam, and running laboratory tests.

If your baby has CMPA, you’ll need to avoid cow’s milk and any products containing cow’s milk proteins if breastfeeding, as these can cause symptoms. It’s important to consult your healthcare provider for support and guidance in managing CMPA.

Factors Contributing to Baby Reflux

Several factors can contribute to babies reflux, such as:

  • an underdeveloped esophagus
  • being born prematurely
  • having a low birth weight
  • muscle or nerve impairments, like cerebral palsy
  • a tongue tie

These factors can increase the risk of reflux and make the baby’s symptoms more severe.

Thankfully, parents can help manage their baby’s reflux by consulting a reflux specialists, health visitor or doctor and making appropriate changes to their baby’s diet and feeding routine.

How do you know if you have a silent reflux baby?

Whilst our eldest boy had a minimal tongue tie (undetected), his reflux was quickly fixed by changing the bottle we used as the different teat helped his feeding improve. 

Our youngest two had much bigger tongue ties, with our middle son only have his tongue tie cut when he was 3 years old. It was undetected also, and during COVID-19.

Both of them had silent reflux. They weren’t vomiting much; instead, they were just in constant discomfort when they still had excess gas. 

Can Reflux Cause Sleep issues In Babies?

Absolutely. Reflux, because of the discomfort that a baby will face especially when lying down, will have trouble sleeping at times when in a crib or moses basket.

They will often much more comfortable being held upright, which most parents will do to ease their baby’s pain. But it can then lead to babies relying on being held all night even when the reflux symptoms reduce and subside.

If your baby’s reflux has reduced and you think it might be time to start changing their sleep patterns, check out our free resources including downloads and videos to watch.

Helpful Tips for Managing Baby Reflux

There are various tips for managing baby reflux, from adjusting feeding positions to burping regularly and holding the baby upright after feeding. In the following sections, you’ll find a detailed breakdown of what to do and what not to do when dealing with baby reflux.

These suggestions can help you provide the best care for your little one and ensure they thrive, even with reflux.

What to Do

First and foremost, consult a reflux specialist or health professional if your baby is showing baby’s symptoms of reflux, which may be causing discomfort or affecting their growth and development. They might suggest some helpful feeding adjustments, such as feeding in smaller amounts more often, burping your baby regularly, and using thickening powder if your baby is formula-fed.

You could also look at changing the bottle type – if you are bottle feeding – as they all have different teat shapes. There are anti-reflux specialist bottles out there from Dr Brown’s and MAM.

And that points to one of the key issues regarding reflux – your baby’s oral capability. Often, this is the biggest driver of reflux as they may be taking in excess gas whilst feeding. This may be because of their tongue’s mobility, usually due to a tongue tie.

Getting this seen by a tongue tie specialist is critical, as many pediatricians and midwifes aren’t trained to identify tongue ties.

It’s also essential to ensure you put your baby in their sleep space on their back, on a firm and flat surface to ensure you are following safe sleep principles.

What Not to Do

Baby on their back uncomfortable and upset

While it’s important to be proactive in managing reflux, there are a few things you should avoid.

Don’t elevate the head of your baby’s cot or Moses basket, as this can increase the risk of spitting up green or yellow fluid.

Don’t put your baby to sleep on their front. They must always go on their back for sleep.

Lastly, it’s important to consult a doctor before making any changes to your diet if you’re breastfeeding, especially if your baby has a cow’s milk allergy or another medical condition that requires dietary adjustments.

When to Consult a Health Visitor or Doctor

It’s crucial to consult a health visitor or doctor if your baby’s vomiting becomes more forceful, starts after six months of age, continues beyond a year, or if they’re experiencing other issues like poor weight gain or irritability. Signs of an underlying cause of reflux in babies include a swollen or tender tummy, frequent vomiting, and poor weight gain.

Seeking medical advice is essential if your baby’s reflux is accompanied by complications like frequent ear infections, difficulty swallowing, or poor weight gain.

Diagnosing and Treating Reflux in Babies

Image of a doctor in scrubs putting her face mask on

In rare cases, if the baby’s reflux symptoms are severe or persistent, tests may be recommended to determine the cause and appropriate treatment. Treatment options for baby reflux include thickening powder, medication to reduce the baby’s stomach producing excess acid, and, in more serious cases, surgery.

If your baby’s reflux symptoms, such as spitting up green or yellow fluid, don’t improve with feeding adjustments, a healthcare professional may suggest an endoscopy, pH monitoring, or barium swallow test.

However, unless it’s an emergency, we would always recommend you look at your baby’s oral capability first.

Feeding Advice

Feeding advice for babies with reflux includes:

  • Adjusting feeding positions
  • Feeding in smaller amounts more often
  • Burping the baby regularly to reduce pressure on their food pipe
  • Paced bottle feeding, a technique where the parent controls the flow of milk from the bottle, can also help reduce reflux symptoms.

If your baby is formula-fed and your healthcare professional recommends it, you can add thickening powder to their formula to help with gaining weight and reduce reflux. Some formulas are already anti-reflux and much thicker.

If you do this, you have to ensure that this doesn’t make their reflux worse. Also, because of the thickening effect, you will need to go up teat sizes to find the right teat for the optimal flow of the milk.

Medication and Surgical Options

Medication for reflux in babies is not usually needed, but may be prescribed in severe cases when the baby is crying uncontrollably or appears to be in pain due to reflux. Some medications used to treat baby reflux include:

  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
  • H2 blockers
  • Antacids
  • Gaviscon (not a medication, just a thickener)

Surgery is a rare option for persistent reflux, as it involves altering the baby’s food pipe (esophagus) and stomach, which can have risks and complications.

Parental Support and Resources

Group of women parents speaking and supporting one another

Parents of babies with reflux can find help from a variety of sources, including:

  • Child development centers
  • Specialised clinics
  • Online communities
  • Support groups
  • Healthcare professionals
  • Parenting websites and blogs focusing on baby reflux 

 

Child development centers and specialized clinics offer services like counseling, educational programs, and support groups to help parents manage their baby’s reflux symptoms.

Online communities and support groups are also great resources for parents to connect with each other, ask questions, and find advice and support.

Summary

In conclusion, recognising and understanding reflux in babies is crucial for providing the necessary care and support. By learning the signs and symptoms of reflux, as well as available treatments, you can ensure your baby thrives despite the challenges of reflux.

Remember to consult a healthcare professional if you’re concerned about your baby’s reflux symptoms and seek support from various resources, such as child development centers, specialised clinics, and online communities.

Don’t forget that you’re not alone in this journey, and there’s a wealth of knowledge and support at your fingertips. As a parent, you have the power to make a difference in your baby’s life, and with the right information, you’ll be well-equipped to face reflux head-on.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you know if your baby has reflux?

If your baby has reflux, they may bring milk back up during or shortly after feeding, cough or hit when feeding, be unsettled during and after feeding, swallow or gulp after burping or feeding, arch their back, have pain and discomfort in their chest or upper abdomen, cry a lot, or show no signs of discomfort or distress.

They may also be more uncomfortable from around 2am when reflux is at its worst.

These signs can be difficult to spot, but if you notice any of them, it is important to speak to your doctor or health visitor. They can help you identify the cause of the reflux and provide advice on how to manage it.

Can Infacol make reflux worse?

It appears that infacol can make reflux worse for some babies due to the orange (acid) ingredient, so it may be best to avoid using it if your baby shows reflux symptoms.

What can trigger reflux in babies?

A tongue tie, frequent feeding, an underdeveloped food pipe (oesophagus), lying flat most of the time and a liquid diet can all trigger reflux in babies.

More serious conditions, such as GERD, can also contribute to infant reflux.

How can I manage my baby’s reflux?

Try adjusting feeding positions, burping regularly, and keeping your baby upright after feeding to help manage reflux. And speak to a tongue tie specialise to see if it’s oral related.

When should I consult a health visitor or doctor about my baby’s reflux?

As soon as you see signs, it’s worth speaking to a reflux specialist or health professional.

 

You may also be interested in: Newborn Won’t Sleep

We are a husband and wife business, and are leading sleep consultants based in the UK. We are not reflux specialists, albeit all 3 of our children have suffered with it. If you need some support with your newborn’s sleep, have a watch of our top 4 strategies for better sleep, which we used with our 2 youngest boys even when they had reflux.

Some reflux specialists we would recommend to check out on Instagram are Rockabye Hub & The Baby Reflux Lady. And some tongue tie specialists we would recommend are Tongue Tie Experts & Tongue Tie Specialist.

 

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