Baby Hints and Tips asks the experts for advice on the reflux baby.
Reflux is a term given to the movement of stomach contents back up into the oesophagus which is the tube connecting our mouths to our stomachs. Sometimes reflux can lead to full regurgitation of food and fluids.
Reflux is more prevalent among babies, than say adults, because babies spend so much time lying down, have a liquid diet and a short oesophagus. Also the opening of the oesophagus of an infant is loose to allow them to be able to regurgitate safely (this will tighten as a baby grows). It is common and normal for babies to regurgitate particularly after a big feed.
Reflux is equally common in both breastfed and formula-fed babies; however, formula-fed babies will often have episodes of longer lasting reflux, more frequently than breastfed infants.
“Most babies under the age of six months will have had at least one episode of reflux. However, each baby is different, particularly in terms of the frequency and the volumes that they may ‘bring up’,” Mater Mothers’ Hospitals Parent Education Unit Manager Michelle Kelly said.
“Some babies may cry if reflux is accompanied by wind or ‘colic’, but for most infants, reflux is just a normal part of life and the majority of cases are not associated with any other health conditions,” Michelle said.
Usually, the frequency of reflux episodes will decrease with age and the condition tends to resolve from 12 to 18 months of age. However, some infants may experience severe reflux that can have an effect on their health.
“In some rare cases, infant reflux may be a sign of a medical problem, such as a blockage in the digestive system, an allergy or Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD). These conditions need to be diagnosed by a doctor,” Michelle said.
Discuss your baby’s reflux with your paediatrician or general practitioner if you notice any of the following:
- weight loss, static weight or poor weight gain
- vomits containing blood or bile
- difficulty settling or more irritability than usual
- refusal to feed
- multiple occurrences of choking or gagging with feeds
- sudden onset of reflux after six months of age.
Infant reflux usually clears up by itself. In the meantime, here are some tips to help minimise the impact of reflux:
- Continue to breastfeed. Breast is best for babies wherever possible; it’s not your milk that’s causing the issue.
- Try giving your baby smaller feeds more frequently. Interrupt feeds to burp your baby.
- Check your feeding practices with an Accredited Practising Dietitian. They will be able to offer advice to optimise your baby’s feeding and ensure their growth is on track.
- If your baby takes a bottle consider discussing with your doctor or a speech pathologist whether the use of an anti-regurgitation formula or a thickening agent would be beneficial.
- Make use of tummy time. Take care to ensure infants are never left unattended in this position. An experienced adult or parent should always be present to supervise.
- In cases where GORD has been diagnosed by a doctor, specific dietary modifications may be considered. Discuss these options with your doctor and seek the advice of an Accredited Practising Dietitian.
For more information, visit Mater Mothers’ Hospitals, Australia’s largest maternity service and home to one of the country’s largest Neonatal Critical Care Units.
Parents share what helped their reflux baby here.