Unfortunately for both parents and babies, reflux can have a dramatic effect on a baby's ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Babies with reflux often suffer from trapped wind amongst other symptoms. The sensation of needing to release trapped wind can cause your baby to wake frequently during the night. Another problem your baby may face with reflux is waking up in pain because their stomach acid splashes up into their esophagus.
These issues are distressing for all involved and can result in many sleepless nights. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to keep your baby safe and secure whilst improving their sleep habits. In this blog we will explore the main signs of reflux, how reflux correlates with your baby’s development and some safe and useful practices you can implement into your baby’s sleep routine.
What are the signs of reflux in babies?
Before we jump in with our top tips on how to help your baby with reflux to drift off safely, let’s first go through the most common symptoms. If you suspect that your baby is suffering from reflux, these are the signs you should be looking out for.
- Spitting and vomiting
- Constant hiccups
- Feeding disturbances
- Chronic irritability
- Discomfort when lying on their back
- Sleep disturbance
- Chronic cough and/or congestion
If you have noticed your baby struggling with these symptoms, I’m sure it has been quite a distressing time. It’s important to remember that you are not alone in this struggle. Around 50% of all babies experience reflux and it is a condition that they will grow out of. So, rest assured that it won’t last forever!
Reflux and baby development
Many of the factors that contribute to reflux in infancy are part of your baby’s typical growth and development. Newborns have a short esophagus that will grow as they do, along with a muscle at the bottom that is also relatively short and not as strong as it will be in time. Reflux typically begins at 2-3 weeks and peaks at around 4-5 months. Typically, things will get much better after 6 months once your baby learns to sit up; the esophagus gets longer and the lower esophageal sphincter functions properly.
A great way to encourage your baby’s development is to give them some tummy time during their waking hours. The babocush offers a calming, safe and secure place for your baby to lie on their tummy and work their muscles by practicing holding their head up independently. Designed specifically for babies with colic and reflux difficulties, the babocush positions your baby at an angle which allows their airways to open and relax. Daily tummy time will also decrease the risk of your baby developing flat head syndrome which is caused when an infant spends too much time laying on their back.
Safe sleep solutions for your baby with reflux
Here we have put together some key practices that you can use to create a safe and healthy sleep routine for your baby whilst dealing with reflux.
Place your baby on their back to sleep
A lot of parents worry that their baby may vomit and choke while sleeping on their back. This is a total myth! Your baby will automatically cough up or swallow any fluid they spit up during the night because of the gag reflex which naturally prevents choking. Thankfully there is no proven correlation between babies sleeping on their backs and serious choking episodes. Positioning your baby on their back is actually the safest way for them to sleep because babies placed on their stomachs to sleep are at a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome. This may sound scary, but if you get into the habit of placing your baby on their back for bedtime they’ll be just fine.
Firm, flat safe sleep surfaces
If your baby falls asleep in their car seat it is recommended that when you reach your destination you promptly and gently lay them on their back on a firm, flat safe sleep surface such as a crib or bassinet. Car seats and other sitting devices such as swings or reclined bouncy seats do not offer a safe sleeping environment for your baby. In fact, there is evidence to show that a semi-reclined sleeping position can make a baby’s reflux worse.
Schedule time between eating and sleeping
Acid reflux occurs after meals, so it is crucial that you don’t put your baby to sleep immediately after a feed even if they are drowsy. Instead you can spend some time winding your baby and wait at least thirty minutes before laying them down to sleep. Keeping your baby positioned upright for thirty minutes after feeding is also very important. This will help to aid with their digestion and alleviate reflux symptoms.
Work with your pediatrician
Although reflux is a common condition, every baby’s needs are different and sometimes it is best to reach out to your doctor. Talk with your child’s pediatrician if you think acid reflux is causing your baby to have extreme difficulty sleeping. They can help you find a solution. Your infant may need medication, a change in formula, or — in rare cases — surgery. Your pediatrician can also recommend ways to help your baby sleep which takes into account your individual circumstances. If your baby is taking medication for reflux, make sure you give them the medication exactly as prescribed by a pediatrician. Be aware of any side effects and when to call your doctor in an emergency.
Prepare for life after reflux
It’s important to stay mindful of the fact that there will come a time when your baby has outgrown reflux. As blissful as that sounds, the sleepless nights could continue if healthy sleep habits are not enforced from early on. Make sure to establish a consistent bedtime routine, then follow it nightly. Also be conscious of rocking your baby to sleep every night, as they will likely form an association with being held and rocked in order to sleep and will rely on this to drift off after the reflux days are over. As we comfort our babies, we don’t want to inadvertently reinforce poor sleep habits. Walking, rocking, feeding, or swinging to sleep creates a habit that will be hard to break. Once the reflux is under control, a baby without poor sleep habits will learn to sleep easier.
Believe it or not, more peaceful times lay ahead once your baby outgrows reflux. Until then keep practicing healthy sleep habits and you and your baby will be just fine. You got this!