Reflux is a painful and distressing medical condition called Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, known as GORD. Let me start this page by explaining that I am a recognised expert on the subject of reflux and am supported by some of the UKs top Gastro paediatricians but more than that, I have spent weeks, days, nights and hours with babies who are suffering from reflux. I am devoted to helping them; I know and understand reflux and its effects very well. You will also find the final chapter in my book, the Sensational Baby Sleep Plan, is devoted solely to acid reflux.
Most mothers happily anticipate that after giving birth feeding their new-born baby will be a positive and deeply bonding experience. Sadly however, this is not the case for many whose babies suffer from reflux. Feeding and sleeping can become a real challenge and parents simply don’t know why. Reflux may show in various ways, it presents different symptoms, is often misdiagnosed as colic, dismissed as your baby just being a ‘fussy eater’ or not even recognised at all. Most mums do however, instinctively feel that ‘something is not quite right’ and will repeatedly visit the GP or health visitor but end up deeply frustrated feeling it must be something that ‘they are doing wrong’ as no-one seems to listen or understand.
So what is Colic?
Interestingly there is much written about so-called 'colic' in babies and everyone seems to have an opinion on it. I have found many babies are diagnosed as having colic, but this can mean very little in reality as there is no medical definition for the term and it is actually just a non-descriptive term for pain.For example, The Oxford English Dictionary States: colic n. A severe spasmodic abdominal pain.
Colic is usually defined as 'excessive crying in infancy with no known cause' - but I believe there is always a reason for bouts of inconsolable and excessive crying. After all, an infant’s cry is the only way they have of communication in the first few months - we just need to learn to listen and interpret!
In many babies, the cause of excessive crying can actually be attributed to gastro- oesophageal reflux and/or digestive intolerances or allergies. However, getting a diagnosis of this can be incredibly difficult.
What is reflux and what causes it?
Reflux is simply the ‘backward flow’ of the stomach contents up into the oesophagus. This is most commonly due to the natural immaturity and weakness of the muscle and valve that lead into the stomach therefore allowing the baby’s feed along with gastric acid to be involuntarily regurgitated.
Most people only recognise reflux if the baby vomits, but this is simply not true and many babies who suffer never vomit. Quite simply, the force at which the stomach contents come back up determines whether the baby projectile vomits, is frequently sick, continually spits up or is never actually sick, which is known as Silent Reflux. This occurs when the stomach contents continually fluctuate up and down inside the oesophagus causing intense pain with ‘heartburn’ like symptoms - but with no actual vomiting it can be even harder to diagnose as reflux.
Reflux can also be caused or made worse through an intolerance or allergy to cow’s milk protein and or, lactose. Some babies are born with an allergy to CMP or lactose which may stay with them for life, others have a sensitivity or intolerance which is soon outgrown, whilst others simply struggle to digest the protein or lactose, but in all these instances a dairy and lactose free diet may help to reduce the symptoms.
What are the typical reflux symptoms?
- Vomiting or spitting up
- Arching the back or neck and body goes rigid
- Irritability and pain
- Frequent hiccups, excessive dribbling
- Gurgling, gagging, choking episodes
- White coating on the tongue [not oral thrush]
- Excessive mucous, sinus congestion
- Raspy / wheezy cough, often worse at night
- Very windy, hard to burp, excessive ‘bottom’ wind
- Excessive feeding or refusal to feed
- Difficult to settle, poor sleep patterns
- Bouts of inconsolable crying
Just to make diagnosis even more difficult, reflux has many different symptoms and individual babies will display different signs of the condition. Not only are the outward signals determined by the actual root cause and severity of the reflux, but also by the baby’s individual temperament and personality. For example some will scream with pain whilst others just learn to deal with it and rarely cry, some may be relatively happy although vomit a lot whilst others may refuse feeds, are rarely sick but be quite miserable.
What is the treatment for reflux?
Reflux cannot really be ‘cured’ but the symptoms can be controlled, and I always say 'we have to crack-the-reflux-code’ for each baby to find what helps relieve the individuals’ symptoms”.
There are a range of medical antacid treatments which by reducing stomach acidity will lessen the burning pain experienced through a reflux attack. Reducing CMP and lactose in milk either by changing the diet of a breast-feeding mum or using a hydrolysed formula which has had the proteins and / or lactose removed or reduced can be very effective. Thickening feeds by adding instant Carobel to expressed breast milk or using a pre-thickened formula can also help to try and ensure the milk stays in the stomach preventing further bouts of reflux.
It is also important to understand HOW to maximise the positive effect of finding the right combination of milk and medication. It is vital to establish a good feeding and sleeping structure as you cannot just medicate a baby and expect everything to fall into place. The baby may have had weeks or even months of being in discomfort which will have created many negative behavioural associations to feeding and sleeping that will need to be redressed through re-building the baby's association to milk and food, implementing a daily routine for milk, naps and mealtimes and also you may need to implement some sleep training for night-time.
Although most infants will outgrow reflux as their digestive system matures, many may continue to have problems throughout toddlerhood, but through many years of working with reflux babies, I discovered that there is less likelihood of any long-term negative effects through an early diagnosis, proper treatment and an effective, on-going management plan of the condition.
What can I do if I think my Baby has Reflux or I need more help?
For further, more detailed information on infant Reflux and sleep, you can read my book - The Sensational Baby Sleep Plan.
I also offer phone consultations and can talk to you personally about your baby’s condition. I am not a doctor and I do not prescribe medicines but I do have an in depth knowledge of all reflux treatments and medicines. I have been hands on with all of them and I know how they work and what they do.