Reflux is seen to be a medical condition and in some instances that’s absolutely right. If this is the case for you, you’ll need the help of your GP. However, there are also other instances where reflux can be fully managed by the parents without medical interventions, medications or tests. If it’s mild reflux it can be managed at home but a lot of people don’t realise that.
As a parent and baby coach, I bridge the gap between medical advice and managing reflux before you get to the stage you have to see a doctor for medication. From my experience, you don’t have to live with a baby who is crying and uncomfortable; there’s always something that we can do about it.
This is my number one passion when it comes to working with babies like this and I aim to empower parents to find solutions to support their baby’s development at all stages.
What is reflux?
On many websites, if you research what reflux is, you’ll be told that reflux is when a baby brings up milk during or shortly after feeding. They will then go on to say that it’s very common and it will get better at some point. However, what I know from working with thousands of clients is that the hiccupping, coughing, not swallowing, spitting up, not settling, not gaining weight and crying can be really traumatic for many parents.
It impacts on sleep and families’ well-being and that’s often when parents reach out to me for support. Often you’ll be told to only seek help if your baby isn’t gaining weight, if they’re over 12 months or if the things you have tried aren’t working. As much as I always support the NHS and health organisations, I do think that this advice isn’t sufficient for many parents. Essentially we’re told not to worry if they’re sick a lot. Actually, this isn’t good enough!
Reflux isn’t just about being sick or not gaining weight. There’s so much more to it than that.
The definition I use of reflux can be quite different to the above, because I believe reflux is many different things. Personally, I would say reflux means your baby could be sick or losing weight, but the reality is there are so many other things that could fit under the umbrella term of reflux.
Reflux is the regurgitation of some stomach acid that rides up the oesophagus, but it might not come out so your baby may not be sick. Reflux is regurgitation, either that comes out of the mouth or that remains inside the body. Therefore, reflux cannot be defined as a ‘baby being sick’ because silent reflux is where the burning will still happen and be sore but it doesn’t actually come out of the mouth. This is where it gets complicated!
If your baby is losing weight…
If your baby is losing weight please seek medical advice and see your GP if reflux is affecting their weight gain. For my average client, with a baby who suffers from regurgitation, most of them will be gaining plenty of weight but’s still uncomfortable on some level. Measuring reflux by weight-gain can be important but it isn’t the only sign to look out for.
Signs your baby have reflux
This is by no means an exclusive list! A lot of these symptoms on their own are completely normal. It’s when we start to put them together that a diagnosis of reflux is likely. This list is built from my years of experience in helping hundreds of clients with reflux babies and my own experience as a parent.
- Baby can be described as being quite ‘windy’
- Your baby is often quite ‘sicky’ – posseting, not projectile vomiting
- Projectile vomiting – quite forceful, out of the nose and mouth
- Gagging / trying to swallow sick back down – signs of silent reflux
- Leaking of clear liquid from the mouth – it might look like dribbling
- Lots of drooling
- Having a lot more saliva and blowing bubbles
- You might find your baby has an acidic smell to their sick or their drool / mouths / saliva
- Grunting – either during the daytime and night time, sometimes worse during the early hours in the morning
- Nasal / respiratory congestion – a raspy sound at the back of their nose / throat made from the regurgitation of stomach acid; as if they have a permanent cold
- Hiccupping regularly and often
- Gulping when feeding – meaning a lot of air is being taken in
- Choking on milk-flow – look at the latch and flow, if breastfeeding
- Refusing to feed / feeding for a little bit and less often – babies might not want to drink a lot because it is uncomfortable
- They may overfeed – this could be because they’re uncomfortable so the milk can soothe their oesophagus
- Stomach gurgling
- Arching of the back and being unhappy when feeding
- Crying a lot after a feed due to being uncomfortable
- They may have explosive and runny poos
- Green poo – consistent green can mean reflux
- Snotty mucus in their poo quite regularly
- Constipation and finding it hard to go
Less obvious symptoms of reflux:
- Not being able to sleep beyond one sleep cycle
- Sleep habits being affected quite regularly
- Difficult to settle to sleep or will only sleep on you or in the sling
- Struggling to stay asleep
- Not liking sleeping on their back
- Waking up very quickly after falling asleep
Reflux is often over diagnosed when parents start to work on sleep because a symptom of reflux can be that baby does not sleep well, particularly in the daytime. It’s very unusual for there to be a reason why a baby doesn’t sleep and interestingly it’s the daytime sleep that is most affected by reflux. This means that looking at sleep, alongside these other symptoms, can give you a really clear indication if reflux may be present or not.
My final two questions that I always ask clients if I think reflux may be present are not scientific and I wouldn’t want you to consider them as definitive when it comes to reflux! But I am sharing them because they can sometimes be really important to notice. They are:
1. Does your baby like the car seat?
2. Do they sleep well in the pram?
Reflux babies often won’t like car journeys and find it hard to sleep in the pram and, if they do sleep, they wake after 30-40 minutes. These two symptoms are ones I often see with my 1-1 clients and are things to consider when wondering if reflux could be present. Again, as ever, if your baby doesn’t like the car seat that doesn’t mean that they have reflux but, if baby is showing some of the symptoms discussed above, then it could be linked.
For more information, see our other articles on reflux.