Why has my baby got reflux?

‘What is causing the reflux?

Have you found yourself thinking this over and over?

Why has my baby got reflux?

What am I doing wrong?

What can I do to help them?

You have probably spent endless hours tapping,

 ‘Why has my baby got reflux’

into the search bar of google in the middle of the night, in the hope that the answer will appear and everything will be better.

Hence you feel bewildered by all the conflicting ‘advice’ out there about what is the best way to ‘treat’ infant reflux. 

As a result, left feeling completely hopeless and trapped in the situation as it is right now.

 

Having a baby in pain from reflux is not only distressing for your baby, but has a huge impact on you too! Trying to figure out why, and what to do, leaves you feeling overwhelmed, confused and doubting yourself as a parent.

Understanding why your baby has reflux can be the first step on the right path to helping improving things for everyone.

So what are some of the reasons your baby may be suffering with reflux ?

How do you get off the path you are on now, and get things back on track? 

Let’s help you make a start with that right now!

What is reflux?

Reflux means something going through a valve the wrong way. 

For your baby this means the contents of their stomach coming back up the oesphagus (their food pipe) and out of their mouth. This type of reflux can also be referred to as posseting, spilling or spitting up. Technically it also known as regurgitation.

Silent reflux is where the contents leave the stomach but only reach the throat or mouth before being re-swallowed. 

Reflux is a physiological process. Biologically the valve at the top of the stomach can be triggered to open. This allows excess contents out when the pressure in the stomach becomes too high. 

 For example, think of it a bit like the overflow in your bath tub. This is a hole in the side of the bath where excess water can be drained. It’s a safety feature that channels the water back down the drain pipes if the tub becomes too full.  It prevents it from spilling out all over your bathroom floor!  

Fundamentally, physiological reflux is a protective mechanism.  It is  designed this way by nature to ensure the stomach doesn’t become overfull. But when it is very frequent, causing your baby pain or distress, then there can be an underlying root cause (or causes) to this type of reflux. 

Some babies may have Gastro-oesphageal reflux disease. This is different to physiological reflux. Your baby is often in a great deal of pain and discomfort. If you want to know more about the different types of reflux then here’s some more information about that. 

 Is baby reflux normal or not

Root causes of reflux can be complex and multifaceted. Often it’s not just one thing that needs to be addressed in order for the reflux to be ‘FIXED’. 

It’s about looking at the whole and bigger picture.

 Firstly, I am going to highlight 3 of the most common root causes to reflux.

As well as give you some guidance on how to help your baby get out of pain.

Is reflux caused by trapped air?

Aerophagia, is the number one root cause of reflux, but not the only cause!

Aerophagia means excessive swallowing of air. 

It is normal to swallow air when talking, swallowing and for babies (who clearly aren’t doing much talking at this stage) crying. You will never stop ALL air intake. Normally this air just mixes with the other gases present in the stomach. Pain arises when the pressure of the air isn’t moved. So it hasn’t been burped up or moved down into the intestines and farted out. 

Babies can’t move this air like we can as adults. The pressure of trapped gas is also a
completely new sensation for babies, often causing them some distress.

Excess air trapped in the stomach can trigger the valve to open. The stomach detects excess pressure which needs to be released. This can lead to reflux occurring as the opening of that valve happens.

There can be certain things that can result in more air than is ‘normal’ being ingested.

What causes excess air?

If your baby is crying ALOT, then they may be taking on more air than usual.

As a result of this there is a build up of pressure in the stomach. When this air becomes trapped, it can cause discomfort. Our babies rely on us to help them move this air. 

Babies spend a lot more time lying down, or reclined than we do as adults, which can impact their digestive system. When air becomes trapped, the discomfort of this results in symptoms such as:

  • crying, 
  • pulling up of their legs, 
  • squirming, 
  • straining, 

All things that can in itself trigger the valve at the top of the stomach to open, resulting in reflux.

Another reason for excess air intake can be down to ineffective feeding. If your baby’s latch, to the breast or the bottle isn’t optimal then they may be swallowing too much air whilst feeding. 

If the flow of milk is fast and results in gulping whilst feeding, or your baby is having difficulty effectively controlling the flow of milk, this too can result in more air ingestion. That creates excess pressure, and discomfort and can trigger the valve to open and reflux to happen. Identifying is this excess air, and addressing how to minimise it being swallowed in the first place, can make a big difference to reflux.

Is it the milk causing reflux?

Possibly yes, but not necessarily for the reasons you think

Overfeeding is another common cause of reflux

Why? Simply put, if  your baby is taking more milk than their stomach can hold, the valve will open and let some of it out. This is why technically reflux is normal. The stomach is designed this way, it can’t just keep on filling and filling. 

So, when it becomes overly full, from a large volume of milk (or it thinks it is full because of excess air in there) the valve will open to allow some back out. This releases some of that pressure. So it may not be the milk itself that the issue, just the volume of it.

Babies are designed to be fed little and often. We know this based on biology of the fat and protein content of human milk and how quickly this is digested by the stomach.

Society has been encouraging us for generations to ‘fill our babies up’. Encourage or ‘teach’ them to go for longer between feeds, sleep for longer at night, as a way to help babies fit into our more modern day lifestyle. But this really goes against biologically how babies are designed to feed.

And back to that gulping. If babies aren’t able to control the flow of milk, pause take a breath when feeding, it may result in them taking more milk than they actually need, and excess air being swallowed as discussed above.

Issues with breastfeeding, like fast flow can result in babies getting a lot of milk quickly. Good identification of WHY a baby is struggling with the flow of milk, and strategies to help optimise feeding, will help address the issues impacting your baby.

There can be different reasons behind WHY a baby is having too much milk, but it is definitely a factor for some babies and a root cause of reflux.

Could it be an allergy?

Many parents worry that their baby may be allergic to their breastmilk. This is extremely rare. But babies can react to the food proteins that are present in both breast and formula milk.

Symptoms of reflux are broad but so are the symptoms of allergy. The NICE guidance (clinical guidance for health professionals) states,

 ‘the symptoms of cows’ milk‘ protein allergy can be very similar to reflux’.

Reflux itself can be a symptom of an underlying allergy. Most commonly that is a cows’ milk protein allergy, but babies in theory can react to any food protein. The oesphagus has a lot of natural protection mechanisms to help protect it against stomach acid (another indication that reflux in itself is a physiological process). When your baby is reacting to proteins present in the milk, inflammation causes these protections to weaken . This can be result in reflux being painful when it occurs.

It can be very common place to be told, just cut out diary. But this advice shouldn’t be suggested as an ‘easy option’.  Symptoms of allergy and reflux, overlap very closely with other infant feeding issues. This needs to be identified correctly and addressed to ensure parents are not eliminating foods unnecessarily. Stopping breastfeeding or giving hydrolysed specialists milks when it is not allergy that is the root cause of the reflux can be avoided.  Research shows that exposure to food proteins actually helps reduce the incidence of allergy. We only want to stop this exposure if there is a very good reason to (like an allergy correctly being confirmed

How do you identify the root cause of reflux?

Identifying and addressing the root causes of reflux, for your baby can really make a difference to understanding the WHY! Being able to take some positive action to help reduce it, and help your baby be more comfortable and settled can dramatically improve life for everyone!

These are my recommended best first steps to help you find out the WHY!

1. Start with infant feeding! Can we optimise and improve the effectiveness of how your baby is feeding?

2. Get some skilled infant feeding support to help you with this!

3. Track/ record your baby’s symptoms. 

  • When are they happening? 
  • How frequently? 
  • How severe are they?

This will help identify red flags. Symptoms that need a medical review, and help you look for patterns that may help identify the root cause of the reflux.

Trying to identify WHY MY BABY HAS REFLUX, can be really challenging. There are many different things that can impact this. 

How we care and feed our babies massively impacts baby reflux. 

The root cause of infant reflux for one baby, is not necessarily the same for another baby. Well meaning ‘advice’ to ‘just try this, it worked for our baby’ may not be the right answer or solution for your baby.

An evidenced based , holistic approach is one that considers your individual circumstances and all the factors that can be impacting why your baby has reflux. This along with understanding what is normal physiological reflux and when it is not!

 

How do I help my baby's reflux?

If you are reading this and thinking, ok so what on earth do I do next? How do I get the right support to help me identify and address the root causes of reflux for my baby?

Here are a few things to help get you started on that right path.

-Download a FREE copy of my Infant reflux journal- 

This has been designed to help bring you some more clarity around what’s going on for your little one.  So you can get a better understanding of the factors that may be impacting your baby’s reflux. It helps you look closely at infant feeding as well as the symptoms of reflux. 

You can download your FREE copy here >> Reflux Journal<<

– You can book a FREE 15 minute call with me. I will listen to everything that has been going on for you and your baby and how this has been affecting you both. 

     If I feel I can help you, we can talk about how I support families to identify and address the root causes of infant reflux and unsettled behaviours. How I can help you to get your baby out of pain and find some enjoyment in parenthood again!! 

      You can book a FREE call >>HERE<<

     -Please feel free to reach out to me if you want to chat

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Alice Lucken

I am an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Parenting Practitioner. I have been a nurse for nearly 20 years and have over 10 years of experience working with families as a Health Visitor and Infant Feeding Specialist, supporting complex infant feeding challenges. I now work independently to help families overcome any infant feeding or parenting challenges they are facing.

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