Baby sick or reflux?

Most babies are sick a little, but if your baby is sick too often he could have reflux

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Baby sick is as much a part of motherhood as nappies and sleepless nights, but when it’s coupled with other symptoms it could be a sign of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or reflux for short. The good news is that reflux can be treated and tends to clear up as your baby matures.

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How is reflux different from regular sickness?

The muscle at the entrance to your baby’s stomach is like a valve, preventing your stomach contents from going back up your food pipe. But in some babies this valve isn’t fully developed, so food can’t stay down. All babies are born with this weak valve, but only some develop more serious symptoms, and it’s also more common in premature babies.

“Possetting a little milk after a feed is quite normal with most babies,” explains Tracey Guilliat-Parks, chairman of Living With Reflux (www.livingwithreflux.org). “Only a small percentage of babies experience more severe reflux, where vomiting is accompanied by other symptoms.”

Has your baby got reflux?

Babies with reflux are likely to show some, or all, of these symptoms:

  • Excessive or projectile vomiting
  • Persistent coughing or gagging
  • Arching back or being agitated during feeds
  • Screaming or crying in pain between feeds
  • Losing or not gaining weight
  • Refusing feeds or only managing small amounts at a time

Should you see a doctor?

If your baby’s gaining weight and meeting milestones as expected, there is little cause for concern. However, for one in 10 babies with reflux there may be more serious complications such as weight loss, dehydration or oesophagitis (inflammation of the oesophagus). There’s also a risk of the feed entering the lung and causing breathing problems. You should speak to your doctor if you notice any of the following: 

  • Your baby’s reflux is happening more than five times a day on a regular basis
  • Coughing becomes a regular occurrence or your baby displays breathing difficulties
  • There’s blood in her regurgitated food
  • Your baby shows signs of dehydration

How long does reflux last?

Most babies will ‘grow out’ of reflux by the age of two, as their bodies mature and the stomach valve develops and strengthens. 

In rare cases, if a baby doesn’t respond to medication she may be admitted to hospital for tube feeding to prevent dehydration and ensure adequate weight gain. Doctors sometimes recommend a surgical procedure called Nissen Fundoplication, which strengthens the valve at the top of the stomach so it’s less likely to allow food, drink or acid to travel back into the oesophagus.

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