If you have a baby or infant with gastric reflux then you are also likely to be a parent who suffers from loss of sleep!  Any parents in a similar situation will sympathise with you, but how can you help your little one when they seem so upset.

Well, here’s a quick overview of everything you need to know about gastric reflux in babies and infants. We’ve also added in a few tips on how to relieve your baby’s symptoms and help them to feel much better and more at ease.

What is gastric reflux?

Gastric reflux is a medical term for heartburn (also known as gastroesophageal reflux, GOR or posseting), which is when the contents of the stomach reverse direction and come back up the throat and into the mouth. The most common cause of this condition is an immature lower oesophageal sphincter (the ring of muscle at the bottom of the throat). This sphincter opens when your baby swallows and it closes when they are not swallowing. GOR occurs because this sphincter is not fully developed at birth and may not close tightly enough to prevent reflux.

How common is gastric reflux?

Gastric reflux due to an immature lower oesophageal sphincter is very common in babies and infants. It tends to peak at 4 months of age and goes away between 12 months and 18 months of age. There are no official statistics concerning the incidence of GOR, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it occurs in about 50% of babies and infants.

2 types of reflux

Whilst GOR is not serious, GORD (also known as GERD or gastric oesophageal reflux disease) can become quite troublesome. GORD occurs when the refluxed milk or food contains enough acid to irritate the oesophagus. As you can imagine, this can be very painful for babies and infants.

Signs of gastric reflux in babies and infants

Let’s take a look at two different types of gastric reflux and the signs you may notice in your little one.

GOR: Signs of posseting are often limited to spitting up milk (happy chuckers), and these babies are generally well, happy and gaining sufficient weight.

GORD: Signs include poor weight gain, feeding refusal, irritability after feeding, frequent vomiting, stomach pains, coughing, arching of the back, gagging, choking and disturbed sleep.

2 Conditions that can be confused with gastric reflux

These are two conditions that can be confused with GOR and GORD, exacerbate them or actually cause them. Whilst they are not very common, it’s can be worth knowing they exist.

  1. Pyloric stenosis: This is where the valve between the stomach and small intestine is too narrow and stops the stomach contents from emptying properly. The food backs up, forces its way through the lower oesophageal sphincter and exits via the throat and mouth. Signs include weight loss, lack of energy, fewer bowel movements, constipation, ravenous hunger, forceful vomiting and frequent mucous stools.
  2. Milk intolerances: This is often due to an allergy to one of the proteins in cow’s milk. Signs include vomiting, loose stools, wheezing, stomach pains, and swelling of the lips, face, eyes, throat or tongue.

What can you do to help your baby?

Obviously, the treatment will depend on the type of reflux suffered by your little one. So the following tips are general in nature and should help any baby or infant with GOR.

  • Small frequent feeds: Don’t overfill your baby’s stomach with big feeds or meals, instead feed your baby or infant small amounts very frequently.
  • Inclined positions: Keeping your baby or infant at an incline when they feed and for 20 mins afterwards can help prevent posseting and keep the milk in their stomach. Invest in a supportive baby carrier – being upright can help your baby feel comfortable and sleep during the day.
  • Avoid smoking: Some studies have shown that smoking around babies can cause GOR, so avoid this activity if possible.
  • Burp frequently: Burping your baby frequently during their feed helps prevent a big bubble of wind collecting in their stomachs, which often brings up a lot of milk at the same time. So small frequent burps during a feed is recommended.

Hopefully, this information will settle your little one so everyone can have a good night’s sleep!

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