Spitting up, or reflux, is very common in younger infants and can be due to:
- weak abdominal muscles
- an immature or weak lower esophageal sphincter
- a slow digestive system
In some rare cases, reflux in older infants is due to food allergies. In older children, it can also be a result of lactose intolerance. These children are unable to process lactose, a sugar found in milk.
In people with acid reflux, acid from their stomach comes up into their esophagus. Reflux is common in infants and doesn’t usually cause symptoms other than spitting up.
Most babies grow out of it by the time they’re 12 months old and don’t require treatment other than simple lifestyle changes.
Babies who have more severe symptoms may be diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflex disease (GERD). These symptoms may include:
- poor weight gain
- vomiting consistently
Babies with these symptoms may need to take medication or even have surgery.
GERD can be painful for babies, causing irritability and discomfort. This can make it difficult for them to fall or stay asleep. If you’re having trouble getting your infant with GERD to sleep, here are some suggestions that may help.
Because acid reflux occurs after meals, don’t put your infant to bed immediately after a feeding. Instead, burp them and wait 30 minutes before lying your baby down for a nap or for the evening. This will help make sure their system digested the meal.
Similar to acid reflux in adults, acid reflux in infants can be made worse by their position, especially after eating. Because very young infants can’t sit up by themselves, make sure your infant remains upright for 30 minutes after eating. This will help aid digestion before your child sleeps.
Raising the head of your infant’s crib can also help relieve the symptoms of acid reflux. You can do this by placing a towel underneath the head of the mattress.
For adults, lying on their stomach can help decrease acid reflux. However, doctors don’t recommend this as a sleeping position for infants, because it’s linked with sudden infant death syndrome. Babies with severe GERD often experience sleep apnea (the absence of breathing), so always place your baby on their back for sleeping.
Sometimes acid reflux causes babies to throw up everything they’ve eaten. A baby who hasn’t had enough to eat will likely have trouble getting to sleep. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you think acid reflux is causing your baby to have 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.
If your baby has GERD and is taking medication, make sure you give them the medication exactly as prescribed by your pediatrician. Be aware of any side effects and when to call your doctor in an emergency.
Sleep is important, both for infants and for their parents. Make sure to establish a consistent bedtime routine, and then follow it nightly. Rocking your infant in an upright position until they’re drowsy and almost asleep can help soothe them and may lessen symptoms of GERD or acid reflux.
Getting an infant to sleep can be tricky for anyone, but acid reflux may add yet another challenge. Talk to your pediatrician about how acid reflux may be affecting your baby’s sleep and how you can help your baby sleep better. Your doctor can suggest tips and tricks that will help your baby feel more comfortable. You should also take notes on any triggers you see affecting your baby’s condition, and speak to your pediatrician about them.