Reflux is pretty normal in babies, it affects 4 out of 10 babies younger than a year to some extent. In mild cases, babies simply spit up a bit of their milk after a feed. However, some babies have more severe symptoms that mean they may cry and be hard to comfort – especially during or after a feed. Reflux usually starts when your baby is eight weeks old and in 90% of cases will get better on its own by their first birthday.
Why does my baby have reflux?
Reflux occurs because your baby’s oesophagus (the tube from the mouth to the stomach) is underdeveloped, and acidic stomach contents come back up towards the throat, causing pain and discomfort. It should get better by the time your baby’s first birthday, when the ring of muscle at the bottom of their oesophagus fully develops and stops the contents of their stomach leaking out.
How can I tell if my baby has reflux?
If your baby has any of the following symptoms, it could be a sign of reflux and it’s worth getting them checked out by your GP.
- Frequent projectile vomiting
- Arching of the back during or after a feed
- Persistent crying during or after feeds
- Drawing legs up to their tummy
- Refusing to feed, even though they are happy to suck on a dummy, if you use one.
- Not gaining, or losing weight
How is silent reflux different?
Silent reflux is when the contents of your baby’s stomach only go as far as the oesophagus and are then re-swallowed causing pain but no vomiting. The rest of the symptoms are the same as listed above.
Top tips to help your baby’s symptoms
Firstly, you should take your baby to the GP for a check-up. If your baby’s reflux is severe they may suggest one of the following treatments:
- Cutting out cow’s milk. Some symptoms of cow’s milk protein allergy or intolerance are similar to reflux symptoms, especially in babies who have eczema or asthma, or a family history of eczema or asthma.
- If you’re breastfeeding, this will mean removing dairy products from your own diet. If you’re bottle feeding, this could mean switching to a hypoallergenic formula.
- Trying an alginate antacid for one to two weeks, to see if the symptoms get better. In this case, they’d suggest you continue taking the alginate.
- If you’re bottle feeding, they may suggest you switch to a thickened feed for a trial period, although this is less common now.
It’s important not to self-diagnose any of these treatments – always see your doctor first. Especially when it comes to changing either your diet or your baby’s. Other ways you can help your baby include:
- Feed your baby in more upright feeding positions
- Try giving your baby smaller, more frequent feeds.
- Burp your baby regularly throughout a feed. If you’re bottle feeding, this will help your baby register when they are full and avoid the possibility of overfeeding.
- If you’re bottle feeding your baby, check the hole in the teat is not too big. You can get teats that slow the flow of milk during a feed which can help babies with reflux.
- After a feed, hold your baby in an upright position whilst they digest their food (for about 20-30 minutes). Make sure you keep a muslin over your shoulder!
- Tilt the end of your baby’s cot to make them more comfortable when they sleep. For example, adding some large books under the cot legs, so the head end is slightly higher. Just make sure the bed is stable!