Reflux in babies - what it is and how to deal with it -
Is your baby suffering from reflux? Have you tried home remedies? Have you talked with your doctor? What can be done for it?
What is reflux?
Reflux or gastro-oesophageal reflux is a condition where a person’s stomach contents rise back through the digestive system and into his or her food pipe or mouth. Adults and children can both experience reflux but it is particularly common in babies because the sphincter muscles that usually separate the oesophagus from the stomach are not fully developed at birth.
Babies tend to be affected more from reflux because they have a shorter oesophagi and they are often in a lie-down position. This results in the stomach contents coming up through the mouth which is commonly referred to as ‘spitting up’. This should not be confused with projectile vomiting.
Reflux is most prevalent in the first month of life and some babies regurgitate their milk or formula more than four times per day.
Types of reflux and how to treat them…
There are different types of reflux, knowing the difference is the first step in handling the condition. This is important as not all types need treating….
Simple reflux—need not be worrying if your baby is gaining weight in his percentile and is happily thriving. It generally takes care of itself, as they age it goes away.
Silent reflux —thisis basically the same as simple reflux except that a baby with silent reflux swallows his or her regurgitated stomach contents, or it doesn’t get as far as his or her mouth. As a result, the only sign of this kind of reflux may be Bub’s discomfort when the acidic stomach contents are regurgitated.
- Sometimes reflux is symptomatic of another condition. For example, reflux may be a symptom of a food allergy or intolerance. This should always be seen by a doctor.
Reflux disease —this is more serious and uncommon, requires by a medical diagnosis and professional treatment advice. Another name for it is ‘gastro-oesophageal reflux disease’ or GORD.
Treatment may focus on the underlying cause of the reflux. Treatment should only be undertaken on the advice of a doctor. Doctors may recommend medications that help in the treatment. These may be over the counter or prescription drugs.
Signs your baby might be suffering from GORD include:
Bub isn’t gaining weight at an acceptable rate
- Bub brings up a large amount of milk or formula after many or most feeds - sometimes it may seem as if Bub brings up everything he or she drinks
- Bub appears to be unhappy and uncomfortable after many or most feeds - Bub might seem to be in pain after feeds and may cry a lot or arch the back after a feed
- Bub might experience breathing problems such as coughing or wheezing
- Bub may also have particularly disrupted sleep
If you suspect your baby may have GORD, especially if weight gain is not at the level that it should be or is experiencing breathing problems a doctor visit is warranted. If any of the following is also present medical attention should be sought:
- vomits bile or blood (if your baby’s vomit isn’t just white/off-white but instead contains green, yellow or red fluid, or looks like it has coffee grounds in it)
- seems to be having trouble swallowing
- refuses to eat or drink
- is frequently irritable and difficult to settle
- has a fever
How to prevent reflux
Even though reflux is very common in babies, especially in the first month of life, there are some steps you can take to reduce your baby’s regurgitation or even prevent it from happening:
- Use a more upright position when feeding
- Hold baby in an upright position for half to an hour after each feed
- Do smaller feeds but more often
Burp your baby regularly
- Ensure to use a teat flow size that matches the developmental stage. Too fast a flow will make reflux more likely
What not to do
Parents may be given advice on things they can do to treat reflux. Some may work but not all should be practised. One such is the raising of a baby’s bedding to keep the head above the level of the feet. Another is putting a baby to sleep on a pillow. Both these methods are not considered safe. Babies move around during sleep and can get entangled in the bedding which may result in suffocation. The Red Nose organisation, which aims for a “future where no child dies suddenly and unexpectedly during pregnancy, infancy or in childhood”, also notes that “the risk of sudden death when baby is in the tummy or side sleeping positions outweighs any benefits of tummy or left side positioning of babies” with reflux.
Parents are also sometimes advised to add cereal to a baby’s milk or formula to thicken it in an attempt to stop Bub from regurgitating it. You should consult a medical professional before doing this. You should also be aware this tactic is only moderately effective in reducing the severity and duration of reflux.
How to cope with reflux
Spitting up is what babies do there is no going around that. So, here are some tips for coping with your baby’s reflux:
Always have a cloth with you —This will come in handy for cleaning up both you and baby. They can be a bib, blanket or wash rags.
Some additional tips:
- Keep extra cloths for burping in the rooms or chair you tend to use when feeding. It is also good to cover that chair with a throw rug or sheet so it’s always protected. Having a spare is also good in case the first one is in the wash.
- Keep at least one of these burp cloths in your diaper bag and travel
- If you’re short on space in your diaper bag or pram, consider wearing a muslin wrap as a scarf when you’re out and about.
- If you use a muslin wrap or other large cloth as your burp cloth, whether you’re at home or on the go, it can double as a ‘bib’ for you.
Cover the ‘seats’ your baby travels in —it may be helpful to have a washable cover for Bub’s car seat/capsule and a washable pram liner in Bub’s pram. Once again, have at least one spare of each so you’ve got backups for when they’re in the wash. And always make sure any covers or liners don’t interfere with the safe operation of your baby’s car seat/capsule or pram. Check the instructions for these items for further details.
Cover the back seat of your car —babies don’t just spit up on their car seats. They will also spit up on the actual seat in the car so it would be a good idea to use a seat cover for this. Also good to keep as your baby grows the mess he makes will grow.
Choose your babies clothes carefully —white and pale coloured tops are less likely to show the stains from regurgitated milk and formula. Choose clothing that’s easy to maintain and machine washable. Ensure to travel with extra clothing and a small water-resistant bag to store soiled clothing and cloths. This also goes for you, a spare top will come in handy. You never know with babies and small children.
Get some support —An issue sometimes appears huge when faced alone, but when we hear how others have the same or similar experience it helps to know you are not alone. This may be of useLiving With Reflux website. It is a charity that specifically caters to the needs of families of children with reflux and GORD.
Share your story
Does your baby suffer from reflux? Or do you have a tip for preventing reflux or dealing with it that we didn’t cover? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear about your experiences.