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Acid reflux, often referred to as gastroesophageal reflux (GER), is a condition that affects many babies during their early months of life. In fact, it's more common than you might think! Studies have shown that approximately 50% of infants experience some degree of acid reflux.
In this article, we embark on a journey to help you better understand and manage the stormy seas of acid reflux in babies. From identifying baby reflux symptoms to effective strategies for relief, we're here to ensure your little one finds some much-needed comfort!
Put simply, infant reflux is when your baby's stomach contents decide to make a U-turn and head back up the tube connecting their mouth to their stomach, known as the esophagus. This can be pretty common and can happen to people of all ages, but it occurs more frequently after meals.
Our bellies contain a special stomach acid that helps break down the food we eat. So, when this stomach acid decides to take a trip back up along with our stomach contents, it can irritate the lining of the esophagus, leading to discomfort or even pain.
Normal reflux is common in babies, and it affects nearly half of all little ones to some extent. There's even a nifty little name for these tots, happy spitters! You may have also heard it called 'posseting' or 'regurgitation,' and that's because you can often see some of their milk making a return trip after a feeding session. In the world of medicine, it's simply called reflux.
Your baby's reflux episodes are mostly likely to occur during the first year of life due to the immaturity of their gastroesophageal muscle and digestive tract. Importantly, happy spitters do not experience discomfort or other symptoms and typically gain weight well. So, if you've got a baby who's not keeping everything down, know that this is normal, and most babies outgrow it with time!
Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER)
According to The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), gastroesophageal reflux (GER) is a frequent culprit behind regurgitation and spitting up among infants (source).
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
However, when gastroesophageal reflux (GER) becomes more severe and persists over an extended period, it is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD in infants might exhibit additional symptoms, including irritability, decreased appetite, or episodes of vomiting.
Recognizing Acid Reflux: Baby Reflux Symptoms to Watch Out For
Often, a physician is able to diagnose reflux by evaluating your baby's symptoms and medical history. So, if you notice any of the following newborn acid reflux symptoms, it may be time to pay your baby's doctor a visit!
Infant Reflux Symptoms:
Frequent Spitting Up: Your baby may frequently spit up, sometimes forcefully, after meals.
Irritability: Acid reflux can make your baby fussy and irritable, particularly after eating.
Back Arching: Some babies may arch their backs or stiffen their bodies due to reflux discomfort.
Coughing and Wheezing: Reflux in newborns can cause irritation in the throat and airways, which can lead to coughing and wheezing.
Poor Weight Gain: If your baby struggles to gain weight or loses weight, symptoms of reflux may be a contributing factor.
Difficulty Swallowing: Babies with reflux may have trouble swallowing, often accompanied by gagging or choking during feeds.
Frequent Hiccups: Persistent hiccups can also signal reflux in infants.
Difficulty Sleeping: Signs of baby reflux at night can disrupt your baby's sleep, leading to frequent night awakenings.
Normal Spitting Up vs Signs of Reflux in Infants
It's important to distinguish between normal spitting up, which most infants do to some extent and signs of reflux in babies. While both can involve regurgitation of stomach contents, here's how you can tell the difference:
Normal Spitting Up: This typically occurs in small amounts, and your baby is usually content and thriving between feedings. It's often effortless, and your baby doesn't seem bothered by it. Spitting up is just a natural part of a baby's digestive process, and it doesn't usually involve discomfort or pain.
Acid Reflux: On the other hand, if you're dealing with reflux in babies, symptoms are associated with more significant spit-ups, fussiness, and signs of discomfort. Your baby may cry or show signs of pain after feedings, and you might notice other symptoms like coughing, wheezing, or gaining weight poorly.
If you suspect that your baby's spitting up is accompanied by these distressing symptoms, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper evaluation and guidance on managing infant acid reflux.
Causes of Newborn Acid Reflux Symptoms
In the early stages of life, your baby's digestive system is still maturing, which plays a significant role in the occurrence of acid reflux. Fortunately, in most cases, reflux in infants is a normal part of their development and does not cause significant problems.
Potential Causes and Risk Factors for Reflux in Newborns
While the exact causes can vary from one baby to another, potential factors contributing to acid reflux in infants include:
Weak Gastroesophageal Muscle: Acid reflux often occurs because the lower esophageal sphincter muscle, responsible for opening to allow food or milk into the stomach and closing to keep it there, is weak or immature. This weakness can result in the contents of the stomach flowing back into the esophagus, leading to reflux.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): When acid reflux becomes more problematic and persistent, it's often referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD symptoms can be triggered by factors such as a very weak lower esophageal sphincter or delayed emptying of the stomach.
Prematurity: Premature infants are at a higher risk of experiencing newborn reflux symptoms. Their digestive systems may not be fully developed, including the lower esophageal sphincter muscles responsible for preventing reflux.
Certain Health Conditions: Infants with certain health problems, such as a hiatal hernia or neurological disorders, may be more prone to acid reflux.
Reflux in Babies Symptoms and Treatment
When it comes to addressing reflux in infants, it's important to remember that each baby is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Furthermore, acid reflux in babies can range from mild inconvenience to more severe symptoms, so it's crucial to consult a healthcare professional for a proper evaluation and guidance.
Home Remedies and Lifestyle Changes that May Help Manage Newborn Reflux Symptoms
While professional medical advice should be your primary source of guidance, there are some home remedies and lifestyle changes that can help alleviate mild reflux symptoms:
Feeding Adjustments: Offer your baby smaller, more frequent meals to prevent overfilling the stomach, which can contribute to reflux. Burp your baby frequently during and after feedings.
Thickened Feedings: Some formula-fed babies benefit from using thickened formula; alternatively, if you're nursing your little one, thickened breast milk. Thickeners should be discussed with your baby's health care provider first. Moreover, do not add rice cereal to your baby's bottle unless advised by your doctor, as this can be harmful to their health.
Hold Your Baby Upright: Keep your baby in an upright position for at least 30 minutes after feeding to allow gravity to work in your favor.
Avoid Tight Clothing: Dress your baby in loose-fitting clothes to avoid putting pressure on the abdomen.
Avoid Trigger Foods: If you're breastfeeding, pay attention to your diet. Some babies may be sensitive to certain foods that can exacerbate reflux symptoms. Common culprits include caffeine, spicy foods, and citrus.
Keep Baby Calm: Stress and agitation can worsen GERD in infants, so creating a calm and soothing environment for your baby can help.
Anti-Reflux Formulas: Introducing HiPP Anti-Reflux and BebeM
Two notable options for managing infant acid reflux are HiPP Anti-Reflux and BebeM special formulas!
HiPP's AR formula is a possible solution to managing GERD in infants. Its natural thickening agent from carob fruit reduces regurgitation and vomiting by aiding stomach retention, while the fiber-rich carob fruit gum encourages regular bowel movements!
HiPP's commitment to natural ingredients includes probiotic lactic acid cultures originally extracted from real breast milk, providing a formula close to nature. Enriched with essential nutrients, including prebiotics, fatty acids (DHA and ARA), and vitamins A, D, and C, it supports development, digestion, and a strong immune system.
Bebe M offers an innovative vegan formula range made from 100% organic rice protein hydrolysate, achieved through a natural enzyme process for enhanced digestibility. The formula is thickened with carob gum and corn starch to help keep stomach contents in and infant reflux at bay. Plus, BebeM is European and AB France certified-organic!
This formula is free from common allergens (milk, dairy, gluten, soy, and nuts), making it ideal for infants with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance. It contains no palm oil, GMOs, artificial flavors, or colors, and is rich in essential nutrients like vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, minerals, and essential fatty acids (DHA, ALA, and LA).
While most cases of infant reflux are manageable, certain signs of reflux in babies should prompt you to seek immediate medical attention. Consulting healthcare professionals is essential when experiencing newborn reflux symptoms, especially if they include forceful regurgitation, abnormal spit-up colors, or signs of pain and discomfort. Red flags include the following:
Forceful Regurgitation: If your baby's regurgitation escalates to what is called projectile vomiting, where vomit is expelled with significant force and lands some distance away.
Abnormal Color: If your baby vomits green or yellow fluid (potentially indicating bile, a bitter digestive fluid) or if it appears to contain blood.
New or Worsening Problems: Should your baby develop new or worsening issues, such as frequent crying or distress, feeding refusal, poor weight gain, or ongoing acid reflux beyond the age of one year.
FAQs About Signs of Reflux in Babies
Navigating your baby's reflux symptoms can be a challenging part of parenthood. Here are some frequently asked questions about the signs of reflux in babies:
How can I help my baby with acid reflux?
Keep feedings calm and quiet, and hold your baby upright during feeding and for at least 30 minutes afterward. Offer smaller, more frequent meals, and ensure your baby's clothing isn't tight around the tummy.
How do you know if your baby has acid reflux?
Common signs include frequent spit-up or vomiting, discomfort when lying down, persistent cough or wheezing, and refusal to eat or difficulty eating.
What triggers acid reflux in babies?
Overfeeding, lying flat too much of the time, and consuming certain foods (if breastfeeding) can trigger reflux. Also, one of the most common causes of reflux in babies is due to the immaturity of the gastroesophageal muscle.
Is acid reflux painful for babies?
Typically, babies spit up due to an underdeveloped gastroesophageal muscle, and it's usually harmless, not affecting their overall well-being or growth—they're the so-called "happy spitters." Concern arises when reflux leads to discomfort or resembles heartburn, indicating a more significant issue.
When does reflux peak in babies?
Reflux often peaks at 4 to 5 months old and usually improves by 6 to 12 months as the baby's digestive system matures.
What is silent reflux in babies?
Silent reflux, or LPR, happens when a baby's stomach contents flow back into the throat without vomiting. Symptoms include discomfort after feeding and frequent hiccups or coughs.
Overcoming acid reflux in babies is possible, and with the right support, you can help your baby find relief and comfort. Notably, anti-reflux formulas like HiPP Anti-Reflux and Bebe M can offer relief when used under the guidance and approval of a pediatrician. While home remedies and formulas can be effective, it's essential to reach out to healthcare professionals when necessary.
Please be aware that this information is based on general trends in babies, and it is not medical advice. Your doctor should be your first source of information and advice when considering any changes to your child’s formula and when choosing your child’s formula. Always consult your pediatrician before making any decisions about your child’s diet or if you notice any changes in your child.
Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby because breast milk provides your child with all the essential nutrients they need for growth and development. Please consult your pediatrician if your child requires supplemental feeding.
Dr. Agustina Fernandez earned her medical degree from the prestigious Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Argentina. With a deep-rooted passion for pediatrics, Dr. Fernandez is currently on the path to specializing in children's healthcare. Recently, she has delved into the vital field of infant nutrition. Her research interests include breastfeeding, infant formula, and baby food in little ones’ formative years. Dr. Fernandez's commitment to this area of study underscores her dedication to ensuring the health and well-being of children from their earliest days.