Gastro-oesophageal or gastric reflux is the medical name for a digestive issue that can cause discomfort in some babies. ‘Reflux’ is often confused with ‘spilling’ but it’s not the same thing. Spilling is very common and affects most babies, especially in the early days. Spilling generally doesn’t cause discomfort and is more of an inconvenience than anything. For more information on spilling read here.
Gastric reflux on the other hand is more severe. Rather than simply spilling a little milk after a feed and then carrying on as normal, babies with gastric reflux may be vomiting larger amounts of milk frequently and will show you they are in pain. They may be arching their backs, crying, being difficult to feed and perhaps not growing as well as they should be.
What causes reflux?
Your baby has a ring of muscle that creates a valve where his food pipe joins his stomach. This muscular valve opens when your baby drinks milk, and then closes to keep the milk in his tummy. In young babies, this ring of muscle isn’t fully developed yet. This means that when your baby's tummy is full, milk and stomach acid may flow back up the food pipe, causing discomfort.
What can I do if my baby has reflux?
Rest assured that the valve at the entrance to your baby’s tummy will gradually get stronger and most babies outgrow reflux in time. In any case it’s a good idea to take baby to see the doctor as medication may be needed to relieve the pain and help prevent the stomach acid & milk coming back up the food pipe.
When to see a doctor.
A little spilling after feeds is nothing to worry about. But speak to your doctor if you notice that your baby is irritable during or after feeds, crying and arching his back, vomits large amounts of milk straight after or up to two hours after feeding, and isn’t growing as well as he should..
The best thing to do if you have questions or concerns is to see your doctor, midwife, Plunket nurse, or Well Child provider.