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Understanding baby reflux and how to deal with it

Understanding baby reflux and how to deal with it
PHOTO: Unsplash

Babies can sometimes experience common health issues, including baby reflux. If you’re a parent or caregiver, it’s essential to be aware of this condition and understand how to manage it effectively.

In this article, we’ll delve into what baby reflux is, its symptoms and how you can ease your baby’s discomfort.

We’ll also discuss when to seek medical help for proper diagnosis and treatment.

What is baby reflux?

Baby reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux, occurs when the contents of the stomach flow back up into the oesophagus.

The oesophagus is the muscular tube that connects the mouth to the stomach.

It’s important to note that occasional reflux is common and not a cause for concern, especially if your baby is healthy, content, and growing well. However, persistent or severe reflux may require medical attention.

What causes reflux in babies

Reflux in babies is a common and normal occurrence in infants, often referred to as “spitting up” or regurgitation.

The lower esophageal sphincter, a muscle at the lower end of the food pipe, relaxes to allow food into the stomach and contracts to prevent the backward flow of food and acid. In infants, this muscle may not completely close, leading to reflux. Most cases of reflux in infants are uncomplicated and resolve on their own by the age of 18 months.

However, a more severe form called gastroesophageal reflux disease (gerd) can cause persistent symptoms and complications.

Some risk factors for infant reflux include temporary relaxation of the lower oesophagal sphincter, frequent large-volume feedings, a short food pipe and laying down after feeding. 

Baby reflux and gerd

In some cases, baby reflux can progress to gerd, which is a more serious form of reflux. Gerd occurs when the refluxed stomach contents cause irritation and damage to the lining of the oesophagus. While gerd is less common in infants, it can still lead to significant health issues and may require medical intervention.

When does baby reflux start?

Baby reflux can occur at any age, from newborns to older infants. It is more prevalent in younger babies, as their lower oesophagal sphincter (les) – the ring of muscle between the oesophagus and the stomach – is not yet fully developed.

The Les is responsible for keeping stomach contents from flowing back up into the oesophagus. As your baby grows and develops, the incidence of reflux typically decreases.

Baby reflux symptoms

How do I know if my baby has reflux?

Recognising the symptoms of baby reflux is crucial for early detection and management. Common symptoms include:

  • Frequent spitting up or regurgitation of liquid or food
  • Irritability and fussiness, especially after feedings
  • Arching of the back or neck during or after feedings
  • Refusing to feed or eating only small amounts
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Poor weight gain or slow growth
  • Sleep disturbances, such as frequent waking or difficulty sleeping

Is reflux painful for babies?

Many parents wonder if reflux causes pain in their babies. While it can be uncomfortable, not all babies experience pain with reflux. Some may show signs of distress or discomfort, while others may seem unfazed.

Each baby is unique, and their experience with reflux can vary. If you suspect your baby is in pain, it’s important to consult with your healthcare provider for an accurate assessment.

Reflux (ger) vs silent reflux

Many parents are familiar with the concept of reflux, where babies spit up milk or formula after feeding.

However, there’s another condition called silent reflux that may go unnoticed. So, what’s the difference between the two, you ask?

In gastroesophageal reflux (ger), the contents of the stomach, including milk or formula, flow back into the oesophagus. This can cause spitting up, regurgitation, or vomiting after feeding.

Silent reflux, also called laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), is similar to reflux but with a key difference. Instead of the stomach contents being expelled through the mouth, they reach up to the throat, voice box, or even the nasal passages.

This type of reflux is called 'silent' because it doesn’t always lead to visible spit-up or vomiting, making it harder to diagnose.

  Reflux Silent Reflux
  • Spitting up
  • Excessive burping
  • General fussiness after feeds
  • Arching the back
  • Signs of discomfort
  • Difficulty sleeping due to reflux episodes
  • Chronic coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Frequent throat clearing
  • Recurrent ear infections
  • Diagnosis of reflux is often based on observing the symptoms and medical history of the baby. In most cases, no specific medical tests are required.
  • Symptom evaluation
  • Physical examination
  • pH monitoring
  • Endoscopy
  • Frequent burping
  • Keeping the baby upright after feeding
  • Smaller, more frequent feedings
  • Medication (in severe cases)
  • Other interventions (in severe cases)
  • Feeding changes
  • Upright positioning
  • Thickening feeds
  • Medication (sometimes)
  • Consultation with a specialist (in severe cases)
Complications Although uncomfortable for the baby, uncomplicated reflux typically doesn’t lead to long-term complications and tends to improve as the baby grows. Silent reflux can cause various complications if left untreated. These can include recurrent respiratory infections, aspiration pneumonia, poor weight gain, feeding difficulties, or even damage to the lining of the oesophagus.

If you suspect that your baby has silent reflux based on these signs, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and appropriate management.

How can I ease my baby’s reflux?

Yes, babies can outgrow reflux, but it doesn’t mean we cannot do anything to make them feel better right now. Fortunately, there are several strategies you can employ to help ease your baby’s reflux and minimise their discomfort. Here are some tips:

  • Feed in an upright position

Keep your baby in an upright position during feedings and for some time afterwards. This can help prevent stomach contents from flowing back up into the oesophagus.

  • Burp frequently

Burp your baby regularly during and after feedings to release trapped air and reduce the likelihood of reflux.

  • Smaller, more frequent feedings

Offering smaller, more frequent feedings can help prevent overfilling of the stomach and decrease the likelihood of reflux episodes.

  • Keep your baby upright after feedings

Hold your baby upright or place them in an inclined position to allow gravity to assist in keeping stomach contents down.

  • Avoid tight clothing

Dress your baby in loose-fitting clothes to avoid putting pressure on their abdomen, which can contribute to reflux.

  • Consider thickened feedings

Your healthcare provider may recommend adding thickening agents to your baby’s formula or breast milk to help reduce reflux episodes.

  • Elevate the head of the crib

Elevating the head of your baby’s crib slightly can help keep stomach contents down while they sleep.

ALSO READ: Help! My baby keeps gagging during feeding. What to do?

How to manage baby reflux at home

Managing baby reflux at home involves implementing certain lifestyle and feeding modifications. Along with the tips mentioned above, here are additional measures you can take:

  • Avoid overfeeding your baby and ensure they are getting the appropriate amount of milk or formula for their age and weight.
  • Take note of any specific foods that seem to trigger reflux in your baby and try to eliminate or reduce their consumption.
  • Maintain a calm and soothing environment during feedings to help your baby relax and reduce potential reflux episodes.

When to seek medical help about baby reflux

While baby reflux is often manageable at home, there are instances when medical assistance is necessary.

Here are signs that indicate it’s time to consult your healthcare provider:

  1. Your baby is consistently spitting up forcefully or experiencing projectile vomiting.
  2. Spitting up green or yellow fluid, blood or substances resembling coffee grounds.
  3. Refusal to feed or eat.
  4. Blood in the stool.
  5. Difficulty breathing or a persistent cough.
  6. Spitting up starts at age six months or older.
  7. Unusual irritability or lack of energy.

It’s essential to remember that every baby is different, and the severity and persistence of symptoms can vary. Seeking professional medical advice will help ensure an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment if necessary.

In conclusion, baby reflux is a common occurrence that usually resolves on its own over time. By understanding the causes, symptoms and management strategies, you can provide comfort and support for your little one.

Remember to consult with your healthcare provider if you have any concerns or if your baby’s symptoms worsen or persist.

This article was first published in theAsianparent.

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