Reflux in babies
Reflux, posseting, spitting up… whatever you call it, find out what it means when your baby brings up milk and when you should seek advice.
At a glance
Keeping baby upright after a feed can help with reflux
Reflux affects at least 40% of infants under one year old
Talk to a healthcare professional If you think your baby has a problem with reflux
Reflux could be a sign of something more serious, depending on your baby’s other symptoms
What is reflux?
Babies bringing up milk after a feed is very common. The full medical term for reflux is gastro-oesophageal reflux (GOR), however it most often referred to as reflux, posseting, spitting up or regurgitation. Some babies bring up a lot and others very little, but in general, mild reflux in babies is perfectly normal. As long as your baby is content and putting on weight, there’s most likely nothing to worry about, except a bit of extra laundry.
Reflux affects at least 40% of infants under one year old and is more common in those under 6 months of age and before weaning. However, if you’re worried about how much feed your baby is bringing up, speak to your healthcare professional such as your GP, health visitor or public health nurse.
What causes reflux?
Your baby’s insides are still developing when they arrive in the world. The muscle at the base of the oesophagus (food pipe) acts as a valve allowing the food into the stomach. This muscle isn’t strong yet so it can open when it shouldn’t, resulting in newborn reflux. As your baby gets older this muscle will develop and they should grow out of it.
What are the symptoms of reflux?
Reflux usually starts before baby is 8 weeks old, as they are still developing. When babies muscles get stronger the reflux will get better. Symptoms of reflux include:
Bringing up milk or being sick during or shortly after a feeding
Crying and not settling
Coughing or hiccupping when feeding
Frequent ear infections
Poor weight gain
Frequently waking up at night
Refusing to feed
An arched back after feeding
Sometimes babies don’t spit up their milk. It can travel up the food pipe and is swallowed instead; this is known as silent reflux. This is harder to spot, but your baby may display similar symptoms to those of regular reflux.
How can I help my baby?
Here’s a few things you can try:
Feed your little one in an upright position
Try to keep them upright even after they’ve eaten. Hold them like this for about half an hour afterwards
Try smaller feeds, but more often
Don’t force your baby to take more milk than they want, they’ll let you know when they’ve had enough
Burp them frequently during a feed and at the end of a feed. Read our tips on how to wind your baby
If you’re bottle-feeding, check the hole in the teat isn’t too big or too small
Save playing ‘airplane’ for a while after they’ve been fed – calmer activities are better right after milk
If unsure speak to your GP, health visitor or public health nurse. For bottle-fed babies they may recommend you to change to a thickened feed such as anti-reflux formula – but only do this on their advice.
If you are concerned about your baby’s reflux, seek the advice of a healthcare professional. And don’t forget, you can always talk to our Careline for tips on how to cope with newborn reflux.
Could my baby have GORD?
If your baby’s reflux comes with some other symptoms it could be a bit more serious and known as GORD – which stands for ‘Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease’. If you’re quickly running out of clean muslins, changing bibs every ten seconds and the sofa and your clothes are covered in regurgitated milk, then it’s not unusual to think your baby has reflux issues. Look out for symptoms like:
Spitting up frequently
being extremely irritable
refusing to eat
If your baby is still having reflux issues and you’re not sure what to do next, speak to your GP, health visitor or a public health nurse. They may recommend a change of feed for baby or if you’re breastfeeding, you may be asked to keep a symptom diary. If it’s more serious your doctor may need to prescribe medication for your baby.