by Kimball Young
Like most moms, I spent my pregnancies daydreaming about what my babies would be like. What would they look like? What would they be good at? Would they love to read, or sing, or dance? I imagined sweet, sleepy little infants who spent hours snuggling and cooing. What I didn’t spend time daydreaming about was infant reflux. I didn’t imagine myself sobbing in the furthest corner of the house holding a baby who had been screaming for hours on end.
I have 4 children and all 4 of them suffered from infant reflux.
I was on baby number three before I realized there are natural ways to treat reflux. These treatments worked much, much better than the treatments I tried with my older children. So much better, in fact, that when baby #4 began showing signs of reflux I was able to treat the symptoms so quickly and effectively that her symptoms were only present for a matter of days.
First, let’s address what reflux is and what it isn’t.
What Infant Reflux Is Not
Almost all babies spit up sometimes, so how do you differentiate between normal spit-up and reflux? The short version of the answer is this: If your baby appears happy and doesn’t seem to be in any pain or discomfort, it is likely normal spit-up and your child can be considered a “Happy Spitter”.
What is Infant Reflux?
The official term for reflux is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Babies with true GERD are categorized as “Scrawny Screamers”. This may be a misnomer, however. GERD may cause your baby to undereat, because eating is painful causing your baby to become underweight (thus, the term Scrawny Screamer). GERD may also cause your baby to overeat, because sucking and swallowing may help keep the milk they drink down and the acid at bay. Common symptoms of GERD are:
- Gagging, choking, coughing, bad breath, excessive hiccoughing, burping
- Frequent spitting up or vomiting (if it’s projectile, it is more than GERD)
- Fussiness and trouble sleeping
Severe GERD is categorized by:
- Extreme fussiness and/or crying associated with eating
- Refusing to eat/poor weight gain
- Breathing problems
- Back arching
- Hoarseness, sore throat
- Severe congestion/chronic sinus or ear infections
- Spitting up blood or bile
General Advice for GERD Babies
These are the general tips you’ll likely hear if your baby is suffering from reflux:
- Keep baby upright as much as possible, especially during and after feedings
- Allow Baby to sleep on an incline
- Feed your baby smaller, more frequent meals
- Burp your baby thoroughly after each feeding
While I think these tips can be helpful for less severe cases of reflux, I haven’t personally found them to be particularly helpful for babies who are experiencing more severe reflux.
Advice You May Be Given, But Should Ignore
Some well-meaning doctors and friends may recommend you thicken your baby’s milk with infant cereal (either pumped breast milk, or formula).
There are several reasons this is a bad idea. First, thickening formula may lessen the amount of spit-up you’re dealing with, but it may not actually help with the reflux. The idea is that the cereal helps the milk to “stay down” in the stomach, but in reality what is likely happening is that Baby begins to experience Silent Reflux- reflux in which the stomach contents come up and Baby swallows it back down rather than spitting up. This can cause a pattern of Baby bouncing back and forth between diarrhea and constipation.
The second reason this is a bad idea is that there is mounting evidence that babies don’t have the proper enzymes needed to digest grains and should not be fed any grains until they reach at least 1 year old.
Natural Infant Reflux Remedies That Actually Work
- Healthy gut flora for baby. Some cases of infant reflux may be due to an overpopulation of bad bacteria. Adding in good bacteria in the form of probiotics will help to overrun the bad bacteria. Find a probiotic that is made especially for infants, like this one. Powdered probiotics can be given in a spoon with only a few drops of water, or can be added to pumped breast milk and given in a bottle. You can even apply the probiotics to your nipple and allow Baby to swallow it while breastfeeding.
- Nurse in a more upright position. Often, reflux is the result of Baby drinking too much milk too fast. If you’re breastfeeding and have forceful let down, make sure to nurse it positions that allow Baby to have better control of how much milk they’re getting. Try these positions. Read more here.
- Feed Baby from only one breast per feeding. Sometimes moms produce an overabundance of milk. If you’re one of those moms, nurse Baby on one breast only per feeding. This allows Baby to get both the foremilk (the more watery thirst quenching milk) and the hindmilk (the more rich, fatty, nourishing milk).
- Try an elimination diet. The most common triggers are dairy, soy, wheat, and eggs. Eliminate one food at a time and for at least a week. Your child may have an actual allergy to something you’re eating.
- Try Chiropractic Care. This one was the winner for my third baby. He screamed incessantly for the first 9 weeks of his life. Every other thing we tried helped a little, but he was still miserable. When he was two months old, we moved and I was able to try a different chiropractor than the one he’d been seeing and the results were instant and lasting. He stopped screaming during the adjustment, fell asleep and slept for 9 hours straight (he’d slept only 20-30 minutes at a time up until that point!) When he woke the next day he was happy and content.
- Hazelwood Reflux Jewelry. If you’re familiar with Baltic Amber teething necklaces, this suggestion won’t seem like a stretch. Hazelwood necklaces proved to be very effective at helping to ease the acidity related to my babies’ reflux. I ordered mine here.
- Babywearing. For me, this one is a no-brainer. Babies love to be worn. Choosing a carrier that allows Baby to be more upright with no pressure on the belly is ideal. The Ergo is a great option, and very comfortable for Mama. Other choices include the Baby K'tan and the Moby.
- Swaddling. All of my babies loved to be swaddled, but I noticed the two who had the most severe reflux did best when swaddled most tightly.
- Castor oil packs. Castor oil has amazing detoxing abilities, and can help flush the body of whatever is causing a problem. Castor oil can either just be rubbed on Baby’s belly several times a day or you can use the castor oil pack method. Dip a cloth (cotton, hemp, wool, or flannel- a cloth diaper would be perfect) in castor oil. Apply it to Baby’s belly. Wrap with plastic wrap (to contain messes from dripping oil) and cover with a blanket. Leave it on for 30-60 minutes, if possible. Then, give Baby a warm bath (make sure the water is filtered, I use this shower filter) with a few drops of lavender oil.
One Last Tip
Many babies who’ve dealt with reflux aren’t able to sleep well. Even once they are no longer experiencing reflux symptoms they may continue to be poor sleepers. This may simply be a result of never having had a chance to learn to sleep well. Once your baby seems to be free from symptoms of reflux, make teaching healthy sleep patterns a priority.