What is Baby Reflux?

Reflux. 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. 

What is reflux?

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.

Click here to read more about the Causes of Reflux

How would you know if your baby has reflux?

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. 

  1. Excessive unsettledness & discontent
    Babies are not born grumpy and unhappy. Babies want to sleep, it’s biological programming. Yes, their sleep times are not aligned with the world, but they need If you feel that your baby is particularly unsettled, trust your observations. They probably are. What you need to do now is figure out why. Do not settle for the answer “all baby’s cry”.

  2. Baby does not want to lie down
    If your baby gets particularly unsettled when you change their nappy, or they wake very soon after lying down, this could also be an indication that they have a little reflux going on.

  3. A lot of posseting or vomiting
    Reflux does not always cause baby to vomit, however, lots of vomiting (painful or not) is a sign that something is going on for your little one an warrants further assessing.

  4. Lots of bottom wind
    Farting is one of the funniest things to children, but it isn’t fun for babies. Our little ones lack the muscular control and strength to allow the easy movement of air through their digestive system, and so it builds up causing bloating, discomfort and sometimes pain. The sources of this gas are twofold – firstly, it can be air that was swallowed that has not been burped out, and it can be from baby’s milk (formula or breast). Babies have naturally immature digestive systems*. They do not have the necessary digestive enzymes to break down all foods. As a result, some foods ferment in baby’s gut producing carbon dioxide as a by-product, causing a build-up of air, digestive discomfort, constipation and other symptoms.

Click here to read more about the Symptoms of Reflux

Myth Busting

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.

  1. Reflux is normal
    As above, reflux is not normal, it is common, not normal.

  2. Baby is gaining weigh so doesn’t have reflux
    Baby’s with reflux can experience slow weight gain, and be diagnosed as “failure to thrive”. This is understandable if baby cannot keep milk down. However, babies with reflux can equally gain weight at the normal, or excessive rates. They often comfort feed: the act of drinking milk washes the stomach acid back into the stomach providing comfort and relief from the acid burn.

  3. It’s just colic
    There is no such thing as “just colic”. Colic is most frequently caused by digestive discomfort, proven by the relief that comes with the release of gas. We can act to resolve this gas production which will relieve colic.

Actions to take

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.

Click here to download your free Reflux Symptoms Tracker so that you can start really seeing what is going on for your baby.

Are you beyond ready to help your baby overcome reflux?! 

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The best place to start is always to pinpoint the symptoms your baby is experiencing. It's these symptoms which will lead you to the underlying causeaka. the real issue that needs resolving!

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