Infant Reflux: What else could it be?

Reflux. It is a common topic amongst moms with new babies. I come across so many clients whose babes have been diagnosed with reflux and put on medication. I want to explain why I think the rates of reflux are on the rise and what you as a mom can do tonight to help your baby’s symptoms.

What is reflux?

The Mayo Clinic describes Reflux as “when food backs up (refluxes) from a baby’s stomach, causing the baby to spit up. Sometimes called gastroesophageal reflux (GER), the condition is rarely serious and becomes less common as a baby gets older. Reflux occurs in healthy infants multiple times a day. As long as your baby is healthy, content and growing well, the reflux is not a cause for concern.”  If your baby is not gaining weight, having difficulty feeding and/or having respiratory issues you should seek medical attention as these symptoms are cause for concern.

My oldest son was extremely fussy from the get go, the only thing that stopped the crying was nursing. He would cry, I would nurse him to sleep, he would sleep for 20-30 minutes and repeat. All day and all night. He would also continuously spit up. I was forever changing his outfits and my shoulders and our furniture were always covered in baby spit. I am a nurse and felt like I should have known why this was happening but the truth was I had no clue and was becoming increasingly exhausted by the day. I took him to the doctor, described how he cried all the time, spit up constantly and just wouldn’t sleep. I left with a prescription and instructions to keep him upright for 30 minutes after a feed.

spitting up

I also purchased wedges to safely elevate his head in hopes he would sleep longer. This did not work. And neither did the medication. He continued to cry and sleep in very short stretches. His case turned out to be more complex (he had severe food allergies and sleep issues – more about this in another post). Through my work as The Mama Coach, I have come across many babies with a very similar story (minus the food allergy). Medications not working, and a baby with not enough sleep. Parents are exhausted and in desperate need of a solution.

The solution lies with sleep. A baby that needs to nurse to sleep and only sleeps in short stretches ends up spitting up and overtired. Overtired leads to excessive crying or “colic”. Teaching babies new ways to fall asleep (without nursing) leads to more sleep and less crying. Why? Imagine falling asleep in your bed and waking on the front lawn of your house. Your baby is waking not in the same place he or she fell asleep and it’s upsetting. Learning to fall asleep in the place they will sleep for the night is reassuring for the baby when he or she wakes in between sleep cycles. Instead of a full wake up and protest they are comfortable with the skills they used to fall asleep initially. They may continue to spit up but by six months the spitting up usually drastically improves. It also improves because nursing is no longer the sleep prop required to the baby to fall asleep and the baby isn’t eating when she isn’t actually hungry.

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So how do I teach my baby to fall asleep without nursing?

This is a great question and depends on many factors.

The first step is watch for sleepy cues. An overtired baby is very difficult to put down easily. If your baby is yawning, or rubbing his eyes he is probably ready for sleep. Crying and inconsolability is a sign your baby is overtired.

The next step is to be consistent. Do the same thing at bedtime routinely so your baby understands sleep is coming. Even young babies are receptive to this.

Commit to not nursing her to sleep. There are many ways to do this and different strategies depend on the baby and your parenting style. It is fine to stay with her, just do not revert back to nursing to sleep.

Make sure her room is dark and block out any noise using a sound machine.

I know these suggestions can seem overwhelming, but the babies I have helped develop healthy sleep habits became happier, and more rested. Their parents went back to their physicians, shared their baby’s symptoms had subsided and were told they could stop the medication. Everyone was sleeping better!

I call that success.

I would love to talk more about your baby and his/her symptoms to discuss how to get your entire family more rest.

Sleep well,

Carrie Bruno RN, IBCLC, Sleep Sense Consultant

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