Every mum hopes feeding her baby will be a bonding and nurturing experience. But what if each time you try your little one screws his face up in pain or you watch, helpless, as the feed comes straight back up again? If he’s also struggling to gain weight, it could be he’s suffering with reflux.
Known officially as gastro-oesophageal reflux, it’s actually relatively common in its milder form. But in some cases it can cause bigger problems for your little one.
What is reflux?
It’s caused when a weak valve at the top of the baby’s stomach allows the feed, along with gastric acid, to come back up, causing symptoms including vomiting and heartburn.
Most babies experience mild reflux symptoms including spitting up small amounts of feed. This is known as posseting and is completely normal. But for some babies, reflux can cause excessive vomiting, arching the back and crying during feeds, losing or not gaining weight, persistent coughing and refusing feeds or only managing a little at a time.
We all know breast is best, and in this case it seems it can really help as while both breast and formula-fed babies can get reflux, research shows breastfed babies do suffer less. That’s because breast milk is more easily digested.
“Reflux affects many babies from birth and it’s important to mention any feeding problems to your health visitor,” says paediatric dietician Judy More. “She will be able to give you advice about making your baby feel more comfortable.”
These include feeding your baby at a more upright angle, sitting him upright for between 30 and 45 minutes after having milk, feeding smaller amounts more frequently and raising his cot frame slightly at the head end. If none of this helps, the next port of call is your GP, says Judy.
If you’re breastfeeding he or she will prescribe an antacid like Infant Gaviscon. “He or she can also give advice on using a formula that thickens in the stomach – or thickeners to add to formula or expressed breast milk – which can help. Failing that, there are certain medications that can help too.”
The right medication
Different medications work for different babies. They mostly come in liquid form but your GP or pharmacist will have suggestions. “Sometimes it can take a combination of different things to help your baby,” Judy explains. “So if one thing doesn’t work, don’t give up. Go back to your GP and ask to try something else.” In more extreme cases, your GP will refer you to a paediatrician.
How long will it last?
However difficult reflux seems at the time, it will ease eventually. “There are some babies who’ll have symptoms until roughly their first birthday,” says Judy. “But usually a combination of the right treatment, the introduction of solid foods and the baby becoming more upright and mobile helps.”
What is silent reflux?
If your little one is showing reflux symptoms but there’s no vomit, it could be silent reflux. Due to the lack of vomiting, this can be a very difficult condition to recognise and diagnose.
Instead of bringing up excessive amounts of milk, your baby is suffering from acid travelling back up his oesophagus and causing him pain. Try keeping your baby upright as much as possible and elevate his sleeping position by propping up the end of his cot or Moses basket (making sure it’s done securely).
If that doesn’t help and you’re still recognising symptoms of reflux, book an appointment to see your GP.