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      Reflux in Babies: Symptoms & Causes

      Infant Reflux

      Identify the signs of infant reflux

      Reflux and regurgitation are medical terms to describe the process of bringing up small amounts of milk after a feed. It’s perfectly normal for babies, and thought to be related to their developing digestive system – that’s what all those muslin cloths are for! And in most cases there’s absolutely nothing to worry about. The usual cause is that the valve that keeps the stomach’s contents down is still developing and allowing milk – and acid – to move back up. By your baby’s first birthday most reflux and regurgitation symptoms should be starting to disappear.

      Reflux and regurgitation differences

      The terms ‘reflux’ and ‘regurgitation’ are actually different things, but in terms of the effects on your baby and treatment, they are very closely related. Watch our short video to learn more about the symptoms and treatments of reflux.

      What is Reflux

      Also known as gastro-oesophagael reflux (GOR), this is where milk, or food in older babies, goes back up from the stomach and into the oesophagus – or food pipe1. Often called ‘silent reflux’, it can sometimes be tricky to work out what’s going on because you can’t physically see the feeds being brought back up.

      What is Regurgitation

      More commonly known as posseting or spitting up, this is where the milk, or food, makes its way from the stomach, through the food pipe all the way into the mouth – and then out of the mouth, often landing on mum or dad’s shoulder! Unlike vomiting there’s no straining involved; it’s effortless, more like a hiccup1.

      The main thing to remember is that although it can be distressing for parents, reflux and regurgitation are both very common and completely normal. You may worry that your baby isn’t getting enough nutrients, but this is very rarely the case. As long as your baby’s not showing signs of discomfort or losing weight, there shouldn’t be a problem.

      Around 30% of healthy babies experience infant reflux and regurgitation, several times a day, in the first year of life, while their digestive system is still maturing².

      Possible causes of reflux and regurgitation 

      If your baby suffers from frequent bouts of ‘posseting’ it can be reassuring to know that there are a number of common reasons why this happens:

      • Babies spend a lot of their time lying down
      • Their diet is mostly made up of fluid
      • They have a short food pipe
      • Their digestive system is still maturing
      • Too much milk or food in one go can cause a problem

      Most of these causes are part and parcel of being a baby. But there are some simple things you can do to ease uncomfortable symptoms if they have been diagnosed with reflux or regurgitation.

      What are the signs of reflux and regurgitation?

      Symptoms are usually seen between 3 weeks and 12 months of age3. Your baby is considered to have regurgitation if they ‘posset’ two or more times a day for three or more weeks, but have no other obvious signs of illness such as retching, vomiting, weight loss or feeding difficulties3. However, as well as regurgitated milk, there are other unpleasant symptoms associated with reflux4:

      Constant or sudden crying

      Irritability or pain

      Waking up frequently

      An arched back after feeding

      'Wet burps' or hiccups

      The peak time for symptoms is around 4-6 months and babies normally start to grow out of them between 6-12 months5. While you can’t ‘cure’ reflux or regurgitation, there are practical ways you can help your baby to feel more comfortable until they naturally grow out of it. And it’s good to know our Careline professionals are on hand 24 hours a day, 7 days a week if you need a sympathetic ear or some sound advice. Just call: 0800 996 1000.

      What is gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)?

      In severe cases, reflux leads to inflammation in the digestive system which can cause feeding problems and ‘failure to thrive’. This is called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). It’s not the same as simple reflux and regurgitation and it only happens in severe cases5.

      Should I talk to a healthcare professional?

      While reflux and regurgitation are normal and will pass with time, it’s always a good idea to talk to your health visitor, pharmacist or GP if you think your baby may have either. Once diagnosed, your healthcare professional will be able to advise on practical ways you can ease the symptoms and, if appropriate, talk you through the nutritional solutions available. Always speak to a healthcare professional if your baby is vomiting regularly, bringing up large amounts of milk or has discomfort while feeding, so other causes can be ruled out. If your baby is less than a year old, our Baby Symptom Checker is a useful way to capture your baby's symptoms for this discussion, and it offers some practical advice too.

      Next steps

      • Check your baby's symptoms match those we’ve listed
      • Make a note of your baby's symptoms and how often they occur, or enter them into our Baby Symptom Checker and create a PDF summary
      • Talk to your health visitor, local pharmacist, or book an appointment with your GP
      • If your baby is diagnosed with reflux or regurgitation, take a look at our tips for managing the condition 
      1. Vandenplas Y et al. J Pediartr Gastroenterol Nutr 2009;49:498-547. 
      2. Iacono G et al. Dig Liver Dis 2005;37(6):432–438. 
      3. Hyman PE et al. Gastroenterol 2006;130:1519–1526. 
      4. NICE. NG1. Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: recognition, diagnosis and management in children and young people. 2015. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng1/resources/gastrooesophageal-reflux-disease-recognition-diagnosis-and-management-in-children-and- young-people-51035086789 [Accessed: September 2015]. 
      5. Nelson SP et al. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 1997;151(6)569-572.

      Last reviewed: 12th September 2016

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      Your baby's future health begins here

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