Reflux is ridiculously common. It seems like everyone knows someone who has dealt with a baby who had reflux to some degree or another. I’ve included reflux in many of my previous articles about motherhood because it took up so much of my life, but there hasn’t been a single article that I’ve written that specifically covers reflux in its entirety. So here we are, now let's dive in!
What is reflux?When a baby is born, his/her digestive system isn’t always completely developed. In fact, it could take months to finish this process. After swallowing, food makes its way down the esophagus and into the stomach. The esophagus connects to the stomach at a sphincter - called the lower esophageal sphincter or cardiac sphincter. It is very common for this particular sphincter to be underdeveloped in babies. Because this muscle isn’t all the way developed, acid and contents of the stomach tend to creep back up into the esophagus. Depending on the degree of reflux, the pain threshold could be a tad uncomfortable or very painful for babies.
How to recognize reflux?Reflux manifests itself in a few different ways. Most common side effects include the following:
- Excessive vomiting or spit up
- Obvious discomfort during or immediately after feedings
- Wet burps and/or hiccups
- Arching of back
- Sleeping disturbances
- Excessive gagging, choking, or coughing
- Weight loss or failure to gain weight
How to treat reflux?
This will depend greatly on the severity of your baby's reflux. Luckily, there are several doctor appointments in the first month or two of Baby’s life so if any concerns arise, it’s convenient to be able to ask questions. Most of the time, they’ll just give a few tips of how to best help your baby with pain management, but in some instances, medication will be prescribed.
Medication: If everything has been tried and nothing seems to be easing Baby’s pain, you’ll receive a prescription for a refrigerated medication that essentially coats the baby’s esophagus and helps dull the pain. However, this will not be the doctor’s first step to try to combat this.
- Alter diet if breastfeeding. This will take a lot of trial and error, but many moms find that their baby has some relief when dairy is dropped from their diet, or gassy foods like broccoli are avoided.
- Prop you baby up part 1. During feeds, try to keep baby slightly more propped up than usual. (Quick note: never lay baby flat while they drink. Due to flatter Eustachian tubes, this makes them prone to getting ear infections.)
- Prop your baby up part 2. Keep your baby vertical for up to a half hour after a feeding, giving the milk time to settle before she/he gets laid back down.
- Prop your baby up part 3. With a pediatrician’s approval/recommendation, place a small pillow or blanket under Baby’s mattress for sleeping. This way, he is still on a flat surface but isn’t completely horizontal, which may help the sphincter to more properly do its job.
- Smaller, more frequent feedings. A less full stomach isn’t as likely to invade on the lower esophageal sphincter.
- Burping. Taking the time to help any bubbles escape by burping Baby can help alleviate some discomfort.
My daughter’s reflux manifested as excessive vomiting. She threw up a few full meals multiple times a day. Per our pediatrician’s suggestion, I began feeding her from one breast per feeding, rather than both sides, and fed her more often throughout the day. For safe measure, I also held her up for a few minutes after she finished eating. These smaller meals and being propped up were the exact tricks she needed and we no longer had any issues as long as I continued with this.
My son’s reflux was a lot worse. He was in visible pain during feedings and was certainly not a happy camper afterwards, especially while laying down. He frequently arched his back and made it known to us that he was not comfortable. I had his mattress slightly propped up and I did shorter, more frequent feedings, but that wasn’t quite cutting it. We ended up getting a prescription and this helped immensely. But, unless I held him up for a half hour after every feeding, he would still get really upset. Yes, this included multiple night feedings as well! So that was what got us through those long months of waiting for his digestive system to work a little better. Though at four years old, I’m still not convinced it’s fully doing its job, but I’m sure one day he’ll get there!