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A natural reflex

SUMMARY

If your baby brings up small amounts of milk after a feed, they may have reflux. This is perfectly normal and often nothing to worry about. It usually occurs when the valve that keeps the stomach contents down is not fully developed, and allows milk to come back into the mouth. By the age of 12 months, most babies’ reflux symptoms disappear.

Infant reflux

It’s perfectly normal for a healthy baby to bring up a small amount of milk after feeding. This is known as possetting (sometimes ‘regurgitation’) and is common during the first year of life – it peaks at around 4–6 months and after 12 months it becomes less frequent or disappears entirely.

As long as your baby is showing no signs of discomfort and is not losing weight, there shouldn’t be a problem. But you should speak to your midwife or health visitor about reflux if they are vomiting regularly, bringing up a large amount of milk and seem to be in distress or discomfort while feeding. Reflux is a term that describes the movement of stomach contents (whether it’s milk and/or stomach acid) into the oesophagus, and can be quite uncomfortable.

What causes reflux?

Between the stomach and the oesophagus is a valve that stops food coming back up. In young babies this valve is not yet fully developed, so it may not work at the right time or it might not be strong enough to close off the stomach completely – so milk can trickle back up into the throat and, occasionally, out of the mouth.

Feeding little and often might help your baby’s stomach from getting too full

Baby reflux

If you’re concerned that your baby might have reflux, it’s best to get in touch with your midwife or health visitor. However, we’ve listed some common signs to help you recognise if your baby is suffering from reflux and to help you discuss any problems with your midwife or health visitor:

  • Constant or sudden crying (much like colic symptoms)
  • Irritability and pain
  • Poor sleep habits, typically with frequent waking
  • Arching their necks and back during or after eating
  • Regurgitation or vomiting
  • Wet burp or frequent hiccups

Remember to speak to your midwife or health visitor if you are concerned about your baby or you think they might have any of these signs of reflux.

What your midwife or health visitor can do to help

If your baby is diagnosed with reflux, there are several things that your midwife or health visitor may suggest, such as adapting the way that you feed, hold and travel with your baby, as they can all have an effect on reflux. Feeding little and often might help your baby’s stomach from getting too full, while keeping them upright after a feed can help keep everything down (with a little assistance from gravity). It might also be suggested that you avoid dressing your baby in tight clothing around their stomach as this may have an effect.

If you’re bottlefeeding, your midwife or health visitor might propose that you switch the formula you’re using to a formula made with a thickener, such as cornstarch or carob bean gum.

Next Steps

Things to check with your health visitor:

  • Is my baby’s weight normal?
  • Am I feeding them correctly?
  • Should I switch to a special thickened formula? (If you are bottlefeeding).
Last reviewed: 12th August 2014