5 Things You Can Do if Your Baby Suffers from Acid Reflux
Does your baby have reflux?
Welcome to the club. All babies have reflux: it’s called spitting up. There’s a muscle at the bottom of your baby’s esophagus called a sphincter. This muscle’s job is to keep the food and stomach acids down where they should be, in the stomach. The thing is, for the first 6 months of life, the sphincter isn’t fully developed, so remnants of your baby’s meal mixed with stomach acid will often pop back up past the sphincter, up the esophagus and out of your babe’s mouth. Hello, spit up.
Some babies don’t mind spitting up, even if they spit up large amounts multiple times a day. These types are called “happy spitters.” With these babies, all you have to worry about is making sure you get a nice big burp after each feeding and giving up on the idea of having any clean clothing for the next 6 months.
This kind of spit up can actually be good for your baby! Some of this stomach acid that comes up in all babies is actually a protection against all the bacteria that your baby has in her mouth from sucking on her fingers that touched…everything. So, some reflux can be a very good thing!
The point where acid reflux becomes an issue is when it hurts. Remember the heartburn you had when you were pregnant? Pretty brutal, right? That’s what your baby can feel after every meal if she suffers from a bad case of acid reflux.
When a lot of acid travels back up the esophagus, it can cause your baby enormous discomfort and cause him to be very irritable during feedings, spit up a lot (more than 5 times a day) and even projectile vomit. It also brings about one of the most frustrating parts of reflux: endless crying and screaming after every meal as your baby battles the waves of acid rising in his poor little throat.
Understanding that your baby really is in pain can help make the process more manageable for you. You don’t have a difficult baby, you have a baby with a difficult condition. It’s not her fault and she doesn’t want it to be like this!
Signs your baby may be suffering from a severe case of acid reflux:
- Frequent spitting up or projectile vomiting (more than 5 times per day)
- Most feeds come with crying jags, irritability and frustration on your baby’s end
- Constant hiccups – especially “wet” hiccups
- Unrelenting irritability and overall unhappiness
- Increased discomfort when your baby lies on her back, including arching her back
- Chronic cough or congestion
Mercifully, many reflux symptoms lessen by 4-6 months and most babies completely outgrow their reflux symptoms by their first birthday. Until that point, here are five things you can do to help your baby get through this tough stage.
- Keep your baby upright for 20-40 minutes after each feed. Let gravity do it’s thing in keeping her meal down and letting her stomach digest it before it has a chance to come back up.
- Give smaller, more frequent feedings . Double the amount of feedings with half the amount of formula for each feeding (instead of 4 feedings of 6 oz each, offer 8 feedings with 3 oz each.) Smaller meals will be easier for your baby to digest.
- Test for a milk allergy or switch formulas. Milk protein, which will be written as lactose or casein on your formula label, is often a culprit in exacerbating reflux. If you’re breastfeeding, speak with your pediatrician or allergist about the possibility of an elimination diet.
- Discuss the possibility of medication with your doctor. Keep in mind that acid reflux is wildly over-diagnosed these days and pumping your baby with unnecessary medication is not something you want to do. It is necessary sometimes? Sure. Just keep in mind that many times it doesn’t help or is not necessary. I love this rant by Dr. Harvey Karp where he goes on a reflux rampage!
- Look out for possible causes other than reflux. An overlooked tongue tie, for example, can lead to intense discomfort after every feeding as your baby sucks in more air than milk because she can’t latch properly. Hyperlactation is another possible cause, where a breastfeeding mom produces more milk than the baby needs, and the gush of milk that spurts out with each suck is consumed without being digested properly. This can lead to stomach pain, gas and a ton of fussiness! Overtiredness and a lack of schedule is something that can cause your baby to be extremely fussy too! Almost every mother I’ve ever worked with has told me how much happier and calmer her baby is once they’ve been on a proper schedule for a few weeks. Never underestimate the damage that sleep deprivation can cause to a baby!
It’s not a good idea to sleep train a baby who is suffering from severe reflux. Sleep training often comes with a fair amount of tears, and you need be confident that you’re doing something that best for your baby. If you have doubts about the source of your baby’s tears (is she in pain? Maybe it’s the reflux?) you won’t be able to teach your baby effectively. Your first priority is to get your baby the help she needs and comfort her as much as you can through this trying time. Sleep will come.
As she grows past the 4-6 month mark and the reflux dissipates, you’ll have to undo the sleep associations you’ve created to help your baby get through the reflux. But don’t worry about that – after surviving reflux, sleep training will be a piece of cake!