What is reflux?
Reflux occurs when your baby’s stomach contents are released back up towards their mouth. It is unlikely to harm your baby or cause any long-term problems.
Your baby may have signs of reflux after a feed that include:
- bringing up milk during, or shortly after feeding
- burping, belching or swallowing hard.
Reflux is not the same as vomiting
Reflux and vomiting are different. Reflux is effortless, while vomiting is forceful. Some reflux and regurgitation is normal and will usually improve as your infant grows and their digestive system matures. Reflux often increases between six weeks to four months, and for some children it will continue until they are 12 months old.
If you aren’t sure whether your baby is experiencing reflux or vomiting, call PlunketLine to speak to a registered nurse.
Tips to help your baby with reflux
You can help your child if they have reflux.
- take your time with feeds
- try to stay calm and relaxed during feedings, if possible
- burp your baby during feeding
- don't force your baby to take more milk than they want – some babies like to eat smaller amounts more often
- for bottle feeding, check that the hole in the teat is not too big, as feeding too quickly can make reflux worse
- use large bibs and a towel or cloth after feeds to catch the milk and protect clothes.
- hold your baby upright for a short time after they feed
- try not to handle your baby too much
- where possible, it may be helpful to change baby before or during a feed, rather than afterwards when their stomach is full.
If your baby brings up a lot of milk, they may be hungry again and you might need to feed them again sooner than usual.
For most babies, you don't have to do anything about reflux. It is a natural process which will get better by itself. Changing formulas won't help and neither will a change from breastfeeding to bottles.
There are thickened formulas for babies who are formula fed with reflux, although there is not a lot of research to support how effective these are. There are also many over-the-counter products aimed at reducing wind, colic and reflux, but there is no scientific evidence that shows these preparations work. If you choose to use such a preparation, make sure you choose one that has no alcohol or sugar.
When to visit a doctor
In a small number of babies, reflux can lead to problems including gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). Speak to your Plunket nurse or doctor if you're worried, or if you notice any of the following in your baby:
- long or frequent periods of irritability and crying
- reflux is forceful, or is green or dark yellow
- blood in the reflux
- their back arches after feeds
- poor sleeping
- poor weight gain
- long-lasting cough or wheezy breathing
- changes that you are unsure about
- the reflux continues after your baby turns one year old.