Rarely anything to fret about, reflux in babies can pull on a mum's heartstrings, particularly when it seems to be causing tears and discomfort.
However, it's very common in normal, healthy babies. This is because various factors make it easier for stomach contents to come back up into the oesophagus of babies.
It may be because their diet is all liquid, because they spend lots of time lying down, or because their oesophagus is shorter than in adults.
If your baby is happy, eating well and gaining sufficient weight, there's no need to worry or to seek treatment. But when it does cause problems, doctors might diagnose gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).
Here are 8 questions about reflux in babies answered...
How common is reflux in babies?
Reflux commonly occurs several times a day in babies, usually soon after feeds. It tends to peak during the first month, and usually halves by the fifth month.
Are there factors that can increase the problem?
Yes. Drinking too much milk, or drinking it too quickly can make the problem worse.
Other factors include swallowing air druing feeds, teething (as babies may swallow more saliva than usual), starting out on solids, or having a cold (as they'll swallow more mucous).
Will my baby grow out of it?
It's very likely that reflux will disappear by the time your baby is a year old. In fact, just 4% of babies still experience daily reflux by this age.
When is reflux a medical problem?
If your child is growing normally, has no ongoing respiratory problems and doesn't experience pain with reflux, it's unlikely to a medical issue.
But reflux can be a feature of a medical condition called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) whereby a baby requires medical evaluation.
It occurs in about 1 in 300 babies. If you're concerned, see your GP.
What are the main features of GORD?
Common signs that your child has GORD include spitting up large amounts of milk after most feeds, very unsettled behaviour, pain with reflux, not gaining enough weight and persistent respiratory problems (e.g. wheezing, chronic coughing).
Does how a baby is fed influence reflux?
Research has shown that babies who are exclusively breastfed tend to experience less reflux episodes each day in comparison to partially breastfed babies.
Also, breastfed babies tend to experience GORD for a shorter time than formula-fed babies.
Do thickened feeds help to treat reflux?
Some people think that making the feed heavier, it's more likely stay in the child's stomach, rather than rise back up.
But according to research, it doesn't have a significant effect.
In fact, studies suggest that feed thickeners have some negative effects, such as increasing the length of time it takes for feeds to pass through the stomach, which may even increase reflux.
What are some top tips to help minimise the problem?
There are various ways to help minimise reflux, such as:
- keeping your baby more upright during feeds
- holding them in an upright position after feeds, for about half an hour
- offering smaller feeds more often
- carrying your baby in a sling
- dressing your baby in loose clothing with their nappy fastened loosely around their tummy
- handling them gently while breastfeeding may help
- eliminating all cigarette smoke exposure as this makes reflux worse
- limiting caffeine intake during breastfeeding may help too
- following your baby's cues to try and work out what works best for them