If you’ve been here for a while, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “rule out reflux.” Reflux and baby sleep is such a hot topic because it affects so many newborns while still sometimes being hard to identify.
It can feel SO frustrating when you’re seemingly doing everything right to help your little one get the sleep they need. If you’re already watching for your baby’s sleepy cues and following age-appropriate wake windows but your baby is still extra fussy, tummy troubles, like reflux, should be looked into!
In this blog post, I’m going to answer the following questions:
Let’s jump right in!
What exactly is reflux?
Did you experience any heartburn when you were pregnant? I did and it was HORRIBLE! Reflux and heartburn are super similar. When our babies experience reflux, it can be painful and super uncomfortable, which is why we want to help them out ASAP.
There are two main factors at play when babies have reflux.
1. Overproduction of stomach acid
Ever heard the term “happy spitter”? Many babies spit up a lot without it really bothering them or becoming an issue with their sleep. With reflux due to an overproduction of stomach acid, this spit up burns and is super uncomfortable coming out.
2. A weak esophageal sphincter
The esophageal sphincter is a little mechanism between the esophagus and the stomach. Its job is to make it so that what we eat doesn’t come back up. Because our babies are so little and brand new, sometimes this muscle isn’t quite strong enough and baby spits up a lot.
Reflux in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing…all babies spit up, all babies reflux. But, for some babies, their spit up burns all the way back up their throat and out. Whether or not it is painful is the biggest determining factor of if it needs treatment.
Click here to learn more about reflux on Instagram.
Is my baby having normal spit up, or is this reflux?
Remember that spitting up is totally common for newborns. It’s a difference in their spit up and their pain and discomfort that really set apart “normal” spit up from reflux.
Here are a few signs to look for in your baby that might mean they are struggling with reflux:
- Sour breath
- Stinky spit up
- Arching their head back and outstretching their neck
- Angry when you lay them down
- Happier when they are upright
- Curdled spit up (cottage cheese-like!)
- Most upset right after eating
- Pulling off the breast often and/or seemingly unhappy while nursing
It is important to note that you should be on the lookout for all the symptoms you can’t actually see (like the cottage cheese-like spit up). Something to be aware of is “silent reflux.” Silent reflux means your baby is experiencing the pain and discomfort that comes with those spit ups without actually getting their spit up to come up and out.
How does reflux affect my baby’s sleep?
Reflux makes the newborn stage harder for a couple of reasons. I mean, it is the absolute WORST to see your baby in so much pain and discomfort, especially during feedings and sleep when you think they’d be the most content!
If reflux is affecting your baby’s feedings (during and/or after), your baby is probably only getting as much to eat as they need to survive. As a result, baby doesn’t get in a good, full feed and has more frequent night awakenings to eat.
Click here to watch a tip for helping with reflux after a feeding on Instagram.
Nighttime sleep specifically with reflux is tough because there is more crying, less sleep, and baby probably struggles to get back to sleep after a middle-of-the-night feed. This means less sleep for BOTH of you, more exhaustion, and more overwhelm.
What can I do to help my baby?
Here are a few easy things you can try out to help your little one at home:
1. Get in good burps
Burping helps eliminate those trapped gas bubbles which might otherwise cause your baby to spit up.
2. Keep baby upright after feeds
Hang out with your baby in an upright position after feeds to help keep their milk down.
Click here to see one of my favorite upright positions for babies with reflux on Instagram!
3. Try “gripe water“
Gripe water can be purchased over the counter and can help with gas, colic, and hiccups as well!
4. Cut out dairy and other sensitive foods
If the reflux is caused by a food intolerance, dairy might be what’s triggering the reaction!
5. Offer small, more frequent feedings during the day
The best thing you can do for your baby’s reflux is to get to the bottom of it ASAP! Make an appointment to talk through your baby’s symptoms with your pediatrician to see what they recommend.
For reflux, things like looking into food intolerances, homeopathic remedies, holding them upright after a feed, and even reflux medication can all be helpful. My advice is to trust your mom-gut and make sure you have a pediatrician you can troubleshoot with that makes you feel seen and heard.
In my 0-4 Months Content Library, I have an entire guide on tummy troubles that goes over how to recognize reflux, what you can do, and how to navigate medication/talk with your pediatrician.
Click here to watch a tip for soothing your baby with reflux on Instagram.
Recap on Reflux & Baby Sleep
If your baby is experiencing reflux, I see you. I’ve been there with my little one! It’s heartbreaking to see our little ones unhappy or in any pain or discomfort.
It can be SO helpful to have an expert in your corner while navigating optimizing your newborn’s sleep and managing reflux. To have the support of one of my AMAZING certified sleep consultants, click here to grab a consultation!
If you’ve done everything you can to preserve your newborn’s sleep AND have ruled out reflux and other tummy troubles. Please talk to your pediatrician!
Grab my 0-4 Months Content Library, which has an entire troubleshooting guide dedicated to all things reflux, gas, and tummy troubles. In the guide, I talk about my own experience with reflux and baby sleep as well as navigating conversations with a pediatrician, reflux medication, and trusting your mom-gut. Know that you’ve got this and that the sooner you can get to the bottom of your baby’s reflux and treat it, the sooner your baby can get comfortable again, and the sooner you and your baby can get the better sleep that you both deserve!