How Can I Help My Baby With Reflux?
What works one time in soothing a refluxing baby may not always work the rest of the time. This can add to parents’ confusion in knowing what is sure to bring a state of calm to a refluxing baby.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to helping a baby with reflux. Over the early months when reflux is more common, most parents develop a range of soothing skills. During unsettled periods a variety of strategies can be used, either one at a time or in combination.
Sometimes it can help to just stick with one strategy and try it for a while. For example, slowing feeds down for a few days, and then keeping the baby upright after feeds, elevating the change table, and so on. Too many changes at one time can lead to increased unsettledness, especially for those babies who have a more sensitive temperament, and are challenged by a lot of differences all at once.
Soothing Strategies for Reflux Care
- Hold your baby so they’re sitting upright. Either on your lap or so they’re being held facing outwards with their bottom against your own tummy. Alternately, so the baby is positioned upright in your arms with their chest against your shoulder, facing outwards.
- Gentle rocking, jiggling or swaying whilst holding the baby securely may help.
- Deep, warm baths and a massage afterwards. Take your time and don’t rush this. The idea is to soothe and calm the baby, so it’s important to be in the right headspace first.
- Placing the baby in a pouch or pram and going for a walk.
- Go for a drive. Avoid doing this when your baby is screaming and you’re going to be the driver. The distraction will be too risky.
- Dress your baby in comfortably loose clothing. Avoid wrapping them too tightly, check their nappy isn’t too restricting and give them space to move freely.
- Aim to hold your baby upright for 30 minutes after they’ve finished feeding. And try to slow their feed times down to 30-40 minutes duration if they’re bottle feeding.
What Are Some Tips for Reflux Care?
Keep an absorbent cloth close-by at all times, especially after feeding.
Try to keep your baby upright during feeds, rather than laying them flat. Keep your baby upright for 30 minutes after they’ve fed.
Burp your baby more frequently during feed times. If they fuss because you’ve temporarily stopped feeding, stand up and have a little walk around. Distraction can help.
Slow your baby’s feeds down. Aim for at least 30 minutes if formula-feeding, and even longer for breastfeeds.
Elevate your baby’s change table so they’re not lying perfectly flat.
Plan not to place your baby into their car seat and go for a drive immediately after they’ve fed.
Avoid jiggling your baby and moving them vigorously after feeding. Wait a while to play the more active games you both enjoy.
Avoid overfeeding your baby. Reflux is more likely to happen when the baby’s stomach is over distended with milk. Smaller amounts of milk, more often, may be better tolerated than larger volumes less frequently.
Understand that your baby’s reflux is not under your control. With time, most babies outgrow refluxing behaviour and their digestion matures to the point where reflux has resolved. In the meantime, managing their symptoms with changes of position can make a big difference.
What Shouldn't I Do When My Baby Has Reflux?
You need to always follow safe sleeping recommendations. Healthcare experts are clear that the safest way for a baby to sleep is on their back.
What If My Baby Vomits When They Are Lying Flat?
Back sleeping is actually protective if a baby vomits. Healthy, well babies who sleep on their back are less likely to choke on their vomit than babies who sleep on their tummy or their side. This is because the upper respiratory airways are positioned above the oesophagus, not underneath it.
What Do We Know to Be True With Reflux Care?
- Babies tend to outgrow reflux as their digestive system matures. Management strategies are unlikely to be needed for the long term – they are ways to help get through a trying first few months.
- It can be dangerous to elevate a baby’s cot and/or use slings to keep them upright in their cot. Pillows, towels or blankets have no place in a baby’s cot. They are a suffocation risk.
- Some days are better than others for babies with reflux. For no obvious reason, a baby with reflux may seem to be improving and then their reflux symptoms return.
- Most commonly there is no link between a breastfeeding mother’s diet and her baby’s behaviour. However, some babies are sensitive to milk proteins in their mother’s diet. Speak with your healthcare professional if you’re concerned.
- Overtiredness can seem to make reflux symptoms worse. Crying, fussiness, changes in feeding and general behaviour are all common symptoms in a baby who is overtired.
- It’s important sometimes for parents to walk away and have a break. Give your baby to another trusted adult to care for temporarily, or place your baby in their cot and have a 5-10 minute break from each other.
- Sometimes babies don’t need much help to settle to sleep. After a short period of whinging they are able to independently settle. Like adults, too much fussing when we’re trying to relax can be intrusive.
What’s Important With Reflux Care?
- You’re trying. As long as love and a genuine sense of wanting the best for your baby are your motivating factors, you’re entitled to feel confident that you’re doing all you can.
- You try to stay calm. Babies do ‘pick up’ on their parents’ emotions and tension. If you’re feeling stressed and anxious, the chances are your baby will too. Practice a state of calm mindfulness as you patiently care for your baby.
- Your baby is still thriving. Rarely, reflux symptoms are a sign of more complex physical conditions. As long as your baby is still well, gaining weight and healthy, it’s reasonable to feel confident they will outgrow their reflux behaviour.
Will My Baby Grow Out of Reflux?
Most babies with reflux grow out of it without any specific treatment. By the toddler years, it’s unusual to still see children troubled by reflux symptoms. Gravity plays a big part in alleviating reflux symptoms. Once a child is upright and sitting, no longer spending long hours on their back or tummy, reflux tends to no longer be an issue.
Speak with Your Healthcare Professional
Sometimes reflux symptoms impact on the baby’s growth or their care. Medication can be prescribed if a baby is not thriving because of Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD).
Reflux medications can change the acidity of the stomach acid (pH) and also the timing of the stomach emptying. However, it’s important that medication is only given for babies who genuinely need it. There are protective benefits from the acidity of the stomach acid and altering this can lead to other digestive changes. Speak with your healthcare professional about what’s right for you and your baby.
Always speak and check with a qualified nurse or healthcare professional about your baby to understand what your baby’s individual needs are, especially if you are ever concerned about your baby's well being.