The Challenges of Reflux

So many of the families that I speak to regarding sleep have little ones who have or have had reflux. It is the most common medical challenge in babies under 12 months.  Having a baby or toddler with reflux brings with it many challenges – they often have very poor sleep patterns which is why I come into contact with so many families who are struggling.  Reflux babies also tend to be very unsettled and cry for longer periods than other babies and this combined with lack of sleep can be extremely challenging for parents and carers.

What is reflux?

Reflux (or GERD) is a fairly common medical condition where the stomach contents come back up into the oesophagus.  Almost all babies experience some symptoms of reflux

from time to time due to the immaturity of the sphincter at the base of the oesophagus, which is why the majority of babies “spit up” regularly. However, for some babies it happens more frequently and causes discomfort and pain from the stomach acid rising up into the oesophagus and throat. Babies with reflux are often sick much more regularly than other babies and more copious amounts. 

However, babies and young children can still experience the pain and discomfort of reflux without any vomiting or spitting up which can make it much more difficult to spot and diagnose – this is known as silent reflux.

Reflux and discomfort after feeding can also be as a result of Allergic Gastroenteritis. This is an intolerance or allergy to something in food, breast milk or formula. It’s most often a protein in cow’s milk. Other common possibilities include soya, egg,  gluten and wheat.

If you suspect that your wee one has reflux or they seem to be in a lot of discomfort after feeds, please do seek medical advice.

Ways of soothing your reflux baby

Babies with reflux can often be more “high needs”  – they tend to cry more often and for longer periods and can be difficult to soothe.  There are a number of ways you can try to help:

  • Hold your baby upright for an extended period after feeding
  • Hold your baby with their left side down – their gastric inlet will be higher than the gastric outlet
  • A dream feed (when you feed your baby whilst they’re still asleep) can help as it reduces the amount of air swallowed by your baby
  • Using a dummy can help soothe their discomfort as it increases the production of saliva which can help to neutralise the stomach acid
  • Feeding smaller feeds more frequently can help as the stomach doesn’t become so full each feed

Support for parents

I really struggled with one of my children when she had reflux as a baby, particularly the impact that it had on her sleep.  She cried a lot which made me reticent to take her to many places which caused me to become really isolated as a new mum.

I wanted to help other mums and carers who feel in this position now so I’ve set up a Reflux Support Group at Nurture the Play in Edinburgh, every Friday morning from 10.00 – 11.00.

For those not local to me or who can’t attend on a Friday I’ve also set up a Facebook Group – I’m hopeful that this will be a place where we can share resources and advice for other mums struggling with their little one’s reflux 

I would love for you to join us either in person or online!

If you feel you need some more personalised support with your baby’s sleep, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Caro Graham is a Certified Sleepy Lambs Sleep Consultant based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Caro can support families locally or around the world. Book a FREE 15-minute call. Just click HERE to book!