Both adults and babies can suffer from reflux. For newborns, it’s very common, but can still be unpleasant.

Baby reflux: symptoms and anatomy

Anatomy of Reflux

Also known as “heartburn” for the way it feels, reflux is the leakage of stomach acid into the bottom of the oesophagus. In adults, this may be caused by pregnancy, overeating, or be a sign of weakness in the sphincter at the top of the stomach. However, in young babies it is more of a symptom of an immature sphincter.

Spit-up is the term for the small amount of feed babies often bring up. This is different from vomiting: baby will not be heaving, and the spit-up will dribble out, not come powerfully. It is worth noting that it often looks like baby has brought up more than they have, so monitoring weight gain and wet or dirty nappies is a better clue of how much they are consuming. Speak to your health visitor if you are concerned about weight gain.

Signs and Symptoms

One of the tell-tale signs of reflux in babies is the arched back posture. This may be easier to identify if baby also does it:

  • soon after a feed
  • when laying down

Babies aren’t the best at communicating specific needs! That said, you may notice that baby has a different cry when they are suffering from reflux. They may also cough or choke when their symptoms flare up.

Sometimes this is misdiagnosed as colic. Evenings can be particularly difficult, with frequent wake ups whenever baby is laid down. They may want to feed for comfort, with neither the baby nor parent realising that this is only making the problem worse. Correct diagnosis can allow for more effective management.

Silent Reflux

It can be harder to work out what is upsetting baby if there are fewer signs. Sometimes they may have silent reflux, in which the stomach contents still leaks into the oesophagus, but doesn’t make it out of the mouth. Baby swallows it down instead. The signs of discomfort may still be present, but without the mess.

GORD/GERD

Continued irritation from the acidic stomach contents on the oesophagus can lead to GORD. This stands for Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease (so GERD in American literature, and sometimes just GOR).

Management

It is not recommended to have anything in the cot with baby before the age of one. This includes supports to provide an incline- unless on the advice of your doctor. Back is best for sleep, but for supervised sleep, baby may be more comfortable laying on their left hand side. This is because the stomach is asymmetric, and the opening points towards the right. Laying on the left minimises the risk of stomach contents flowing back up to the oesophagus. This applies to adults too.

Your GP may prescribe antacid medication for your baby. Some parents report constipation as a result- osteopaths can help with the digestive system and you may find treatment to be beneficial. Feed thickeners are not strongly supported by evidence, and reflux should not encourage you to introduce solids before the usual guidelines.

For managing reflux in adults or babies, we may want to work on the diaphragm to ease symptoms. The diaphragm can become tight in response to the discomfort, and when it is tight it can cause further irritation. Breaking the cycle can give some quick relief. Osteopaths treat the body as a whole, so we would look for other relationships specific to your baby.

If you or your baby are suffering from the symptoms of reflux, book an appointment with Sharon or Liz online here.