If you’ve ever had acid reflux, or heartburn, you know what the unpleasant sensation in your chest and sour taste in your mouth feel like. But did you know that babies can have reflux too?
At least four out of ten babies have baby reflux and many bring up milk several times per day. Preemies, babies with low birthweight or some form of muscle impairment, for example cerebral palsy, are more likely to be affected by baby reflux than others. As long as your baby is healthy and gaining weight, newborn reflux is nothing to worry about and usually disappears on its own. In the meantime, try to make your baby as comfortable as possible while breastfeeding and remember that this too shall pass, usually by the time the baby is 12 months.
Causes and symptoms of infant reflux
Acid reflux in babies typically happens because the sphincter muscle that creates a tight seal between the esophagus and the stomach in adults isn’t yet fully developed. The fact that babies eat a completely liquid diet and spend most of their time lying down doesn’t help. Aside from bringing up milk, babies with reflux often cough or hiccup during feeding. They may also cry, gulp or swallow after burping or feeding. If your baby shows some symptoms of reflux but doesn’t spit up, they may have what’s called silent reflux in baby. That just means that your baby is swallowing what comes back up.
Should acid reflux in babies be treated?
Newborn reflux is usually just a sign that your baby ate a little more than they could handle or swallowed a lot of excess air during a feeding and isn’t dangerous or treated. In most cases, the symptoms disappear on its own once your baby starts eating more solid food, which is easier to keep down.
If your baby brings back food often, making some feeding changes might help. Try these tips to alleviate baby reflux:
Keep feedings shorter but more frequent
Position your baby with their head slightly higher than their bottom during feeding and avoid breastfeeding positions that have them bending at the waist
Give your baby breaks throughout the feeding
Burp your baby regularly during a feeding
Keep your baby in an upright position for 15-20 minutes after the feeding
Nurse from just one breast at each feeding
In rare cases, baby reflux is a sign of a more serious condition, like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). A sign that your baby has GERD could be that the reflux symptoms make your baby uncomfortable, last for more than a year or prevent them from feeding. If you’re concerned that your baby isn’t gaining enough weight and suspect they may have GERD, contact a health care professional.