Day 31: Acid Reflux / GERD and Babies

As our little guy is getting older, it is easy to forget what it was like in the first 2 months of his life.  Now he is usually happy and you can see there are emotions developing, so if he cries, there is now a good chance there is an emotional need he is looking to fill.  It was not always this way – the first 2 months he was uncomfortable most of the time with stomach pains leading to lots of crying, so we had what the Americans would classify as a “colicky baby”.  The only thing that gave me comfort during that time was that in one of my “dad books” it said that colicky babies tend to be better toddlers 🙂

I’ve mentioned earlier about the role that breastfeeding played in his discomfort, but there was also another really important element at play that made him sleep restlessly – the poor little guy had Acid Reflux.  Before you say, “baby’s can’t have Acid Reflux!”, let me reassure you, yes then can, and it is super common (25% of babies, according to parenting.com) .  It is called GERD – gastroesophageal reflux disease, and basically it happens because there is a “poorly coordinated intestinal tract”.  Most babies grow out of it by the first year, and for our little guy it was 2 months when he had primarily passed it, although some of the symptoms still show up from time to time.

How do you know if your child has GERD?  Some symptoms are:  (see complete list at webmd or at reflux.org).

  • Frequent coughing or weezing (especially while laying down and sleeping)
  • Frequent vomiting (especially right after eating)
  • Uncomfortable after feeding in general
  • A lot of hiccups
  • these were the symptoms for our little guy, but there are a lot more – please see the links above!

What do you do if you think the baby has GERD?

Chances are that if you live in Sweden, the doctors will tell you that GERD is not really a thing, or that there’s nothing you can do about it, and sometimes “babies make noises”.  But for me, I could not accept that a baby that is coughing all night long is “normal” – just think about it:  If you were coughing every time you laid down, and then when you were upright you were fine, is that normal?  We made a recording of the little guy coughing while sleeping and our midwife did admit she understood why we were concerned, but there was not much we could do.  So after reading on billions of websites and doing our own thing, here’s what we figured out:

  • Burp the baby – EVERY TIME, until you get at least one nice big one and one smaller one (my mother-in-law has a rule from the 1970’s-80’s: the baby should burp 3 times after each feeding – which I like, too).
  • Feed the baby less but more often (tricky if you are worried about a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance, but it can be done!)
  • Put the baby on a slight incline when sleeping (this was critical for us)
  • Don’t put the baby to sleep right away after feeding – if he/she falls asleep while feeding, it is better to keep them upright for a while if possible – for us we tried to keep him upright for 30 min.
  • If breastfeeding, there might be foods that you should cut out, but I think having the baby in the right position (at an angle, not lying flat) is the important thing

GERD is another complicated developmental thing that is purely connected to the baby’s intestinal tract and esophageal development – basically all this means is that the little things inside his body aren’t keeping the acid in the right place, and that causes discomfort.  More detailed – there is a ring of muscle at the bottom of his esophagus that connects to his stomach, and it is not yet fully developed, so there is not a good “seal” between the stomach and esophagus.

I should also point out that it is important that you do not only self-diagnose it as GERD if you see some of the symptoms from my links above.  They could be symptoms of something more serious, so you would want to call your doctor if you are experiencing some of them.  Just remember if the doctor gives you every new parents’ least-favorite words “it’s normal”, what they mean by “it’s normal” is that it is common, and it is not harmful – but there are further things you can do to make the baby more comfortable that have nothing to do with medicines or tiny baby acid reflux pills.  Basically letting gravity do it’s job is 99% of it.

Again, I cannot stress enough my point above about listening to your instincts.  You are a parent with a child.  And this means that you know your baby, and you know if a noise is normal or if it is something to look more into.  If your baby is crying a lot, or is making weird noises, you can (and should) do something about it.  If we hadn’t done the above things, it would have been even more difficult during those months.  At least this helped him sleep more comfortably at the very least (and therefore we slept more too).  Sleep is critical for the little guy’s brain development – and your brain too 😉

If you are a reader who stumbled upon this blog late at night, here are some resources that are helpful:

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