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This is common and is usually nothing to worry about.1 However, if your baby is showing signs of discomfort when feeding or they’re not gaining any weight, there may be some other reason.1,2 So, let's have a look at what could be happening.

Why do babies get reflux?

There are two factors that play a role in causing reflux (also known as heartburn) in babies. Firstly, their oesophagus (or food pipe) is shorter.3 Secondly, the muscular valve at the bottom of the food pipe is not yet fully developed in babies.2 So, stomach contents, including stomach acids, can more easily leak back up into their oesophagus.2

Unlike our stomach lining, the lining of the oesophagus in both babies and adults is not designed to cope with these stomach acids, which is what causes pain.4

Do babies get GORD?

About 40% all babies have some reflux, starting from around 8 weeks of age.2 Thankfully, not every baby with reflux has symptoms, and most grow out of it as they get older as the ring of muscle at the bottom of their food pipe fully develops.2 By around 10 months, only about 5% of babies will still have reflux symptoms.3

In adults, if these reflux symptoms are troublesome, it’s more commonly called GORD.3 Although GORD is not uncommon in adults, it can also affect babies and infants too.3

Reflux symptoms include:2

  • Spitting up milk during or after their feeds
  • Gagging, choking or crying during their feed
  • Refusing their feed
  • Generally crying a lot
  • Persistent coughing or hiccups
  • Having regular ear infections.

You should see your doctor if any of the following is true for your baby:2

  • They frequently spit up or refuse their feeds
  • They cough or gag during their feeds
  • They bring their knees up to their chest or arch their back during their feeds
  • They frequently projectile vomit or their vomit is green/yellow or contains blood
  • They are irritable or cry a lot
  • They have persistent diarrhoea or blood in their poo
  • Their tummy is swollen or tender
  • They have a high temperature (38°C or above)
  • They’re losing weight, or not gaining weight.

Also see your doctor if your baby’s symptoms start when they are more than 6 months of age or carry on after they reach their first birthday.2

Can you help to avoid reflux in your baby?

There are two main things to consider: the food you give your baby and the way you feed your baby.

1) Food choices for a baby with reflux:

Babies that are breastfed are less likely to have reflux than infants which are given formula feeds.5 If you’re feeding with formula milk, the following might help:2,5

  • Giving smaller feeds more often, rather than one large feed
  • Speak to your public health nurse if you are thinking of changing your baby’s usual formula. There are ones available that contain thickeners that are harder for babies to reflux
  • Don’t overfeed your baby as this can trigger reflux.

2) Tips for feeding a baby with reflux:

You may find the following helps your baby keep down their feed:2,5

  • Feed your baby slowly and hold them upright
  • Burp your baby frequently when feeding
  • Try holding your baby upright for 20-30 minutes after feeding has been shown to reduce their reflux.

In the past it has been suggested that raising the head of the baby’s bed can help, but it’s no longer recommended when they are sleeping, due to the risk of cot death.2,5

What can you do to help reduce reflux in babies?

If you take your child to see a healthcare professional about reflux, they may talk you through some of the advice above, such as breastfeeding and feeding tips. They will take into account several factors such as your baby’s age, their attitude towards food, and whether or not they were born prematurely (this can increase the risk); they may even ask if you or your partner have a history of heartburn.6

If they consider it suitable, they may offer breastfeeding advice, or prescribe anti-reflux treatments, such as Gaviscon Infant Powder for Oral Suspension. If your baby is less than 1 year old, it is recommended that Gaviscon Infant is used under medical supervision.7

If you are in any doubt about your child's condition, always ask for advice from a doctor or public health nurse. But remember, there’s lots you can do to help your baby when they have reflux or GORD, so don’t let it spoil your special feeding times together while you can – our little ones aren't little for very long.

Gaviscon Infant

Help stop your baby’s reflux with Gaviscon Infant, specially formulated for babies. Gaviscon Infant works by forming a gel when it comes into contact with stomach acids.7 This thickens the contents of the stomach, making it harder for your baby to reflux.7

It is suitable for use in both breastfed and formula-fed babies, alongside their existing feed:7

  • No need to change your feeding method
  • Easy-to-use powder sachet can be used during or after a feed - please read instructions carefully.

All information presented is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. If symptoms are severe or prolonged you should consult a doctor or pharmacist.

Gaviscon Infant Powder for Oral Suspension contains sodium alginate and magnesium alginate for regurgitation and gastric reflux.  ALWAYS READ THE LABEL. Date of preparation: June 2021. RB-M-43772

References

  1. Health Service Executive. Vomiting or posseting after a feed. Accessed December 2020. www2.hse.ie/wellbeing/child-health/bottle-feeding/vomiting-or-posseting-after-a-feed.html
  2. Health Service Executive. Reflux in babies. Accessed December 2020. www2.hse.ie/conditions/child-health/reflux-in-babies.html
  3. Bhatia J, Parish A. J Perinatology, 2009;29:S7-S11.
  4. Gut UK. Heartburn and acid reflux. Accessed December 2020. https://gutscharity.org.uk/advice-and-information/symptoms/heartburn-and-reflux/
  5. Leung AKC, Hon KL. Drugs in Context, 2019; 8: 212591. DOI: 10.7573/dic.212591.
  6. Clinical Knowledge Summaries. GORD in children. Risk factors. September 2020. Accessed December 2020. https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/gord-in-children/background-information/risk-factors/.
  7. Gaviscon Infant. Summary of Product Characteristics. Accessed December 2020. https://www.medicines.ie/medicines/gaviscon-infant-32243/spc.

Article published January 1, 2021