Does Your Baby Suffer From Reflux? How You Can Help.
When my baby boy was about three weeks old, something was severely bothering him. He was obviously hungry, but did not want to eat, and he cried as if he was in pain. Watching his behavior to figure out were the problem lied, I finally came to the conclusion: It must be reflux! Find out if your baby is suffering from reflux and what you can do about it.
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What Is Reflux?
Infant Reflux is best explained as a baby’s inability to “keep the milk down”. This means that the content of a baby’s stomach flows back into the food pipe (esophagus) or right up into the mouth. The esophageal sphincter usually keeps the lower esophagus closed to prevent food and stomach acid from traveling up. This ring of muscles can be very weak in infants and thus, does not close properly. Reflux is a quite painful condition and can turn the calmest baby into a crying machine.
Reflux in infants is very common and can be distressing for parents and child. Especially, when the reflux makes it hard to eat, babies can get very fussy. Typically, infants with reflux vomit often and in large amounts. Sometimes it can be even projectile. Gaging, coughing and choking in between feeds or during sleep can all be indicators for a baby struggling with food backing up.
Since reflux causes pain babies might cry a lot and look like they are straining. Their little faces can turn quite red and their crying may be very intense. You might wonder what is hurting your precious darling or why you are unable to comfort her/him. Everything that usually works to calm him/her, can suddenly appear to be more upsetting.
Additionally, they have a hard time being on their back. When being laid down, reflux babies start crying, appear clingy or wriggle around rigorously. That might make you think your baby does not want to go to sleep. In fact, your little one simply can’t lie on her/his back, because it is too painful. Just remember those troublesome nights you struggled with reflux while you were pregnant.
For the same reason, an infant might refuse to eat. Nothing can be as frustrating as a clearly hungry baby that does not take the breast or bottle. You might blame the milk or believe that your little one is a picky eater already. When in reality, your baby would like to eat as badly as you want him to. The grimacing as if tasting something bitter, is a reaction to the acidic taste, not to your milk.
Another symptom is noisy swallowing. A baby that tries to keep the milk down desperately, swallows loudly and sometimes for several minutes without a break. Also, in between feeds it might sound as she/he is gulping down invisible gallons of water.
Even though these symptoms may appear obvious, it can be difficult to figure out that a baby is suffering from reflux. Especially silent reflux is hard to detect, because the most obvious symptom of vomiting is missing. Furthermore, you may see all the symptoms but not as being linked to the same problem. The great picture can be difficult to see, when you are confronted with only one piece of the puzzle at a time.
How You Can Help
Seeing your newborn miserable and crying in pain, can be hard to bear. It is not unusual for a mother to feel helpless, confused and anxious. A late, restless night can become more and more stressful, if you feel like not knowing how to ease your infants discomfort. Here is how you can help:
Keep calm and act confident. Your baby is already stressing out. She/he doesn’t know why something hurts and what to do about it. Getting anxious as a parent will only raise anxiety in the baby. Even if you feel unsure about what you are doing, try to act confident, so your little one feels secure. Let her/him know that ‘mommy got this’. Babies need to know they are safe and can rely on being comforted when they are unwell.
Feed your baby as upright as possible, while still safe and comfortable for you both. I know, it is quite tempting to get into the most awkward ‘yoga’ poses to nurse your extremely hungry bub that is struggling to keep the stomach acid at bay. More than once, after long struggles during feeds, I ended up in positions a contortionists could be proud of. But sore muscles won’t benefit anyone.
After feeds, hold your baby upright for at least a further 30 minutes. If your little cutie fell asleep while feeding, hold him/her in an angle which allows feet and stomach to be a lot lower than the head. Nonetheless, the head should always be in a straight line to the shoulders and torso. Otherwise, the airways could get obstructed.
Don’t bounce the baby. OK, this may be an obvious one, but sometimes you might think rocking or gentle bouncing can calm your baby. When it comes to reflux though, the stomach content can travel up easier with bouncy movements. It can lead to the baby spewing or chocking and coughing.
Burp a reflux troubled infant regularly. Gentle back rubs after feeds or between changing breasts can reduce vomiting. Trapped air can vent without bringing the whole content of the stomach up, if infants are burped regularly. Thus, your bub won’t spew as much and often when there is not a huge gas built up in her/his belly.
Generally, hold the baby upright. If your tiny human is feeling pain when laid on the back, it makes only sense to avoid this position. Try to hold him/her upright in a safe baby bouncer or on your chest as much as possible during the day. If your baby has developed enough neck strength, you might want to opt for a safe baby carrier. You will help your baby a lot, if her/his body is angles upwards most of the day. Also, it is a great way of bonding if you are spending lots of time with your baby close on your chest.
Don’t prop your baby’s mattress up, though! As this can be unsafe and does not comply with safe sleeping guidelines.
Speak to your GP, if your baby is very unwell, does not feed properly, looses weight or his/her vomiting is projectile. Too much vomiting and reduced feeding can lead to serious dehydration. Your GP will assess the baby and take further measures to ease symptoms.
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