What is Baby Reflux?

worried mum holding newborn baby

Reflux is a term you may hear quite frequently from mums and dads in the first years of parenthood. It describes healthy babies who are very unsettled, and in some cases, bring up a lot of their milk. Reflux itself means regurgitation, which is the movement of food from the stomach into the oesophagus (food pipe).

In some cases, babies can be diagnosed with reflux when what they have could be digestive discomfort, ongoing disturbed sleep and colic that they didn’t grow out of. Babies are prone to vomiting very easily. Their stomach exit isn't a proper valve and therefore up to 73% of normal babies do vomit/regurgitate their food in the first month of life.

There are also loads of babies formally diagnosed with reflux, who have never spit-up anything. Paediatricians only tend to show concern if a baby isn't putting on weight and seems excessively upset by crying more than usual. Of course, bringing up milk is messy, but not always a worry or immediate sign of reflux.

Silent Reflux

This is a slightly different style of reflux which you may also experience. This is where the regurgitation only comes into the oesophagus or mouth and is rarely seen as vomit. This is the only difference between reflux and silent reflux, so the term ‘reflux’ can be either type.

Reflux is frequently used as a catch all term, so there are many reflux myths that you may have been told, which we want to dispel for you here.

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There’s a Difference Between Reflux and Reflux Disease

There are two medical terms you may come across when it comes to reflux, gastro oesophageal reflux (GOR) and gastro oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). Despite these different terms, the only difference from a medical point of view, is that the disease version causes 'marked distress'.

Reflux, however, is not a ‘disease’, there’s no underlying pathology or symptoms that you can pin 100% on reflux itself. In fact, it is more accurate to call reflux a symptom.

For a baby who has either GOR or GORD, there should be no difference in how they are supported and treated.

As a symptom, reflux has multiple causes, and the causes of reflux can be understood by simply looking at the patterns in symptoms and behaviours that your baby is showing. Some common causes of reflux in babies can be found on the next page:

Symptoms of reflux

  • Having a predominantly liquid diet.
  • Spending long periods lying flat.
  • Premature birth resulting in reduced muscle development.

By looking at reflux in this way, the underlying causes of your baby’s reflux can be resolved, and some parents can sometimes even see improvements in their baby within days, which all comes through simply having a better understanding of it.

Reflux is not ‘Normal’

Even for babies who are happy, reflux is anything but normal.

It’s true that our body’s ability to regurgitate air and stomach contents is normal, however it isn’t 'normal' to be in constant, or frequent, recurring discomfort or pain from simply eating or drinking.

A method you can use to help assess the symptoms of your baby, is to put yourself into the scenario of if you were to visit your doctor and describe your baby’s symptoms as your own, would you be happy being told “it’s normal” and “you’ll eventually grow out of it”? Or would you want to know why it’s happening?

So, if you have been told your baby’s discomfort is normal and you personally feel that it isn’t, trust those parental gut instincts of yours and act on it, as you know your baby better than anyone else.

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Don’t Wait for Your Baby to Grow Out of It

Another thing to remember is that you don’t need to wait for your baby to grow out of it. For a rather high number of children, they never grow out of it. So why gamble with your child’s (and your own), comfort, sleep, happiness, and sanity, when you could be free of reflux within weeks when you look at it as a symptom and take specific action to support them?

So, What Can You Do?

Reflux itself is a symptom, so there are a range of factors that can cause or contribute to reflux occurring. This means that there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

The best way to start tackling your baby’s reflux can be as simple as asking yourself “what is causing my baby’s discomfort?” Once you’ve asked yourself this, note down anything you think of, as this may come in handy in any future appointments surrounding the reflux or even for finding your own remedies. Some ideas to get you started for minimising reflux in your little one could be:

  • Feeding your baby in an upright position.
  • Burping your baby more frequently before and after feeding to reduce air buildup.
  • Feed your baby smaller amounts but more frequently.

Your baby is always telling you exactly how they are feeling, even if they may not have words yet. Instead, they are using crying, movement and even their behaviour to communicate. As a parent, it’s your job to play detective to uncover what they are saying to help guide you to the best way you can support your baby. You can often tell a baby is refluxy, as a common sign is baby wriggling their head around to try and get comfortable.

If you are concerned at all with your baby’s digestion, discomfort, or excessive crying, it’s always best to see your GP or paediatrician with these worries. They may be able to prescribe things like a proton pump inhibitor such as omeprazole or suggest some dietary alterations if an allergy is suspected.

If your baby is suffering from Colic why not consider signing up for The Honest Midwife's Colic & Reflux workshop? Use YBC20 at the checkout to get 20% off.

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