Nearly 7 in 10 babies will experience reflux at some point, which may make them reluctant to feed.
Infant reflux happens when a baby’s stomach contents escape back up into their oesophagus (food pipe), causing a baby to “spit up” milk or vomit. Reflux usually happens soon after a feed.
Reflux is very common and affects around two-thirds of babies at some2. Although some babies with reflux do not seem upset by it, stomach acid can escape into the oesophagus along with food. This is why reflux is sometimes called “acid reflux”, and can cause pain and irritation. Babies may become reluctant to feed or refuse to continue feeding even when they’re still hungry, which can make them cranky in between feeds as well.
Young babies may have an immature or weak valve between their stomach and the oesophagus. This allows the stomach contents to escape through the valve back into the oesophagus.
As the valve linking the stomach and oesophagus matures, the signs of reflux lessen. By the time babies are 12–18 months of age, symptoms will usually have resolved altogether.
Spitting up milk and coughing as though milk has “gone down the wrong way” are no cause for concern if
your baby is otherwise healthy and happy.
Frequent spitting up, gulping, or a reflux cough
Sudden bursts of crying as though in pain while feeding or soon after a feed
Difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
Arching the back, pulling up the legs, stiffening or screaming while feeding
Reluctance to feed or refusing to feed while still hungry
Silent reflux is where the food that escapes through the reflux valve does not make it far enough up into the oesophagus to be forced out of the mouth, and so there are no obvious signs of reflux such as regurgitation. Silent reflux can actually cause more pain and irritation as a baby’s stomach contents may sit in their oesophagus for longer than if they regurgitated or vomited.
Signs of silent reflux in babies are similar to non-silent reflux, but without obvious spitting up, vomiting, or regurgitation. You may hear your baby reflux or notice them swallowing repeatedly, even when there are no outward signs of reflux.
It’s important to talk to a healthcare professional for advice on how to treat reflux in babies. If your baby’s reflux is interfering with their feeding or causing them distress, your doctor, early childhood nurse or pharmacist will be able to advise you about reflux remedies or a formula for reflux that may help your baby.
You can also consider the following remedies for reflux:
Avoid clothing and nappies that are too tight
Don’t put your baby to bed immediately after feeding
Try giving smaller feeds at more frequent intervals
After a feed, put your baby in an upright position and “burp” your baby if possible
Learn more about how you can help manage Reflux
Breastfeeding is best for babies and has many benefits, such as protecting your baby from infection while their immune system develops. It is important that you eat a healthy, balanced diet in preparation for and during breastfeeding. Infant formula is designed to replace breast milk when an infant is not breastfed. Combining breast and bottle feeding in your baby’s first weeks of life may reduce your supply of breast milk, and reversing a decision not to breastfeed is difficult. The social and financial implications of using infant formula should be considered when choosing a method of feeding. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when preparing and using infant formula, including proper sterilisation of bottles and using boiled water. Improper use of an infant formula may make your baby ill. Always consult your doctor, midwife or health care professional for advice about feeding your baby.
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