REFLUX: KNOW THE SYMPTOMS & FIND RELIEF
When your baby’s spitting up causes him discomfort, there are things you can do to help
Young babies with mild reflux are often restless during and after a feed, and they may struggle to sleep. You may also notice your baby crying with a red face, tight fists and an arched back.
Babies with severe, ongoing reflux lose weight because they rarely finish a feed. They also become pale and cough a lot. In extreme cases of GORD, the baby may even vomit blood. If you suspect your baby has severe reflux, take him to a doctor as soon as possible.
WHAT CAUSES REFLUX?
Physiological reflux can be caused by feeding too quickly (so baby swallows air) or an immature digestive system. Reflux can also happen when the stomach takes longer to empty (the valve leading into the intestine may be too tight) and can be worsened by tight clothes and a nappy that’s on too tight.
With this type of reflux the digestive system simply needs time to mature. Breast- and bottle-fed babies have the same incidence of reflux, although breastfed babies usually have shorter episodes of it.
Early, temporary and mild reflux is often associated with a weak gastric valve where the oesophagus enters the stomach. This valve tightens to make sure milk stays in the stomach. When it’s weak, milk can leak back into the oesophagus. If it’s too tight, milk collects in the oesophagus and when it becomes too full, the milk is sent back into the mouth.
On the other hand, severe reflex is often associated with congenital abnormalities of the oesophagus. Examples include a mild to severe hiatus hernia (weakness in the diaphragm where there is an opening for the oesophagus to pass through) or a connection between the oesophagus and trachea (called a TOF or tracheoesophageal fistula). These will need urgent corrective surgery.
Babies with congenital conditions such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or cystic fibrosis, or abnormalities of the airway or oesophagus, often struggle with severe reflux. When this happens, the reflux needs special monitoring, follow-up and treatment ideally involving a team of specialists.