Baby reflux - Dealing with gastric reflux

Bleugh.  Gastro-oesophageal reflux, gastric reflux or simply reflux, whatever you call it, it is tough.  Tough on babies, tough on parents, tough all round.

Reflux is a digestive issue that can cause discomfort in some babies.  Sometimes it can be confused with basic baby vomit but it's not the same thing.  Normal baby vomit is very common and affects most babies, especially in the early days.  Normal baby vomit generally doesn't cause discomfort and is more of an inconvenience than anything. If your baby is otherwise happy there is no need to worry about a little bit of baby vomit here or there. Just arm yourself with plenty of bibs or cloths!

Reflex, on the other hand, is more severe.  Rather than simply 'spilling' a little milk after a feed and then carrying on as normal, babies with gastric reflux may be vomiting larger amounts of milk frequently and appear to be in pain.  They may arch their backs, cry, be tricky to feed and perhaps not be growing as well as they should be.

What causes reflux?

Your baby has a ring of muscle that creates a valve where his food pipe joins his stomach. This muscular valve opens when your baby drinks milk, and then closes to keep the milk in his tummy. In young babies, this ring of muscle isn’t fully developed yet. This means that when your baby's tummy is full, milk and stomach acid may flow back up the food pipe, causing discomfort.

What can I do if my baby has reflux?

Rest assured that the valve at the entrance to your baby’s tummy will gradually get stronger and most babies outgrow reflux in time.  In the meantime, here are a few tips which may help relieve some of the symptoms of reflux.

  • Try to hold your baby upright after a feed, up to half an hour if possible. If your arms need a break you could try a baby carrier or bouncer chair.
  • Make sure you burp your baby during and after every feed, gently rubbing their backs as you hold them upright on your shoulder.
  • Dress you bub in clothing that isn't too tight around the tummy, check you baby's nappy isn't too tight either. 
  • You could try smaller, more frequent feeds, decreasing the mini-volcano in your baby's tummy!
  • Keep the breastfeeding going as long as you and the baby are comfortable - it's the best nutrition for your baby

Remember your baby will grow out of this phase, however if you are worried it is important to talk to you doctor or child health nurse for advice.

When to see a doctor?

A little normal baby vomit after feeds is nothing to worry about. But speak to your doctor or child health nurse if you have any concerns and notice that your baby is irritable during or after feeds, crying and arching his back, vomits large amounts of milk straight after or up to two hours after feeding, and isn’t growing as well as they should be.