5 Reasons why your baby might have reflux Image Credit: Shutterstock

If you have a baby who has reflux, you’ll understand the struggle that parents have when dealing with a reflux baby. When a baby has reflux, they are often fussy, only happy in your arms and are usually rotten sleepers.

The diagnosis of infant reflux is on the rise but what is it and why are refluxy babies so miserable?

What is infant reflux?

Reflux in its simplest form is medically defined as “the non-forceful regurgitation of milk into the oesophagus whereby an infant may regurgitate their feed a number of times a day.” This is often referred to as ‘chucky babies’ or ‘happy spitters’.

This type of reflux is very common with an estimated 40%-50% of babies under 3 months regurgitate some of their feed at least once a day and it tends to peak at about 4 months old.

What are the symptoms of infant reflux?

  • Frequent Vomiting
  • Arching Back
  • Fussiness
  • Crying
  • Frequent Hiccups
  • Cough whilst feeding

Is it just a laundry issue?

Health practitioners tend not to be concerned about these ‘happy spitters’ because in most cases, babies continue to thrive and gain weight. It is often referred to as a ‘laundry issue’ due to the amount of washing you tend to do when you have a baby with reflux.

However, these babies often cry and exhibit colic symptoms of being fussy and upset. It isn’t just ‘a laundry issue’. Especially, when families are not getting the sleep that they need.

The Sleepless Baby

Many babies with reflux struggle to sleep well, especially during the night. They don’t like being laid flat. This is because the connection between the stomach and oesophagus is located towards the back so when baby is laid flat on their back (as recommended to reduce SIDS) it is more uncomfortable for them.

The ‘Not So Happy Spitter’

If your baby is losing weight and refusing to feed, then this is likely to be Gastro-Oesophageal Disease (GORD). This is when the acid washes back up the oesophagus causing irritation, inflammation and pain.

As well as the symptoms mentioned above for reflux there are additional symptoms including

  • Weight loss
  • Blood in stools
  • Refusal to feed
  • Respiratory issues
  • Recurrent ear infections

Unlike colic and simple reflux, GORD is regarded as a medical concern because there maybe ‘failure to thrive’ due to the baby not gaining weight and baby vomiting frequently and forcefully. Also due to the pain caused by the acid, the baby may refuse feeds as they associate feeding with the pain.

5 Common Causes of Reflux

  1. Overfeeding. A baby has a very small stomach which can only hold 1 teaspoon at birth and 3 to 4 ounces at 1 month old. When baby’s gut can’t take anymore, it returns back up the oesophagus, usually with force. To remedy this, try smaller, more frequent feeds.
  2. Aerophagia (excessive air swallowing). Air in the stomach pushes the stomach contents up the oesophagus. Limiting your baby’s air intake whilst feeding will help your baby keep the milk in the tummy. You can do this by ensuring that there are no air bubbles in your baby’s bottle is you are formula feeding and for the breastfeeding baby, ensure there is a good latch to the breast throughout the feed.
  3. Allergies. When your baby’s immune system identifies cow’s milk proteins as a foe, the body’s response is to try and get rid of the milk and this is usually via vomiting. If you suspect your baby has an allergy then speak to your practitioner.
  4. Tongue-Tie. If a baby is unable to latch properly to create a seal around the bottle or breast then there is an increase in air causing the same issue as the aerophagia. It can be difficult to diagnose a tongue-tie, therefore a tongue-tie specialist should be seen for a proper assessment and division if necessary.
  5. Immature LES (lower oesophagus valve) – This is one of the most well-known causes of reflux and often referred to as ‘a faulty valve’. However, a baby’s LES matures by the age of 6 weeks old, so it is only a significant cause in newborn babies.

Gravity is your baby’s best friend

My top tip for parents who have a baby struggling with reflux is to keep your baby upright as much as possible. Gravity is their best friend as it keeps the stomach contents down in the stomach and less likely to return back up the oesophagus. When placing your baby down to sleep, elevate the crib/cot by placing a book underneath the legs at one end. Then place your baby feet to foot to prevent your baby sliding down. Throughout the day then babywearing is an excellent way of keeping baby upright but enabling you to get on with your tasks for the day.

If you are concerned about your baby, if they are losing weight or there is a reduction in soiled diapers then please seek medical advice. There are acid suppressant medications available to your baby if they are deemed necessary. No baby needs to suffer and help is available for families who are facing the reflux battle.

Rebecca Palmer offers personalised support with infant colic and poor baby sleep related to colic and infant relux online at