Having a baby with acid reflux can feel like the most exhausting uphill battle when you’re a new parent. Having had two babies who both suffered from acid reflux, and after talking to countless doctors and fellow reflux families, we came up with a list of 7 tips and tricks for helping babies with acid reflux (that actually work!), plus a few hallmark signs that your baby does in fact have reflux.
When our first baby girl was born, we struggled for months to get a clear diagnosis as to why she was seemingly so uncomfortable. She cried for the better part of her first eight months, threw up everything we fed her, and seemed generally uncomfortable and miserable. As a new mom, it was heartbreaking. For many months, the best answer we could come up with thanks to a team of doctors who tried seemingly everything, including an endoscopy, which was easily one of the hardest days as a mom—was that Scarlett was suffering from pretty severe reflux.
A few months after that, it was our trusted allergist who stepped in, tested her, and determined that she was also severely allergic to milk protein. In addition to all of the reflux precautions, we eliminated all dairy from her diet. Just like that, things got better.* To this day, at six years old, Scarlett still has her bad reflux days and can’t have any milk protein at all, but to see our happy little girl thriving is everything.
What exactly is acid reflux? And why is it so common in babies?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux, is a condition in which stomach contents come back up into the esophagus, resulting in pain and discomfort. In babies with acid reflux, food backs up in the baby’s stomach and causes them to spit up. Babies are born without a fully mature esophagus, which is why this is such a common occurrence. (It also explains why our first baby seemed to suffer from such bad acid reflux. She was born a month early, and her esophagus missed out on all of that extra time in utero to fully mature.)
Along our path to helping our baby through acid reflux—a diagnosis that happens to be incredibly common among babies. We learned a lot of amazingly helpful tricks for easing the day-to-day symptoms for reflux babies. All of those tricks came in handy when our second daughter was born. Emmeline was also diagnosed with acid reflux early on. Lucky for us, her reflux has never been as bad as her older sister’s and milk doesn’t seem to be a problem either; still, equipped with the right tools to fight acid reflux, I felt so much more confident with baby number two.
Now that we’ve gone through acid reflux with two babies and I find myself answering questions all of the time about reflux, I realized it was high time I share just how we helped our reflux babies. With help from a. Few simple tips and tricks, we’ve been able to help our babies and others combat and reduce acid reflux symptoms.
How We Helped Our Reflux Babies + 7 Tips for Easing Acid Reflux
ONE. Trust your instincts.
As a mom, it’s so hard to watch your baby struggle. If you sense something is wrong or if it seems like your baby is always uncomfortable, unhappy, or has trouble sleeping (more than the normal hunger cues), talk to your doctor.
For us, especially with Scarlett, reflux presented in a few hallmark ways: Our baby was always crying, to the point that she was often inconsolable. She arched her back and would throw her shoulders back when crying. It looked like she was always trying to stretch her legs and toes and throw her shoulders back, trying to alleviate cramping in her abdomen. She refused food and pushed away bottles. She spit up A LOT after every single feeding. It’s normal for babies to spit up. Ours threw up. It was projectile and often looked like several ounces. (SO difficult to watch, especially in the beginning when I was still bravely trying to breastfeed.).
Our baby had difficulty swallowing and often made gagging sounds while eating. She coughed, hiccuped, and burped constantly. Her weight was always an issue. No matter how often we fed her, she continued to fall under the tenth percentile in weight. At several points, she hit the third percentile.
My heart broke feeling like I couldn’t ever feed her enough.
Simply put, babies with acid reflux or GERD are in fairly constant pain and discomfort. The stomach acid that comes up repeatedly after feedings can seriously irritate the lining of your baby’s throat, and cause frequent and constant pain.
A doctor will help guide you, especially if there is a problem. Both of our girls were put on medications to try to help reduce stomach acid levels. With both medicine, and the tips and tricks below, we managed to get each of our girls reflux under control.
TWO. Consider getting your baby allergy-tested.
Although not every baby with acid reflux suffers from some kind of allergy or food intolerance, often the symptoms of each can be confused. This is where going to a doctor/healthcare provider is imperative. For our first baby, both acid reflux and a food allergy were to blame, while with our second baby, she doesn’t appear to have any allergies, but does struggle with acid reflux. Every child is different, but it helps to know exactly what you’re dealing with.
THREE. If your baby is struggling with sleep, have him or her sleep on an angle.
Laying your baby flat on his or her back to sleep (which is the safest way for babies to sleep, in order to reduce the risk of SIDS) tends to make the symptoms of reflux and GERD even worse. Basically, the best and safest sleep position for your baby is also one of the worst positions for his or her acid reflux. We struggled with this one big time.
One of the things that helps a lot of little ones is to tilt the crib or bassinet at a slight angle to keep his or her upper body elevated. This helps your baby to swallow and digest better, especially after nighttime feeds. It was always hard for Scarlett to lie flat after eating in the middle of the night, often this was when she cried and fought sleep the most.
There are great wedges like this crib wedge that help to angle your baby in his or her bassinet or crib at a gentle angle; our pediatrician even suggested putting the wedge UNDER the mattress itself so that there would be nothing to impede baby’s breathing but it put the top of the mattress at an ever-so-slight angle.
Obviously, you should talk to your doctor about this before trying it.
FOUR. Try a pacifier.
Speaking of SIDS, we learned fairly early on with our first baby, from our pediatrician, that pacifiers greatly reduce the risk of sudden infant death (SIDS). Studies have found that use of a pacifier during sleep, reduced the chances of a baby suffering from SIDS by 90 percent. That’s HUGE, and pretty much all we needed to hear; both of our babies use/used a pacifier, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the added peace of mind.
Pacifiers also soothe your little ones; something that is SO needed when your baby is suffering from the pain associated with acid reflux. I would have done anything to comfort our constantly-crying baby, and more often than not, her pacifier did the trick.
These pacifiers in particular have an extra soft, flexible and thin SkinSoft nipple designed for oral health and premium comfort to calm babies and provide parents that extra bit of peace of mind. The MAM Pacifier has an orthodontic nipple that is 4 times softer than standard pacifiers and a nipple neck that is 60% thinner than standard pacifiers which exert more pressure on baby’s jaw and teeth. The curved shield, big air holes and innovative inside surface help to prevent skin irritation. Basically, this pacifier has one genius design.
Our baby girl, Emmeline, took to them right away. I love that they glow in the dark, which makes it so much easier to find at night. Especially those first few months when baby still wakes up often in the night.
Bonus: You can use your microwave to sterilize your MAM Perfect Pacifiers in the case that they come with, within 3 minutes.
How brilliant is that? The pacifier case is also reusable and perfect for keeping your MAM pacifiers clean. We always keep ours in the diaper bag so that we have a backup pacifier or two. Emme is pretty impressed.
FIVE. Switch bottles.
If you use baby bottles, finding the right baby bottle for your little one is super helpful. Some nipples/bottles allow baby to suck in more air as they drink, causing gas and discomfort. We’ve learned with our reflux babies that your best bet is a wider-set nipple (one that mimics a real nipple shape) because it allows less air to get in while baby drinks. (The human body is designed so well!). We recently discovered MAM Anti-Colic Baby Bottles, and I’ve been so impressed.
The SkinSoft nipple mimics breastfeeding, making the MAM Anti-Colic Bottle a great bottle for both breastfed and bottle-fed babies. The MAM bottle also has a patented anti-colic venting system that regulates pressure to eliminate bubbles that cause gas and aggravate colic and reflux symptoms, ensuring babies don’t get air in their stomachs while feeding. The bottles are also super easy to clean!
Such a plus when you’re an exhausted new parent.
Or in this case, an exhausted baby. (Love that we caught her tipping over on camera.)
SIX. Keep a log of your baby’s feeding times, along with the periods of discomfort.
Keeping track of the cause and effect will help you cross-reference when reflux symptoms appear in comparison with when your baby ate last, and that may help you see patterns that you can address.
SEVEN. Hold or sit your baby slightly upright after feedings.
Do it for about 20 to 30 minutes until the formula or breastmilk he or she just drank is digested. If you have a reflux baby and you lay him or her down flat right after feeding. There’s a good chance that much of that meal will come right back up.
I actually relished in this time together. Between feeding our baby and then holding her in my lap for twenty-something minutes afterwards, I really took the time to just be with her. (I also read a lot of books on my iPad those first few months!) 😂
We also used a rock-n-play to keep our baby at a raised angle. Mostly for naps and to keep her sitting up after feeding, when I had to get back to work, etc.
I hope these 7 tips help you if you’ve been struggling with a baby with acid reflux. I know from firsthand experience just how tough it can be to survive those first few exhausting months. To top it off with a very uncomfortable, rather miserable sweet babe, is just heart-wrenching. Trust your mama instincts, don’t be afraid to give your baby all the comfort he or she needs (you’ll figure out sleep patterns and/or sleep training later), and know that this too shall pass.
Wait for it …
IF YOU LOVED THIS BABY POST, YOU CAN SEE MORE OF OUR LIFE WITH TWO LITTLE ONES HERE.
Photos by Annie Timmons Photography for Glitter, Inc.