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Gastric reflux in babies – what you need to know

The word ‘reflux’ is used so lightly – true gastric oesophageal reflux (as it is more correctly called) is not nearly as common as moms are led to believe. That’s the first thing you really need to remember!

Almost 70% of healthy babies spit up once a day, and it always seems like more milk than it actually is. Remember, Baby’s stomach is only about the size of her clenched fist, so she only needs to drink small amounts at a time. Most newborns drink more often than many Moms expect, however, from every hour in the first few days of life, to 1–2 hourly in the early weeks – this is called need-feeding and is simply the best for babies.

How to recognise reflux

Your baby may have true reflux if he constantly possets or spits up milk after and between feeds. Often, babies will have mild symptoms but continue to gain weight, reach their milestones and thrive. If this sounds like your baby, then you can rest assured that in time, reflux will no longer be a problem.  

Serious symptoms will make Baby miserable; she’ll cry  for most of the day from digestive discomfort, hunger or seemingly no reason, especially during or immediately after a feed. Other symptoms include screaming when asleep, clenching her fists, pulling her head back and arching her back after feeds, drinking more frequently to try soothe the burning sensation or refusal to feed. In more serious cases, the vomited milk may have a bit of blood and Baby may develop a constant cough.

So who’s at risk?

Formula-fed babies are more prone to reflux than breastfed babies, and tend to have more intense digestive symptoms, like regurgitation, spitting up, bloating, cramping, and feed-related discomfort. Premature babies are also at risk of getting reflux – that includes those born even a little too early after elective induction and C-section!  Some babies with conditions like Down syndrome or cerebral palsy also have a higher incidence of reflux.

Be careful not  to over-dramatise every little oops after a feed, and remember that if you are tense and agitated, Baby will pick up on this and you know the saying about ‘gut feelings’! The tummy truly is an emotional organ.

Tips to help with reflux:

·         Feed Baby smaller amounts more frequently, from birth until they are at least 3-4 months.

·         Keep Baby upright and handle her gently for 30 minutes after a feed.

·         Wind Baby carefully for about 10 minutes after a feed.

·         Give a homeopathic remedy like NausiCare before each feed.

·         Raise the head of Baby’s crib or place a purpose-made wedge under her mattress.

·         Use a reflux or anti-regurgitation formula if the problem persists in formula-fed babies.

·         If you’re breastfeeding, reduce the amount of dairy and grain products substantially in your diet.

·         Watch out for signs of dehydration in Baby. These include fewer than five wet or soiled nappies a day, dry skin, a sunken fontanelle (soft spot) and dry hot eyes and mouth.

Giving solids may help, but if you introduce these too early, you might trigger other problems, like allergies. That’s not really a cure!

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