My children have sailed through babyhood and are rapidly becoming little boys. I periodically think back to some of the difficult aspects of those baby years, particularly some of the health issues that babies encounter. One of the problems that I frequently stumbled upon on the parenting fora was baby reflux, something which (thankfully) neither of my children experienced. Gastro-oesophageal reflux is where baby’s swallowed milk travels back up from their stomach into their oesophagus (food pipe), and can affect breastfed or formula-fed babies.
Reflux happens when the little ring of muscle joining the stomach to the oesophagus doesn’t close properly, thus allowing small amounts of milk back up. The stomach contains a high level of acid and can cause some serious discomfort if it travels up and out of the stomach. Ever had heartburn? Yup, pretty uncomfortable, not to mention painful. It is exactly the same for babies.
Your baby may have reflux if they are posseting small amounts of milk into their mouths after feeding. You may notice baby coughing, spluttering or sometimes vomiting. It can be a bit messy, and is always bound to happen the second you’ve donned some clean clothes or washed your hair. But don’t fret, for the most part, it is considered a normal stage that approximately half of babies go through as their digestive systems develop, and it will often resolve with time.
You can ease symptoms by feeding baby in an upright position and keep them upright after feeding (common sense, really – you wouldn’t feel comfy lying down after a big meal!). Consider feeding baby smaller amounts more frequently so they aren’t brim-full. Try and burp baby a couple of times during their feed (much like you would burp if you needed to during a heavy meal). And for bottle-fed babies, ensure that the flow of the teat is not too fast for baby, or they’ll be gulping more milk than they can handle.
However, there are occasions where reflux becomes persistent and problematic for the health of baby. If baby is experiencing frequent reflux, is particularly fussy during feeds or is vomiting large amounts over an hour after feeding, you may need to seek treatment. Your GP may advise baby to begin the following treatments.
Thickening baby’s feed can sometimes prove an effective treatment for reflux. Special thickeners can be acquired on prescription, but on medical advice only.
Identifying Allergens/Food Intolerance
Food intolerance can often present itself with very similar symptoms to reflux. It is important to identify if baby has any food intolerances or allergies. Keeping food diaries after eliminating common allergens is any easy way to spot offending food groups. You may be asked to switch baby’s formula milk or change your dietary habits if you are breastfeeding.
Your doctor may decide that baby will benefit from beginning a course of antacid therapy. Doctors do not routinely prescribe antacids in the first instance because they are shown to provide little relief of reflux in babies, so it is often used as a last-resort.
If none of the above treatments have been effective, you may be referred to a specialist paediatrician for further investigations. For severe cases of reflux and in the presence of more complex physiological problems, there are surgical procedures that can be performed. The surgery is called fundoplication, and usually takes 2-3 hours under general anaesthetic. It is usually performed laparoscipally (keyhole). This means that the surgeon will not need to make a large incision to perform the surgery and only a small wound will be present post-operatively.
As scary as surgery may seem, it is very rare that babies require this type of treatment, and the non-invasive treatments usually prove to be very effective. Either way, it is important to always seek medical advice from your GP to determine what type of reflux treatment your baby may need.