A disease that no parent wants to learn about. A condition that no baby needs to suffer through.
We are told “reflux is normal”.
It is not.
It is common.
It is not normal.
It affects about 40% of babies in Ireland and the UK. 50% in the USA.
Contrary to the medical definition, Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disease, (GORD) is a symptom and not a disease. Reflux has no underlying pathology of its own. Because reflux is a symptom there is always a possible resolution.
When I use the term “reflux”, I include reflux, silent reflux (reflux without vomiting), food allergies and intolerances, and colic. This is because the symptoms of each overlap, they frequently get mistakenly diagnosed, one for the other, and the approach to resolving them is the same.
There is GER and GERD. The only difference being that reflux is called a “disease” if it causes “marked distress” to baby. The challenge I have with this definition is that it allows for ongoing suffering and pain in the most vulnerable and precious of humans, and causes huge emotional stress to parents.
Reflux can be there from the outset, it can appear gradually over the course of a few weeks, or even start when solids are introduced.
Reflux is the involuntary regurgitation of stomach contents (including stomach acid). While this is a completely normal physiological process, ongoing, repeated and regurgitation is not.
Reflux happens for a few reasons. The most common causes are aerophagia and food allergies.
Aerophagia is when baby swallows air. Air in the stomach increases the pressure in the stomach relative to the oesophagus. You will know from weather charts that weather systems move from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure. The same happens in the body. With the normal contractions of the stomach move food through the digestive system can result in the movement of stomach contents into the oesophagus as well as the small intestines.
Food allergies can also result in reflux because the stomach can mis-interpret complex proteins as potential pathogens or viruses (these are protein structures). To protect the body, the stomach forcefully vomits out the stomach contents, including stomach acid.
Stomach acid is very acidic, and the lining of the oesophagus is not designed to withstand it. The result is that the acid causes a burning sensation, which causes pain. Understandably, baby cries with this sensation. To make things worse, crying causes baby to swallow more air, which compounds the situation.
The challenge we have is because reflux is a symptom itself, there is no defined set of symptoms that guarantee a reflux diagnosis. I don’t believe we need a diagnosis to trust our motherly instincts.
In the early day, there are a few obvious signs that you can look out for to understand if your baby has reflux and what you can do about it.
There are a number of myths about baby reflux that I feel I must dispel because they do not help parents, babies or anyone. In fact, being told these myths can feel soul-destroying. You do not have to simply wait for baby to grow out of it.
The best approach to resolving reflux is to understand the underlying cause. This can be done by reading all the symptoms your baby has, grouping them into patterns and using this pattern analysis to figure out the underlying cause. By doing this, you can take specific action to address the specific cause in your baby.