Reflux, also known as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), is a painful condition that has a range of symptoms, from refusing feeds to sickness, but is hard to diagnose. While most mums whose baby has reflux know something isn't right, the condition is often misdiagnosed as colic.
What causes reflux?
When a baby has reflux, the contents of the stomach flow back up into the oesophagus. This is because the muscle and valve that lead into the stomach aren't yet working properly, allowing the baby's feed, along with gastric acid, to be regurgitated.
As reflux specialist Alison Scott-Wright says, 'Reflux can result in projectile vomiting, frequent sickness, or continual spitting. Some babies are never actually sick, which is known as "silent reflux", and is expecially hard to diagnose.'
What are the symptoms of reflux?
'Reflux has many symptoms,' explains Alison. It varies from baby to baby. Some remain fairly happy, but vomit a lot, while others simply refuse feeds.'
Common symptoms of reflux are:
- Vomiting and spitting up
- Arching the back or neck
- Irritability and pain
- Frequent hiccups, over-dribbling
- Gurgling, gagging and choking
- White tongue (not oral thrush)
- Mucous, sinus congestion
- Raspy/wheezy cough
- Very windy, hard to burp
- Excessive feeding or refusal to feed
- Poor sleep patterns
- Bouts of inconsolable crying
What can you do about reflux?
There's no 'cure', but reflux can be controlled. Alison says, 'We have to crack the "reflux code" for each baby to find out what works.'
Keeping your baby's body in a straight position during feeding, and not lying them flat on their back after a feed can help. Small babies can also benefit from having the cot propped up while sleeping.
A GP can prescribe antacids, such as infant Gaviscon, rantidine and omeprazole. These reduce stomach acidity and the burning pain that comes with reflux. A feed thickener can be added to formula feeds or expressed breastmilk, or a pre-thickened formula can be tried. Always consult your GP before switching your baby's formula or excluding major food groups from your own diet if breastfeeding.
'The right combination of milk and medication is vital alongside regular feeds and naps,' says Alison. 'But be aware that even if your baby's reflux is under control, she may have negative associations to feeding and sleeping, which may take time to overcome. Most infants outgrow reflux as their digestive system matures but, even so, early diagnosis, proper treatment and an ongoing management plan of the condition are essential.'
The Sensational Baby Sleep Plan by Alison Scott-Wright (£12.99, Transworld); alisonscott-wright.com.
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