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Reflux: How it can affect your baby's sleep an what to do about it

You had a baby, and now you are hearing the word reflux often. What the heck is reflux and what does it mean? In its simplest form, reflux (AKA GERD) is the involuntary regurgitation of stomach contents (sometimes including stomach acid) into the esophagus. The ability of the human body to move stomach contents into the esophagus is completely normal AS A PROTECTION mechanism. However, ongoing, and repeated regurgitation is far from normal. Regurgitation always happens for a reason, and so, it is a symptom.

REFLUX is a symptom, not a disease in its own right. Reflux does not have any underlying ‘pathology’ like diseases do. It only happens because something else is happening first. Finding the cause of reflux is the key to finding the solution. Parents are often told “reflux is normal '' despite the fact their babies are in considerable obvious distress. This sort of reflux is NOT NORMAL. The solution? Investigating what the true underlying cause of your baby’s reflux is by pinpointing the pattern of symptoms they are experiencing. Do some babies grow out of experiencing reflux, sure, but not all. Sometimes reflux can be silent too (baby not showing obvious signs of being in distress).

Here are some symptoms of reflux:

  • bringing up milk or being sick during or shortly after feeding

  • coughing or hiccupping when feeding

  • being unsettled during feeding

  • swallowing or gulping after burping or feeding

  • showing signs of distress AFTER being burped and therefore refusing the breast or bottle

  • crying and not settling

  • not gaining weight as they're not keeping enough food down

As you can see, reflux can make babies uncomfortable, and naturally sleep suffers as a result. Now here are some sleep-related signs of reflux, your baby:

  • doesn’t like being on their back

  • is difficult to calm enough to sleep

  • wakes shortly after being put down

  • wakes frequently

  • prefers motion to sleep

  • will only contact nap

Most babies with reflux find it hard to lie flat. Reflux causes acid to come up into their throat when they are lying flat, which can cause discomfort. The pain of acid reflux means that babies often cry for hours and are extremely difficult to calm and relax enough for sleep. Babies with reflux often need to be held upright for a while after a feed for 20 – 30 minutes. HOWEVER, sometimes if they aren’t held upright long enough, once they are placed down, they can wake in pain as the acid now comes up into their throat.

Equally babies with reflux are often poor nappers, meaning they are overtired at bedtime. As a result, they can crash into sleep and false start within 30-60 minutes. Babies who are struggling with pain, will usually also struggle to sleep. This will result in broken nights and frequent waking. In particular, if a baby is waking hourly or more- this is a red flag for a wider problem beyond a sleep issue.

Motion helps to calm upset & distressed babies and also provides them with help to fall asleep- which is something babies with reflux struggle with! The car seats are often not totally flat either so the combination of movement and being more upright can relax the baby to sleep.

Babies with reflux, like all babies, love receiving comfort from their caregiver. Reflux pain, however, makes this even more of a factor for these babies. They feel more relaxed and calm when held or in a sling. Coupled with being upright and motion, this can mean reflux babies often only sleep like this.

Therefore, reflux is a bit complicated as mentioned above as it can be associated with aerophagia (swallowing of air), food intolerances, SIBO, chronic inflammation, exposure of industrial foods especially glyphosate, structural misalignment, tongue-tie and mineral deficiencies. Reflux should really be treated with removal of foods causing reflux, gut healing, nutrient repletion, and bodywork (chiropractor/cranial osteopath).

It’s quite possible he has underlying oral ties (tongue tie, posterior tie, lip tie, buccal ties) that is one root issue for his reflux. It might be a good idea at some point to get an assessment from a qualified professional to see if he does have oral ties AND to see if function is impacted. As far as diagnosing a tongue tie and if it's impacting function, you need to find a specialist who knows how to assess function of the mouth. An orofacial myofunctional therapist or a pediatric airway centric dentist are two of the specialists to see when it comes to assessing the mouth, airway, tongue ties, etc.

I really like these two IG accounts with regards to feeding:

Additionally the following probiotics are great to help relieve symptoms of your baby’s reflux,

but remember, just because you are treating the symptom, it doesn’t mean that you have cured or figured out the root cause of your baby’s reflux.

Option 1 (this one does not include vitamin D so you will need to get a separate vitamin D supplement)

Option 2 (includes vitamin D)

Option 3 (includes vitamin D)

Last but not least, for more information about reflux you can check out this account Baby Reflux Lady or you can speak with your pediatrician, IBCLC or naturopath.

Need help to improve your baby’s sleep? Contact me at Be sure to follow me on Instagram at the_sleepcoach!

*Medical Disclaimer The information/advice/ provided during this consultation is not medical advice.Reliance on the advice is solely at your own risk. The advice is for informational purposes only and is intended for use with common sleep issues that are unrelated to medical conditions. The information provided is not intended nor is implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or the health and welfare of your toddler, and before following the advice or using the techniques offered in this consultation. Also, it is always best to follow sleep recommendations according to the SIDS campaign. In no event will Desiree Baird be liable to you for any claims, losses, injury or damages as a result of reliance on the information provided. **Copyright ©2023 Desiree Baird, Pediatric Sleep Consultant, All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, republished, or transmitted in any form or by any means for commercial use, mechanical or electronic, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Any passing of any information to anyone is strictly forbidden and subject to International copyright laws.

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