Reflux is very common in newborns. When your baby feeds, the milk goes down the oesophagus into the stomach. There is a muscle that functions like a valve, which keeps the contents of the stomach from going back up into the oesophagus again. Quite often, this muscle is not yet strong enough in newborn babies. This results in the milk coming back up, together with the stomach acid. This causes pain and/or discomfort for poor little bub. Sometimes the milk comes right out through the mouth, as in vomiting, spitting or posseting. With babies that suffer from silent reflux, the milk doesn’t come out but stays in the oesophagus and then goes back into the stomach. Silent reflux does not mean that your baby is silent!
Some general symptoms of reflux are:
- spitting, vomiting or posseting after most feeds
- crying and not settling, especially after feeds
- arching the back, wriggling
In between feeds, a reflux baby can often be very happy and even sleep well. It is the feeding, the food going down and coming back up again that causes the pain and discomfort. What can help is having your baby in an upright position during feeding and for 20-30 minutes after, so that gravity helps the food stay down.
You can also try to give little bits of milk at a time and feed more often. This will prevent the stomach to become very full. Having said this, for some babies it works better to have a full feed and less often. I’m afraid you will have to experiment to find out what works best for you and your baby.
Baby massage can help as well. Although you obviously can’t massage the actual muscle involved, general massage will have an effect. The skin to skin contact that you have with your baby during massage stimulates the vagus nerve, situated in the brain, which branches out to most organs. When this nerve is activated, it will in turn stimulate the development of the organs and muscles/nerves attached to them.
For babies suffering from reflux, we recommend having them lying on a blanket or cushion on a 45° angle during massage. Be careful while massaging the tummy, and for back massage it might be more comfortable for your baby to lie on its side. You can support your baby with one hand at their front, while your other hand performs the massage strokes on the back.
In most cases, the muscle will strengthen during your baby’s development, and as the stomach grows as well, there will be less and less reflux over time. Mind you, in some cases there is more going on and medical intervention might be needed. It is recommended to always seek advice from your GP, family health nurse or paediatrician.