Do you think that you might be living with a reflux baby? Well, have you ever wondered why burp cloths are so small? Have you ever carried around a receiving blanket on your shoulder/back/chest to catch the spit up and think, “This isn't big enough.”?
Well then, you're my new best friend because, girl, me too. Having a reflux baby is no joke. I literally had a stash of receiving blankets and towels in every section of my house to prepare for the tsunami of vomit that would eventually hit. I laid two over each end of the couch, two laying over the edge of the pack and play, a couple over the banister, two in my bed with me, at least 4 in the diaper bag and even more in my car and stroller. Who's with me?
This post might contain affiliate links. To learn more, you can read my full disclosure here.
Reflux Babies Are Different
New babies are just little mysteries that can't express their needs, wants, or feelings to the person that is caring for them. And mothers? We are the lucky ones that get to decipher their cries, read their cues, and predict their needs based on a few clues that they are able to give us.
Everyone knows that a new baby is going to cry, poop and spit. New-parenthood is famous for the sleepless nights but when your baby is always fussy, spitting up puddles of milk after every feeding, and you just know with your super-human mommy senses that your child is uncomfortable and miserable in a way that just cannot possibly be normal, you tend to think twice about what he's trying to tell you. Maybe this isn't as normal as your mom is trying to convince you that it is.
In my case, the fussy, overtired, gassy, newborn that I was taking care of — my sweet baby boy–had infant acid reflux. Dun dun duuuuun.
Please note: I am not a doctor and I am not giving medical advice. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose, or treat any form of any disease. This article is for informational and entertainment purposes only. I am only telling you what worked for me. Please refer to my Disclaimer Page for more information.
What is Infant Reflux?
Although it's not necessarily related to acid, but it's mostly referred to as Infant Acid Reflux. It is one of the most common infant feeding problems and the symptoms can vary from mild spitting up to severe colic and abdominal pain with frequent wakings. If your baby is experiencing a combination of some of these symptoms, that sweet little bundle of yours could have infant acid reflux.
- Frequent or recurring vomiting (check)
- Projectile vomiting
- Trouble staying asleep (double check)
- Chronic Irritability (yep!)
- Gas and abdominal pain (uh hu)
- Refusing to eat or difficulty eating
- Always wanting to eat (tell me about it, sister)
- Failure to gain weight
- Crying or uncomfortable with feeding or immediately after feeding (yep)
- Coughing or choking regularly
- Arching back regularly/stiffness (mm hmm)
- Scream when you lay him on his back (Lord help us all, yes)
- Sour smelling breath
- Burps, and hiccups (all day, erry day)
Symptoms Of Infant Acid Reflux- The Biggies
Reflux is not just another term for colic but instead, colic is often a symptom of infant reflux. Infant acid reflux is a specific medical condition with a known cause. Colic, on the other hand, is not a true medical condition. It has no known cause, and has no treatment or cure. Think of colic, instead, as a symptom, not a condition.
Typically, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a one way valve that allows food to flow into our stomachs but should not allow food to regurgitate back up. In babies, however, their LES is immature which allows partially digested food and acid to come back up the esophagus and out of the mouth. Most of the time, it doesn't cause problems, and is a normal symptom of newborn-hood.
But for a reflux baby, it's more intense and more frequent. If your baby is spitting up a lot, the acid can cause discomfort that we recognize as “heartburn”. The baby might be experiencing this pain as well as other baby reflux symptoms such as abdominal pain, and gas. This could very possibly be why he is inconsolably crying for hours every day… and we call that Colic.
Trouble Staying Asleep
Why does acid reflux interfere with sleep? Well, babies with reflux are in fairly constant pain and discomfort, remember? When our children suffer with infant reflux, the stomach acid comes up and can irritate the lining of their throat. They might be able to fall asleep but keeping them asleep is a whole other issue.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the safest place for a baby to sleep is in their own crib, on a firm mattress, lying on their back. For a reflux baby, that is probably the least appealing place to lay because laying on their back allows the acid and partially digested food from their bellies to work its way through the underdeveloped LES that we talked about and hang out in his esophagus, causing terrible discomfort. How convenient that the safest sleep position is also the worst position for acid reflux.
What happens when a baby doesn't get the sleep he so desperately needs? You guessed it, you're going to have a fussy, irritable baby that is over-tired and uncomfortable. These poor babies are suffering while doing the one thing they have the instinct to do-EAT! Let's be honest, I would be fussy too.
Gas and Abdominal Pain
If you notice that your baby is pulling his legs up to his belly and passing gas painfully, he might be having excessive gas causing abdominal pain. This symptom is interesting because sometimes it can actually be the problem to begin with.
If your baby has too much gas in his stomach and then you add milk to it, the gas can often push the milk up and out. If there is a food intolerance involved, gas and abdominal pain are probably two of the symptoms you'll find right away. Gas can also be caused by poor latch while nursing or using a bottle/nipple that allows too much air to be swallowed with the milk.
Refusing to eat OR Always wanting to eat
This one is so, so tough. If your reflux baby is refusing feeds, the anxiety that you must feel is astronomical. They are often refusing to eat because they have caught onto the fact that every time they eat, it comes up and causes them pain.
On the other end of the spectrum, other reflux babies (like mine) choose to eat constantly because the act of swallowing milk soothes the burning in their throat and it feels good. So in order to ease their discomfort, they eat even when they aren't necessarily hungry. Unfortunately, overeating just makes the reflux worse.
- Related Read: Expect The Unexpected: Preparing Moms For The Newborn Stage
- Related Read: Breastfeeding 101: How To Feed Your Newborn
Failure to Gain Weight
I'm lucky that my reflux baby was always right on track on the growth charts. He was born a big baby and he stayed that way. He never lost weight after we left the hospital regardless of the buckets of breast milk that ended up on the floor and all over me.
But for other families, the fear that comes with infant reflux is very real when their pediatricians tell them that their babies are falling off the curve because of their feeding problems related to baby reflux. But just because your baby is still gaining weight does not mean that he isn't suffering from baby reflux.
How is Infant Reflux Diagnosed?
Although there are a handful of tests that can help diagnose infant acid reflux, thankfully many pediatricians will diagnose reflux with just persistent reported symptoms. If you want a more definitive diagnosis with more evidence than just your reported symptoms, the following tests are possible to help identify the cause of the problem your reflux baby is having.
It is possible that reflux symptoms could stem from more serious problems like anemia or infection.
Your doctor might recommend an ultrasound to visualize the upper GI to look for obstructions or any abnormalities
Barium swallow or upper GI test
This is a radiology study to make sure your baby's anatomy is normal. If you choose to go this route, your baby will be given barium to drink. Barium coats the upper portion of the gut to highlight any abnormalities or obstructions in a series of x-rays. You need to be aware, this test will expose your baby to radiation during the x-rays.
A tube is inserted through the nose and into the esophagus to measure the baby's stomach acid levels. This isn't a quick test. It can last up to 24 hours and it's not easy. It may require fasting for your baby before placement and in order to make sure the probe is in the correct place, an x-ray might be recommended–especially if your baby doesn't cooperate because of the discomfort the test creates.
Upper GI endoscopy
A tiny camera is used to look directly inside the upper GI tract and detect any abnormalities. This test requires anesthesia which means your baby will be put to sleep for it.
Because most of these tests have negative side effects, always consult with your doctor and figure out other ways to treat your babies' symptoms. Another thing you must consider is that even if you go through this testing, many times you will find nothing and still have no solution to your baby's suffering.
Searching For Answers For Your Reflux Baby Sometimes Just Causes Problems
The truth is, there may be no apparent cause of acid reflux in babies. Do yourself a favor and don't go into your pediatricians office expecting to get all of the answers you are looking for. Even if they run every test in the book, you might go home not knowing why your baby is so miserable. Or…equally as frustrating, they might be able to tell you what's happening but have absolutely no solution other than to give it time.
No matter what route you decide to take to find answers, make sure that your expectations are realistic. Try not to expect miracles, overnight solutions, magic pills, or even a reason for your baby's symptoms. Sometimes you just have to live with what you've got and find remedies instead of cures.
The advice I was given for my reflux baby
When I took my son to the pediatrician's office two weeks after he was born and told the doctor about the massive amounts of vomit and the frequent fussiness and irritability, I didn't feel the need to do any invasive procedures to figure out what was going on, thank goodness. I just thought that there would be specific advice for this kind of situation.
The pediatrician that we saw basically just gave us advice on what to do with a “colicky” baby. We have to remember that not every baby who has colic also has acid reflux and not every baby who has infant reflux has colic. They aren't interchangeable.
It's frustrating for you and your reflux baby
Logan didn't have colic. I could not get that through people's heads. When you tell people that your baby is fussy, they automatically think that it's colic. But Logan didn't have the typical signs of colic such as crying for hours on end at a certain time of the night or day. Many reflux babies do, I know. But mine didn't. I hated that no one was understanding my specific situation.
I was always able to console my baby (my breast was a magical thing when Logan was going through this difficult stage). So the pediatrician told me that I was lucky that I am able to console my reflux baby. He said I should be thanking my lucky stars that I could get him to fall asleep because many parents that have a baby that suffers from colic aren't able to get their babies to stop crying at all for 3 or more hours at a time.
Right. Ok, so I'm really glad that I'm not in that boat, but I'm in a different, very real boat and it's sinking fast. My baby was in constant pain, he couldn't stay asleep and I was experiencing real anxiety about it. So why didn't anyone have any answers for me? Does anyone else feel this way?
Logan was miserable for a long time. He cried after most feedings, he made this awful grunting, straining sound all night long, and he always threw up more than what I could possibly believe was normal. The most stressful symptom of all though? He never slept. He would fall asleep just fine but constantly wake throughout the night and never took more than 20-30 min naps during the day.
Infant Acid Reflux Can Be Isolating
When I was going through the worst of infant reflux with my reflux baby, no one understood what I was talking about. It was so important for me to find other women who have gone through the same thing. Here's the thing with infant reflux. Most of the time, there is no cut and dry reason and there is no clear solution. We just have to stick together as mothers and figure it out with one another, because unless you've gone through it, you just don't get it.
I wanted advice that I could feel good about following without sacrificing breastfeeding, putting my baby through tests, or being told that it's “just colic” and it will pass in a few weeks or months. My mommy instincts knew that it wasn't happening for no reason at all.
No matter how many times I told people what was going on, I just wasn't getting the solutions or advice that I was looking for. I just wished someone would tell me something useful. I was waiting for it, constantly searching for it. So I really hope that I can be that for you.
Infant Acid Reflux Solutions
Eventually, after a lot of sleepless nights and an unimaginable amount of milk stains on every piece of fabric in my home, I found those solutions. It takes time, effort, and a ton of patience, but if your baby is telling you that he is in pain, he is tired, and he is [still] hungry– keep trying. Don't stop giving him everything you've got, because that's exactly what he needs– YOU! You will find what works for you and he will get better. Trust this truth and take it from me, it's going to be OK.
Find Comfort In Knowing You're Not Alone
If this sounds similar to what you're going through, what you went through, or what you want to prepare to go through because you are pregnant, giiiiirl, I've got you. I have so much more to share with you, so I'm thrilled that you're here. I survived life with a reflux baby and I learned so, so much in the process.
Head over and find out all of the tips and tricks to follow in order to make it out with a full head of hair after your baby finally gets through his reflux days. The Ultimate Guide To Surviving Infant Acid Reflux.
Tell me what you think! I can't wait to hear from you and continue learning about what mommies and babies go through with reflux. Leave a comment or shoot me an email.
What To Read Next:
- The Ultimate Guide To Surviving Infant Acid Reflux.
- Expect The Unexpected: Preparing Moms For The Newborn Stage
- Breastfeeding 101: How To Feed Your Newborn
- How To Get A Baby To Sleep Well Right From The Start
- The #1 Reason I'm Afraid To Have Another Baby