Newborn reflux is so common that half of all the babies born in the US suffer from it. Thankfully, most babies tend to outgrow it, with symptoms dissipating by 18 months. However, baby reflux symptoms may concern parents, especially first-time mothers.
You should express any concerns at your baby’s doctor’s visits. Your pediatrician will also ensure your baby is thriving and meeting developmental milestones. Reflux symptoms beyond 18 months may indicate a more serious condition or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
Knowing the signs of reflux in babies and asking your doctor the right questions can help put your mind at ease. Read on to learn more about common baby reflux symptoms.
What is Newborn Reflux?
You’ll probably recognize newborn reflux by a more well-known term – ‘spitting up.’ It’s something almost all babies do.
For this reason, acid reflux in infants seems so common.
Many parts of a healthy newborn’s body aren’t developed at birth. This includes the knee cap and eye muscles. Your baby’s lower esophageal sphincter (LES) also falls into this category.
The LES, as its name implies, is a ring of muscle found at the lower end of the esophagus. It opens when you’re baby is swallowing so that breastmilk, formula, or food can enter the stomach. It also keeps the stomach’s acidic contents from re-entering the esophagus. This isn’t usually the case for a newborn whose LES is weaker. When this happens, baby acid reflux symptoms will be evident.
This muscle will strengthen as your baby grows. Reflux symptoms will ease and eventually go away altogether. However, underlying issues with the LES will cause the problem to persist. This can lead to GERD.
What Causes GERD In Babies?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that babies sleep between 14 to 17 hours a day. Most babies do, while some sleep longer, up to 19 hours. This length of time in a prostrate position and a weak LES can exacerbate acid reflux in newborns. This is one of many factors that can cause GERD in babies. Some others include:
A Baby’s Diet
An average one-month-old baby’s stomach has about a four to six-ounce capacity. At this stage, they usually consume roughly four ounces at every feeding. That’s approximately 32 ounces per day.
This varies from infant to infant, including their speed of digestion. Many experts believe these factors can make a newborn more likely to become a reflux baby. A small stomach consuming such a significant liquid diet can lead to some of its contents coming back up.
Newborn reflux can sometimes be more prevalent in premature babies. This is due to their underdeveloped bodies, including muscles and organs.
However, reflux in premature babies may be due to more than a weak LES. Gastric distension can also occur. This causes a build-up of gas in the stomach or constipation. Both can lead to stomach contents pushing toward the esophagus.
Several birth conditions can prolong newborn acid reflux symptoms. Many of them can lead to the development of GERD. These include:
Hiatal Hernia – a congenital condition that causes the stomach to protrude through a small opening or hiatus in the diaphragm.
Cystic Fibrosis – a genetic condition that causes mucus to build up in the body, including the digestive system and lungs.
Cerebral Palsy – a disorder that weakens the body’s muscles resulting in issues with motor skills.
Another condition, esophageal atresia, can indirectly cause GERD.
Other Health Conditions
The treatment of esophageal atresia, namely surgery, can cause GERD to develop. Esophageal atresia is a condition that prevents the esophagus from developing properly. Although surgery usually corrects it, it can also result in complications such as GERD, among other things.
Baby Reflux Symptoms: What to Look For
Although acid reflux is common, you should monitor your baby while they have symptoms. Knowing what to look for will help. Here are the main signs of acid reflux in babies.
It’s the most common sign of acid reflux in babies. Newborns will either be consuming breast milk or formula. Whatever they bring up should be of the same color and consistency. When a baby ‘spits up,’ it’s usually quick, sometimes not even noticeable.
Contact your pediatrician if it develops into violent vomiting. You should also observe if the color or consistency differs from your breast milk or formula.
Hiccups and Coughs
This will be a common occurrence as the contents of your baby’s stomach re-enter the esophagus. When it gets to the back of the throat, your baby may cough or start hiccuping. They also may spit up soon after.
Holding your baby upright after feeding can help.
Gulping or Swallowing
Is your baby randomly swallowing or gulping after feeding or burping? It’s simply another way babies deal with the liquid at the back of their throat. Again, ensure your baby is upright to prevent them from choking.
Stomach contents traveling up the esophagus can trigger your baby’s gag reflex. It can make your baby choke when it hits the back of the throat. Hold them up immediately if this occurs while you’re feeding your baby.
The last thing you’ll want is your baby choking or gagging while lying down.
Undoubtedly, acid reflux will cause discomfort while your baby is feeding. This can include arching the back to help alleviate their pain. Symptoms may worsen if they’re lying down while feeding.
Crying and refusing to eat may also become the norm. This can make feeding your baby difficult or sometimes even impossible. They may even start feeding for shorter periods. Unfortunately, refusing to feed altogether isn’t uncommon. It’s one of the ways a baby will try to avoid the pain experienced while eating.
Feed your baby while they are in a seated position to try to prevent this as much as possible. Contact your physician if your baby starts eating less or refuses to eat.
Over time, the acidity of the stomach contents can cause lesions in the esophagus. This creates a burning condition often referred to as heartburn. Adults can express this discomfort when it occurs, but it’s impossible for a baby.
Your baby may display some of the actions above. The recommendations above, including smaller feeding portions, may help alleviate this. In severe cases, your doctor might recommend acid-suppressing medication.
If your baby becomes congested or starts wheezing, see your pediatrician. This can be a sign of pneumonia. It’s an unfortunate complication associated with acid reflux.
It can occur when your baby inhales the stomach contents that come up their esophagus. It can lead to pneumonia if it enters your baby’s lungs, windpipe, or both.
Your baby can develop asthma because of this as well. The acidity of the stomach contents can irritate the lungs creating a chain reaction. Symptoms can include:
- Tightening of the chest
There may also be other symptoms associated with asthma.
Holding your baby upright after feeding helps. This reduces the chance of them inhaling stomach contents as it comes up the esophagus.
Some babies take longer to adopt a regular sleep routine. However, if this becomes persistent, you may want to speak to your pediatrician. It can be due to your baby’s acid reflux.
Can you imagine experiencing the symptoms above while lying down? In these situations, sleeping will be difficult or impossible. It can also be dangerous if gagging or choking occurs while your baby is asleep. Get advice from your doctor on the best sleeping position for your baby when symptoms arise.
Your baby may not have all of these symptoms. However, having two or more will usually be an indication of reflux. Call your pediatrician if they persist or if you notice your baby not gaining weight.
Newborn Reflux Treatment
It’s probably reassuring to know that your baby will likely outgrow their reflux. However, this doesn’t lessen their discomfort while experiencing them.
It’s best to let it run its course. But you can do a few things to make your baby more comfortable during this period.
- Try feeding while your baby is sitting up, if possible. This will be difficult if breastfeeding.
- Hold your baby upright for as long as possible after feedings. This is particularly important if your baby is usually lying down while feeding.
- Burp your baby while holding them in this upright position after feeding.
- Feed your baby smaller portions. This may mean adjusting the number of times your baby feeds throughout the day.
Get Additional Support with Go Au Pair
Babies have suffered from acid reflux for centuries. Chances are, your baby will, too.
But now you know what baby reflux symptoms are. You also have an idea of how long they should last. This can help you successfully navigate this stage of your little one’s life.
The key lies in monitoring these symptoms. Don’t be afraid to talk with your pediatrician about what you observe. You can also share what you learn with an au pair so that they can assist while your baby is going through this phase. Go Au Pair offers hundreds of qualified au pairs who can help you every step of the way.
It’s important not to stress. Developmental stages like this one will pass before you know it. It may not seem that way now, but acid reflux will be a distant memory as you watch your baby grow into a healthy toddler.