Reflux in infants: How to help my baby sleep

Updated Jun 15th 2022 | timer 6  min read

Reflux in infants: How to help my baby sleep

Watching your baby sleep is one of the most heart-warming, loving moments that parents will experience.

Babies can struggle to sleep just like adults and children and apps like the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers can help set your baby up for sleep success thanks to their affordable subscription based programs that combine expert sleep coaching with in-app tools.

However, some babies will unfortunately experience things like acid reflux which is one reason your baby might have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Parents want nothing more in those moments than to soothe their baby. But how?

New parents, or even second-time parents, can struggle to figure out how to alleviate the impact reflux has on their baby. The lack of sleep is one that not only affects their baby, but them as well since babies with reflux probably haven't developed good sleeping habits. And if a baby isn't sleeping, chances are neither are mom and dad. Follow these tips to learn how to help a baby with reflux sleep.

Understanding Reflux in Infants

The esophagus delivers food from the throat to the stomach. Acid reflux occurs when food comes back into the esophagus from the stomach. This happens because the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) – the muscle ring that opens when you swallow – doesn’t close completely. That allows food and stomach acids to emerge back into the esophagus.

Acid reflux tends to affect infants because their LES is weak or underdeveloped. Reflux in infants tends to occur starting at four months. It usually resolves itself between the age of 12 to 18 months.

Signs of Reflux

If you’ve been wondering, "does my baby have reflux?", watch for some of these signs and symptoms:

  • Vomiting and spitting up
  • Interrupted sleep
  • Irritable during feedings
  • Refusal to eat
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing

Some reflux symptoms are more serious than others.

  • Your baby isn't gaining weight
  • Spits up blood
  • Blood in the stool
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chronic coughing

Take notes of what you observe so that you can track the symptoms to help you conclude whether your baby's reflux is mild or serious and discuss this with your healthcare provider. Of course, if your baby displays some of the more severe symptoms, seek medical attention.

Silent Reflux

Most parents associate spitting up with reflux. That isn’t the case with silent reflux. Silent reflux is a condition that develops in your baby right after she eats. Look for signs that she is fussy or uncomfortable shortly after eating. This will be more noticeable if you lay her down after she finishes. Parents might also hear a lot of tummy rumbling as well.

Severe Reflux Cases

There are some circumstances that will result in more severe cases of reflux. Those can be caused by Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), food allergies, pyloric stenosis (the narrowing of the valve between the small intestine and the stomach), eosinophilic esophagitis (when white blood cells injure the esophagus lining), and Sandifer syndrome (an affliction that resembles seizures).

How Can I Help My Baby with Reflux Sleep?

Getting your baby to sleep can be challenging enough without reflux complicating things. But if reflux is the driver preventing your little one from sleeping, then solving the reflux issue will go hand-in-hand with helping your baby sleep. Try these tips to help you and your little one get a solid night’s rest.

Sooth and Comfort Your Baby

Any concerned parent can’t stop pondering the thought of how to soothe their baby with reflux. Start by establishing a regular bedtime routine. Rock your baby in an upright position until she is almost asleep. If your baby is taking any type of reflux medication, try to time the dose so that it takes effect before bed. Little things that can induce sleep might help your baby stay asleep.

Best Sleeping Position for Your Infant

First and foremost, babies need to sleep on their backs . Sleeping on the stomach may help adults who suffer from reflux, but babies who sleep on their stomachs are more susceptible to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS occurs when a healthy baby, who's less than a year old, suddenly and unexpectedly passes away. SIDS tends to happen when babies are sleeping so it is often referred to as crib death. The causes of SIDS aren't fully known.

To help alleviate reflux, raise the head of the crib by placing a towel or wedge underneath the head of your baby’s mattress. Sleeping with an elevated head can diminish reflux symptoms.

Reflux Feeding Tips for You and Your Little One

There are plenty of feeding strategies parents can employ to minimize or negate baby reflux and, in turn, help her to sleep better.

  • Mom’s diet: Nursing mothers might need to consider some dietary changes. What mom eats, such as spicy foods, can find its way through breastmilk and into your baby’s digestive system.
  • Increase feedings but decrease amount: Try reducing the portion of each feeding for your baby. Though, reducing the quantity of a feeding means you’ll need to increase the number of feedings. Your baby still needs to consume the necessary amount of food for their age and size.
  • Boost burp frequency: Excessive stomach gas is one cause of reflux.Increase the number of times you pause a feeding to burp your baby. This action prevents air from collecting in your baby’s stomach. This burping action can be accomplished by either sitting your baby upright on your lap or putting her over your shoulder while gently patting and rubbing her back.
  • Sit your baby upright: Keep your baby upright for 20-30 minutes after each feeding. Your baby is more apt to spit up food if they are placed in a supine position shortly after completing a feeding.
  • Bottle type: Some bottles may allow your baby to swallow excess air during feeding. If you suspect this is the case, switch up the bottles and nipples you use. Some nipples, based on the shape or the amount and size of the holes, increase airflow during a feeding. Trial and error might be the way you find the ideal bottle or nipple.
  • Formula changes: Formula type is another avenue to explore. Some babies might be allergic to proteins found in the formula. Try a hypoallergenic formula if this is the case with your infant.
  • Again, solving the reflux riddle will help your baby fall asleep easier and stay asleep.

When to Contact Your Pediatrician about Reflux

Bring up any reflux symptoms at your baby's next well visit and consider calling a pediatrician if nothing you’ve tried to mitigate your baby’s reflux has worked or you have growing concerns. Also, watch to see if your baby displays extreme discomfort and irritability or spits up in excess. Taking notes about signs, symptoms, eating, and sleeping patterns your baby exhibits will help your pediatrician develop a strategy to treat the reflux.

Babies are the epitome of sweetness, joy, and love. Their smile – even a little coo – can melt your heart. But they are going to go through phases when they don't sleep well. Suffering from reflux will only exacerbate the sleeplessness. Some combination of these tips, with perhaps an assist from your pediatrician, should solve the reflux problem and in turn, help everyone in your home get a restful night’s sleep. Especially your baby.

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