There are a lot of surprises in store for parents when bringing home a newborn, even if they have older children. Every baby is so different that it’s impossible to predict how babies will eat or sleep or what their personality will be like. Medical aspects of parenting can be most confusing – there’s so much contradicting information out there, and with friends having varied experiences, it’s hard to know what’s right for your child. Arming yourself with some general knowledge regarding common baby afflictions can be helpful in knowing when it’s time to get to your pediatrician (of course, it never hurts to give them a call any time you are concerned).
Infant reflux is one of those things that can catch you completely off-guard. All of a sudden, your baby is spitting up and you don’t know if it’s 1) too much spit-up, 2) if it’s normal, and 3) how you can help your sweet babe.
We’ve definitely been there, and we know it can be so overwhelming when piled on top of everything else that has to do with newborn and new-mama care. So, we reached out to some experts to help shed some light on infant reflux – what it is, what to look for, and what you can do to help.
What Is Infant Reflux?
Reflux is a condition where the contents that belong in the stomach reflux up into the esophagus. Since babies are still developing, “The sphincter between the esophagus and stomach is not always tight and milk passes upward through the esophagus back out the mouth,” says New York City pediatrician, Dr. Dyan Hes. As the sphincter muscle gets stronger, reflux typically resolves itself.
When it comes to baby spit up, what is normal?
Babies spit up. It’s a fact of life. “The majority of babies spit up 2-3 times a day and some spit up with every feed,” Hes says. Spit up is normal – babies swallow so much air and milk that it’s expected for it to sometimes come back up. “Babies do not have strong stomach muscles (those cute round bellies though!), and they need to burp to get the swallowed air out,” Hes notes.
“Normal spitting up would be a small amount of spit up after every feed, or even occasional large amounts of spitting up,” Dr. Lisa Lewis, MD, says.
So how do I know if it’s something more?
Parents should be concerned if their baby is uncomfortable from spitting up. “All babies cry,” Hes reminds us. “But if your baby is crying or colicky as a result of these digestive issues for the majority of the day, it could signify something more.” If your baby is not thriving, not gaining weight, or projectile vomiting (where it, quite literally, projects across the room), talk to your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible.
Pediatrician Dr. Phil Boucher, MD, FAAP, adds, “Blood in the baby’s stools or spit up associated with coughing and difficulty breathing are definite flags that this more than typical infant reflux.”
Sometimes these things can signify something more serious, but most times, a change in formula or in mom’s diet can do the trick. Your doctor can let you know what the best next step is for both you and your baby.
How can you ease baby’s feeding discomfort?
There are a few things we can do to help make our babies more comfortable until those stomach muscles strengthen up. “Positioning the baby a bit upright (about 30 degrees during and for 20-30 min after feeds) can help settle baby’s stomach after they eat,” suggests Hes.
A breastfeeding mom may have to change her holding position and make sure the baby is not nursing while laying flat, she notes. “I usually suggest using a feeding pillow, like the Dr. Brown’s Gia Angled Feeding Pillow.”
Hes continues, “Be sure to burp your baby frequently, and if bottle-fed, check to see that the bottle being used has an internal venting system to help to reduce colic, spit-up, burping, and gas by eliminating negative pressure and air bubbles.” Some bottles can help preserve vitamins C, A, and E by minimizing oxidation of the breastmilk or formula, Hes says. Scroll on down for our favorites.
“Some babies need more frequent breaks while feeding to help minimize spit up, and others are generally being overfed,” Hes tells us. This means that some babies may require smaller volumes in the bottle per feed.
Often, this all takes a lot of trial and error to figure out, and your pediatrician and/or lactation consultant can be of great help when it comes to figuring out what’s best for your little one. Don’t be shy about asking for help or advice – that’s what they are there for!
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