Does your little one spit up milk during or right after the feed?
Is she unsettled and irritated during the feed, or perhaps has hiccups and coughing while eating? Or maybe she refuses to eat at all?
How about sleeping? Not great, huh?
And does she gain enough weight and keep falling off her centile?
There’s a good chance that acid reflux is wreaking havoc on your baby’s life.
Luckily, there are a few simple lifestyle adjustments and a few less conventional methods that you can try to improve your baby’s symptoms.
So, give it a try and hopefully, with a bit of luck, you will get your baby’s acid reflux under control until the condition naturally subsides.
How Can I Help My Baby With Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux can make even the happiest bunny feel miserable. Although the condition resolves itself with time, in the meantime, there are a few things you can try to help your little one along the way. First of all, ensure your baby eats often – but small meals, ideally in a vertical position. She should stay in that position for at least 20 min post feed. So, no sleeping or tummy time right after food is recommended. You should also burp your baby during and after the feed – multiple times. If you haven’t done so yet – start eliminating common food allergens from your diet (the diary is a fair place to start). You can introduce probiotics to your baby to help boost the beneficial bacteria in their gut and help with digestion. And finally, think about alternative medicine such as paediatric chiropractic treatment. This method is proven to alleviate your baby’s acid reflux symptoms.
How Does Reflux Affect My Baby?
Gastroesophageal reflux (GER), commonly known as acid reflux, often affects newborns.
This condition causes the backward flow of stomach contents – including acid – into the esophagus (a tube that connects the throat to the stomach).
Typically, about 50% of babies will experience acid reflux within the first 3 months of their lives. But, they should outgrow this condition by the time they turn 12 months.
This can be attributed to the weak and underdeveloped lower esophageal sphincter, responsible for keeping the stomach acid where it should be. Due to the acid, the esophagus becomes irritated, causing a burning sensation and milk spit-up.
Sometimes acid reflux can progress to gastroesophageal reflux disease GERD – a more severe form of acid reflux and less common in infants.
Here’s how you can soothe your baby’s discomfort caused by acid reflux.
1. Adjust Feeding Position
Make sure you feed your little one in an upright with the back straight and try to keep her up for at least 20 minutes after the feed. This (and gravity) will help keep the food and stomach acid where it should be and prevent it from coming up.
This also means you will have to hold and carry your baby. A lot.
Babywearing can be helpful in such situations, using a baby carrier or sling.
2. Smaller But More Frequent Feeds
The baby’s stomach is still very small and cannot handle being full very well. Meaning – the stomach content usually comes back up when full. That’s because of the extra pressure that the full stomach puts on the lower esophageal sphincter, which aggravates reflux.
Therefore, you should try feeding your little one more frequently, as well as watching how much you feed her.
It can be tricky with breastfed babies. Approximately the same amount of milk can be consumed by some babies in five minutes, while others require forty minutes.
So, the best advice with breastfed babies is to feed on demand and let them decide how long they want to eat.
Because you can’t overfeed breastfed babies.
3. Burp During And After Feeding
You MUST burp your little one during and after feeding.
That’s because the extra air swallowed during feeding can make spitting up more likely. Furthermore, if the baby hasn’t been burped thoroughly, she will have difficulty sleeping for a long stretch. That’s because she is in pain caused by excess gas and won’t let her sleep. And we don’t want that, do we?
You can burp your baby in a different position, but make sure you hold her upright with a straight back to avoid putting pressure on her stomach.
Remember to take some breaks during feeding for burping as well.
Check out how your baby is trying to tell you she needs to burp in my post – What Is My Baby Trying To Tell Me?
4. Adjust Sleeping Routine
It is quite common for many parents to put the baby down right after feeding.
Well, this won’t work with babies suffering from reflux.
That’s because if you lie down your little one on her back with a full stomach, she will be uncomfortable, and the acid will travel up to her throat.
Therefore, make sure there is a sufficient gap between feeding and naps/bedtime – at least 20 minutes.
It will not only reduce spit-up but also allow your baby to begin digesting the meal.
As a bonus – your little one will learn the essential skill of falling asleep independently and separating feedings from sleep!
5. Tummy Time Only Before Feeding
… as a follow up from the point above. You should avoid placing your baby on their FRONT & BACK – so basically horizontally – right after a feed.
Don’t get me wrong – tummy time is so necessary for your baby’s healthy development, and its benefits cannot be understated.
Just don’t do it right after feeding. Wait at least 20 min to reduce the likelihood of vomiting and upsetting your little one.
6. Review Your Diet
If you are a breastfeeding mom, it might be a good idea to review your diet. Your baby may be sensitive to some foods you eat that pass through your breast milk.
You should find out if there is a link between the food you take and your baby reflux symptoms.
The high chances are your baby may have a dairy intolerance, specifically a milk protein allergy.
Try to eliminate all dairy products from your diet and replace them with lactose-free alternatives.
It will take your body at least 2 weeks to clear out of the protein, so don’t expect to see any changes in your baby’s reflux symptoms before that.
Formula-feeding parents should consult their paediatrician before switching to dairy-free formula. Note that such milk is much more expensive and not particularly tasty for babies.
But you can get around it by mixing the regular formula with protein-free milk. As your baby becomes accustomed to dairy-free milk, you can gradually increase its proportion.
Other popular foods that are common allergens are eggs, soy, seafood, caffeine, sugary products. So, start eliminating one by one until you see some positive response in your baby’s condition.
7. Use Milk Thickener
So, milk thickener is basically about adding some rice cereal to the formula or expressed milk to make it thicker.
Although it won’t stop the reflux episodes, it will decrease the amount of spit-up. It’s because thickened food is heavier and therefore harder to bring back up.
You need to get the proportions right because the rice cereal will add extra calories – which may not always be beneficial. The general guideline is 1 tablespoon of dry baby cereal to 1- 30 g scoop of formula.
But, before trying this strategy, consult your GP or paediatrician first if your baby can take extra calories.
8. Paediatric Chiropractic Care
I realise that chiropractic treatment may not be the first option that would spring to your mind.
It is a complementary and alternative medicine that is becoming increasingly popular nowadays.
I used chiropractic care with my younger daughter. And it worked wonders for us. So, in my opinion – definitely worth trying.
Chiropractic treatment has proven to help relieve acid reflux, gas, sleep difficulties in babies. Especially if you observe your little one arching back frequently.
The back arching can be a symptom of the misalignment of the spine that may have occurred during birth. This spinal misalignment may be the reason for the acid reflux.
Chiropractic treatment involves stimulating the nervous system and realigning the spine. Ultimately, this will restore full gastric function and improve the ability of the lower esophageal sphincter to control food flow.
The adjustment is made by a soft and gentle touch of the spine to restore the body to the way it should be.
So perhaps, it would be worth taking your baby for a chiropractic assessment to check for any spinal issues.
9. Baby Probiotics
This method may also come as a surprise, but I have used it for my daughters. And it did the job…
Probiotics are live cultures of “good” bacteria, similar to that found naturally in the body. They protect against harmful bacteria and benefit your baby’s gut health (also known as the microbiome), help their immune system and protect them from infections.
According to recent research, probiotics may relieve acid reflux, constipation, and colic in babies.
When babies are born, their gastrointestinal system is simply sterile – free of microorganisms. So, they need to build up the bacteria.
Probiotics are there to speed up the process of adding good bacteria. These good bacteria will prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying and causing inflammation or infection.
And the fact is, babies with colic and reflux have lower levels of these beneficial bacteria in their gut, causing all these digestion issues. Therefore, to help resolve acid reflux and other conditions causing their distress – they need more friendly bacteria.
Giving your baby the right strain of probiotics – such as Bifidobacterium or Lactobacillus rhamnosus will improve their microbiome diversity. And this is very helpful for the development of their digestive system.
Baby probiotics come as liquid drops that can be easily administered to a newborn.
However, as they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration – you should always consult your doctor on the appropriate strain and dosage.
What To Do If The Lifestyle Changes Don’t Help?
Consult your baby’s paediatrician if you tried everything and the symptoms did not improve.
Medication will likely be prescribed to relieve the pain or reduce stomach acid. However, there is an increased risk of infection because stomach acid protects against bacteria present in food and drink.
It is also possible that your little one may have developed GERD or other medical problems.
So, correct diagnosis and medical treatment are necessary to get the best treatment for your baby.
Final Few Lines
There is no doubt that acid reflux can be very upsetting for babies and parents.
I understand that it is easier said than done, but the sad reality is – you need to be patient and basically wait it out.
Because acid reflux won’t last forever (although it may feel like an eternity).
The reflux will eventually go away, but when exactly – it is a very individual matter and really depends on the baby.
The good news is – there are quite a few things you can do to reduce your baby’s discomfort and the severity of the symptoms.
If, however, your baby still exhibits reflux symptoms after 12 months, you should consult your baby’s doctor for advice and treatment.