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Signs and symptoms of reflux, how to tell if it’s gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, and how to manage baby reflux symptoms.

If your normally happy baby starts crying and being fussy, there’s a possibility they may be suffering from reflux. You’ll also notice they may spit up regularly, or even experience regurgitation of the milk they’ve consumed.

Gastro-oesophageal reflux, also known as acid reflux and acid indigestion, is the baby equivalent of heartburn. As the immature lower oesophageal sphincter valve at the top of a baby’s stomach is unreliable, it allows stomach acid to regurgitate back into the oesophagus, causing heartburn and other potential problems.

Symptoms and signs of reflux

Your baby is likely suffering from reflux if they are regularly bringing up their stomach contents into their food pipe or mouth. They’ll also bring up small amounts of milk when burping.

Other symptoms of reflux include:

  • Vomiting or projectile vomiting
  • Erratic feeding (refusing feeds or constantly feeding)
  • Fussing after eating
  • Excessive drooling
  • Wet hiccups or wet burps
  • Throaty noises
  • Sour breath
  • Constant swallowing 
  • Poor weight gain

These symptoms usually emerge when your baby is two to four weeks old, peak at four months of age and start to subside from seven months onwards (though it can continue into childhood and even adulthood).

Reflux can get misdiagnosed as colic, cow’s milk protein allergy or lactose intolerance.

Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)

If your baby’s reflux symptoms are severe and are interfering with their growth development or causing respiration problems, seek professional medical advice to rule out gastro-oesophageal reflux disease.

Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease is typically diagnosed from bloody vomits (from the ulcerated oesophagus) and can be nasty and awfully unpleasant for the infant—who will be letting you know that, in no uncertain terms!

How to manage reflux

There are some things you can do to help your baby to retain the contents of the stomach, stop gagging and better manage their reflux.

  • Be calm and relaxed when feeding
  • Hold your baby upright when feeding
  • Continue to keep baby in an upright position for at least 30 minutes after feeding
  • Feed them smaller amounts each time
  • If bottle feeding, check the teat size, making sure it’s not too big or small. As a general rule, it should leak several drops of milk per second
  • Regular burping while feeding can help to bring up excess air
  • Give them an hour or so of tummy time after a feed. Make sure not to let them fall asleep on their tummy as this sleeping position has links to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Always place your baby on their back to sleep
  • Check that their nappy is not too tight or putting pressure on their stomach

Any advice given is general in nature and is not intended as a substitute for medical advice and must not be relied upon as such. For any healthcare advice, always consult a healthcare practitioner.

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