Reflux - the facts

We explain all you need to know about reflux
What is reflux?

Reflux is an ailment that affects many young infants, particularly during the first few months of life. It refers to the regurgitation of small quantities of milk after each feed and is surprisingly common.

When your baby feeds the milk they swallow passes from their mouth, down their oesophagus and into their stomach. Normally, the muscular valve (known as the lower oesophageal sphincter) that seals the bottom of the oesophagus contracts and prevents any milk from being regurgitated. However, in younger infants this muscle may not be strong enough to completely seal the gap. As such, milk can sometimes travel back up the tube into baby's oesophagus or mouth, particularly if they are lying down.

This in itself isn't harmful to your baby and providing they are otherwise healthy and gaining weight, it isn't something that you should worry about.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of reflux include:
  • Posseting, or regurgitating small amounts of milk after a feed

  • Hiccups

  • Coughing after a feed as if a little milk has gone down the wrong way

  • Arching back during a feed as if in discomfort

  • Crying after a feed

When should I take baby to see the Doctor?

Many young babies experience some of the symptoms of reflux on a semi-regular basis. Providing your baby is otherwise healthy and appears to be gaining weight as you would expect this isn't something to worry about and it should simply pass as your baby grows. In fact, by the time your baby reaches 12 months of age reflux should no longer be a problem as the muscles of their digestive system will be stronger and they'll be spending more time in an upright position.

However, if your baby is struggling to gain weight, bringing up blood, starting to refuse food or is suffering with a persistent cough, it's important to seek advice from your doctor or health visitor. In this instance it may be that your baby is suffering with Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), a more serious ailment whereby the regurgitation of milk is causing your baby other problems that need to be treated.

How do you treat reflux?

To help reduce the symptoms of reflux you could try the following:
  • Holding baby upright for 20-30 minutes after a feed to help the food settle in their stomach

  • Feeding baby in a more upright position

  • Introducing smaller, more frequent feeds

  • Carrying baby in a sling between feeds/when they become distressed

  • Practicing baby massage
If your baby suffers badly with persistent reflux then your doctor may prescribe a course of antacids or suggest that you use a feed-thickener to help your baby keep their food down and relieve some of the discomfort.

In extreme cases where baby is struggling to gain weight, bringing up blood or suffering with chest infections that develop as a result of the condition, further investigation may be necessary.

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