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Dr Anna Maw
Consultant pediatrician at Cambridge University NHS Trust in the UK. A child doctor specializing in brain development and neurology. She has three children.
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Baby health

Has my baby got reflux?

Reflux is when the contents of the baby’s stomach come back up into the baby’s mouth. Since the content contains tummy acid, it burns, is very painful and distressing for the baby. It’s different from normal posseting when a young baby brings back small amounts of milk after a feed without seeming to mind very much. A posseting baby doesn’t appear to be in pain or distress.
Video Tutorial
In Short
Top tips follow to help soothe your baby.

Signs of reflux include:

Signs of pain or discomfort when feeding.

Frequently vomiting or spitting up their milk.

Coughing frequently.

Waking often at night, usually 45 minutes after being put down to sleep.

Low weight gain or even weight loss.

What to do

Hold baby upright after a feed.

Prop your baby's cot up at around 45 degrees - to raise the head.

Babies with reflux often prefer to eat little and often rather than take big quantities at each feed.

See your family doctor - ask about allergies and possible medicine in extreme cases.

Baby Reflux

Reflux has been overdiagnosed in recent years. True reflux is when the contents of the baby’s stomach, and that might be milk or acid, come up the feeding tube towards the baby’s mouth.

Reflux really burns, is very painful and can be very distressing for your baby. It’s something you tend to see in younger babies who are exclusively milk fed and who tend to spend more time lying down and it gets less of a problem as babies sit up more and go on to solid feeds which sit more easily in the stomach.

What are the symptoms of reflux in babies?

Signs of reflux in babies include:

  • If your baby shows signs of pain or discomfort when feeding, such as arching his back, refusing milk and crying.
  • Frequently vomiting or spitting up his milk (more than normal posseting, which is only about a teaspoon). However, posseting can be more than a teaspoon and reflux can be a lot less (or nothing for silent reflux). It’s not about the quantity but the discomfort and symptoms that accompany it.
  • Coughing frequently, including at night, but with no sign of a cold.
  • Waking often at night, especially about 45 mins after they fall asleep, which is shorter than a full sleep cycle.
  • Low weight gain or even weight loss.
  • Silent reflux is harder to spot as your baby may not bring up his milk feed. However, they may appear to be in pain when they are not upright and have a persistent cough.

Reflux is different from normal posseting when a young baby brings back small amounts of milk after a feed without seeming to mind very much. A posseting baby doesn’t appear to be in pain or distress.

How can I help my baby with reflux?

Parents want to do whatever they can to prevent reflux in their babies. Some parents find it helpful to prop their baby up after a feed at a 45-degree angle in a baby chair or just hold them sitting to allow the milk to settle in the stomach. Carrying your baby in a sling can help with this.

Some parents also find it helps to prop the head end of the baby’s cot up a bit on some (stable) bricks so that the baby’s head is slightly raised compared to the rest of the body.

It can help to carry your baby in a sling that keeps them comforted and upright and try to minimise time in car seats or prams where they can slump into an uncomfortable position. If you notice that they are distressed in this position.

If your baby does suffer from acid reflux, it doesn’t mean that you’ve done anything wrong and it’s a medical condition that you can’t prevent due to the sphincter in your baby’s tummy being a bit slack allowing some of the contents to flow back up into their oesophagus. Your doctor or health visitor can give you more advice. The majority of babies only suffer from reflux for a few months when the sphincter matures and then the symptoms pass.

What should I do if I think my baby has reflux?

If you think your baby might be showing signs of reflux, you should take them to be assessed by their family doctor.

Reflux can be managed in many cases, with medication, so if your baby does seem to be unduly distressed on a regular basis then it’s certainly something to think about and investigate.

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.