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Everyone knows that babies spit up; we’ve all seen it in TV shows and heard stories about clothes covered in spit up. When you have a baby, you might find yourself struggling with spit up after feeding, and find yourself getting worried. Some babies who spit up frequently are diagnosed with acid reflux, and it can be a severe problem.
When I had my first baby, I knew acid reflux was a possibility, but I had no idea how much spit up was normal. Then, I noticed large puddles of spit up in my daughter’s crib after she woke up, and she would gag in her sleep. She cried after feedings all the time, and I soon realized that she had acid reflux.
It’s normal to feel worried about acid reflux, especially as first-time parents. So, let’s look at what causes acid reflux in babies and how you can survive a baby with acid reflux.
What is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux is also known as gastroesophageal reflux – GERD – and it is when the contents of the stomach back up into the throat, leading to a burning sensation. Chances are, you experienced acid reflux at least once in your life. Pregnant women are prone to acid reflux, so you might understand the pain that it causes.
Babies have an underdeveloped digestive system that increases the risk of acid reflux. For example, the sphincter in the stomach that stops food from flowing back up into the esophagus isn’t as strong in infants as it is in older children and adults.
What are the Signs of Acid Reflux in Babies?
Are you wondering if your baby has acid reflux? A few common signs are:
- Frequent spit up, sometimes in vast amounts
- Feeding difficulties
- Inadequate weight gain
- Wheezing after feeding
Is Reflux Dangerous?
In most cases, reflux isn’t a huge cause for concern. If your baby is happy, healthy, and gaining weight, you can expect the acid reflux to clear up on its own in a few months. These cases don’t require medical intervention.
If you notice new symptoms appearing after six months of age, talk to your doctor about what you can do to help. Also, if you do feel concerned with your baby’s behavior, schedule an appointment. If your baby continues to spit up past age one and has any of these following symptoms, talk to your doctor.
- Refusing to feed
- Gagging or coughing during a feed
- Yellow or green vomit
- Frequent projectile vomiting
- Blood in vomit or stools
- Tender or swollen stomach
- Failure to gain weight
- Fever or high temperature
How to Survive a Baby with Acid Reflux
Doctors recommend several things to try to help your baby cope with acid reflux and ways to reduce it. Most babies grow out of it after several months. It’s most common in the first six months, but babies up to one year old can experience acid reflux.
More Frequent Feeds
Babies are more likely to have reflux when their stomach is too full. Feed your baby more frequently helps to reduce how much your baby takes at each feeding.
When your baby’s stomach isn’t too full, it doesn’t apply as much pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter – LES. The LES is the muscle that stops food from going back up into the esophagus from the stomach. The more pressure on the LES, the more the muscle loses its effectiveness, causing contents to rise into your throat.
Also, some babies feed very often because drinking milk helps to soothe the burning in their throat. Wanting to breastfeed all the time can be a sign of reflux.
Elevate During and After Feedings
Have you ever experienced acid reflux while trying to sleep? It’s miserable. If you’re laying your baby at a flat level while feeding and afterward, you’re creating a similar experience. Elevate your baby’s head during feeding times. That is a bit easier for bottle-fed babies, but it’s still possible for breastfed babies!
After the feeding is over, keep your baby elevated for 15-20 minutes. Normally, I burped my baby on my shoulders; then I left him there to rest as we rocked in the recliner. He might fall asleep, but it also gives the milk time to digest, reducing the risk of it coming back up.
Try a Different Bottle and Nipple Size
Bottle fed babies might have the wrong bottle or nipple sizes. Some bottles allow more air to be swallowed by your baby, and that can lead to more gassiness and spit up because increased air makes it into the stomach. Try different non-colic bottles as well. Larger nipples cause the milk to flow too fast, so your baby will gulp to drink quicker and might overeat.
Change Your Diet
Mothers who breastfeed their baby might have luck by changing her diet. Some women have success in removing dairy and eggs from their diet. Try keeping a food journal to see if certain foods trigger a worse reaction by your baby.
Unfortunately, caffeine can be a trigger for babies with reflux. If you have a high intake of caffeine daily, your baby might feel the effects. Caffeine further relaxes the LES muscle, making it even easier for food to flow back up into your baby’s esophagus.
You don’t have to take out caffeine entirely from your diet. As a mom, I know I need that cup of coffee or two each day. However, try to limit your intake to no more than two cups of tea or coffee a day. If you want more beyond that, switch to decaffeinated.
If you’re using formula instead, changing formulas may be the next best choice. Formula companies sell selections for babies with a sensitive stomach, and they also sell thickened formula. Look for a formula with R.S. at the end, which stands for rice starch. The starch is used to help thicken the formula to reduce spit up.
Burp More Often
No matter how you feed your baby, burp your baby more often. Burping your infant helps to reduce reflux symptoms by eliminating any air trapped in his stomach.
Check His Sleeping Environment
Settling down to sleep is hard for babies if they’re in pain after eating. Changing his sleeping position can help reduce pain.
You can place a wedge under the head of the mattress to elevate your baby’s upper body. Make sure you’re using a recommended product for this, and talk to your doctor for doing so. These wedges never go underneath the baby or the sheet, but rather, it goes under the mattress.
Medicine that May Help with Acid Reflux in Babies
Giving your baby medicine may not be the option you want to try, but it’s a consideration. Acid reflux is painful, and if your baby is in discomfort often, your pediatrician might recommend going the medication route. There are some natural choices as well as pharmaceutical options.
You might have heard of gripe water before. It’s an herbal-based product that can be used to relieve symptoms from gas and ingestion for babies, as well as helping with colic symptoms. Gripe water is one baby item I always keep in stock.
Some parents have no success with gripe water, while others, such as myself, saw tremendous changes. The ingredients vary depending on the brand that you pick, but for parents who are concerned about using the medicine, it doesn’t offer any adverse side effects.
Probiotics add good bacteria back into the flora of your stomach, which helps to reduce the harmful bacteria in the stomach. Most breastfed babies have a good level of bacteria, but no matter if you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding, probiotics are helpful. Some studies show probiotics help to prevent stomach problems in babies.
In severe cases, your doctor might suggest a medication to treat your baby’s acid reflux. Alginates is one of the two types used. This type of medication creates a protective barrier over the stomach and stops anything from coming upwards while preventing irritation to the esophagus.
H2-Receptor Antagonists and Proton Pump Inhibitors
H2-Receptors are another type of medication that doctors might try, and it also works to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach. If your baby doesn’t have much acid in his stomach, it means fewer contents can come up and irritate the esophagus and reduce spit up. This type of medication is usually given to reduce the discomfort experienced during a feed.
What About Rice Cereal in a Bottle?
For years, pediatricians recommended that parents add small amounts of infant rice cereal to formula or breast milk to thicken it up. The idea is that thickened food reduces the risk of the stomach contents coming back up into the esophagus.
This recommendation isn’t always a good one to follow. Rice cereal in bottles can be a choking hazard. Instead, look at purchasing a thickened formula. Also, giving rice cereal to young infants increase the chances that he will experience belly aches and constipation.
So, speak to your doctor before following this recommendation.
Acid Reflux Goes Away
I’ve been in your shoes, and I know how hard it is to watch your baby suffer from acid reflux. It causes significant discomfort and a lot of spit up. Thankfully, after a few months, it will start to reduce, and a happier baby will emerge from the shadows.
The time is coming, mama. Just hold on a bit longer!