Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Babies and How to Help

May 23, 2018

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Babies and How to Help

If your baby is cranky, it may be due to a digestive issue.

Does your baby have trouble sleeping in his crib and has bouts of uncontrollable crying? Does your little one have a tendency to spit up a lot? Approximately one-third of babies spit up on a regular basis, not seeming overly bothered by it. Yet many others experience symptoms that can be painful and may interfere with sleeping, feeding, growth and development. The cause could be a digestive issue known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or heartburn. Before you begin to panic at the term “disease,” know that this is a very common condition in babies that is usually remedied fairly easily.

GERD, or reflux for short, occurs when the stomach’s contents make their way back up the esophagus, irritating its lining. Reflux can cause a varying amount of pain, depending on the severity of each baby’s case. If the stomach contents come up only a little, baby may experience some pain but not spit up while others may have reflux that is severe enough for the contents of the stomach to come all the way up. Babies with severe reflux tend to spit up a lot – especially when lying flat.

What are the Signs of GERD?

If your child has signs of reflux, it is advisable that you talk to his doctor. A baby may have reflux if he exhibits any of the following symptoms:

  • Colic (lengthy episodes of crying)
  • Restless sleep
  • Pain after feeding
  • Frequent wet or sour burps
  • Wakes frequently at night
  • Breathing difficulties such as wheezing, frequent respiratory infections, stop-breathing episodes
  • Arches his back and squirms in pain
  • Makes, gagging, choking and/or raspy breathing noises
  • Shows lack of interest in eating

Keep a diary before seeing your pediatrician, recording any of your baby’s experiences during each episode, including: how severe you feel the episode was, signs and symptoms you noticed and their duration as well as time of day, any treatments you have tried, and whether symptoms seem to be improving.

Treating Reflux in Babies

Give more frequent feedings. Some babies are more susceptible to symptoms of reflux when their stomach is too full. Try increasing baby’s frequency of feedings while decreasing the amount at each feed.

Change in diet. If your baby is breastfed, consider changing your diet. Some studies have shown that babies with reflux benefit when the breastfeeding mother removes dairy and eggs from her diet.  If your baby is formula-fed, you may want to consider a change in formula.

Burp baby more often. Be sure to frequently burp your baby. This can help with reflux symptoms. Breastfed babies can be burped any time they pull off of the nipple. If your baby is bottle-fed, try burping him after every one to two ounces.

Keep baby upright after feedings. Symptoms of reflux can be worse when baby is lying down, which can cause more discomfort from stomach acid rising up their esophagus and possibly more spit up. This is why many doctors recommend infants be kept upright for some time after feedings.

Consider baby’s sleeping position. Doctors may also recommend infants with reflux sleep in an elevated position to minimize symptoms that can be brought on by a flat-lying position. A sleeping wedge is designed to fit in a crib, either on top of or beneath a mattress and is a great way to keep your baby upright during sleep.

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