Understanding reflux and how to help the reflux baby
Your baby is feeding and spitting up milk. That is a normal problem. A laundry problem yes, but none the less normal. However, in some cases the spitting up of milk becomes quite frequent and starts to cause the baby distress. If your baby displays these symptoms, they may have a medical condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
When your baby feeds, milk moves down to the stomach, which operates with two safety valves to manage its contents. One at the top, which opens to allow milk in and closes to stop milk coming back up. And one at the bottom sending its contents, plus acid, down into the digestive system.
The acid in the stomach is an essential part of the digestive process, breaking down proteins and protecting it from harmful bacteria. If the valve at the top is, for some reason, not functioning properly, acid along with partially digested milk can travel back up into the throat. This causes irritation, distress and discomfort for the baby.
What are the symptoms of reflux?
- Frequent spitting up or non-projectile vomiting, burping, hiccuping and night waking
- Inconsolable crying
- Constant feeding or disinterest in feeding
- Arching the back whilst feeding, although this may be more due to trapped wind
- Poor weight gain
Both breastfed and formula fed babies can suffer from reflux. However breastfed babies seem to cope a little better. This is partly due to the make-up of breast milk being digested twice as fast as formula and also aided by the action of the tongue causing an increased action of the digestive tract.
What can help my baby’s reflux?
For immediate help, a few things can be done to assist in digestion and reduce the effects of reflux:
- Feeding your baby in an upright position and keeping him upright after a feed to allow gravity to assist with digestion
- Thorough burping. My favourite trick is to hold the baby upright with their spine and neck nice and straight. Hold them around the rib cage and gently squeeze. No patting or rubbing required.
- Small, frequent feeds
- Prop up the head end of your baby’s cot when sleeping
- Ensure your baby lies down with their head turned in both directions equally. If they favour one side, encourage them to turn the opposite way.
Many medical professionals prescribe baby antacids to reduce the effects of reflux, and this may help, but may also mask the real issue. Craniosacral therapists and osteopaths believe there are fundamental structural restrictions that cause reflux.
What causes reflux?
The stomach, along with all our organs, is managed by our central nervous system. Important nerves travel from the brain, through the neck to the stomach where they control its function. These nerves have both a sensory and motor function. In plain terms, a sensory function is to sense when there are contents in the stomach, and then tell the motor nerves to close the entrance and, when it’s full, to open the exit.
During pregnancy and labour, any structural changes to the muscles, ligaments and bones in the baby’s skull and neck could potentially have an effect on the nerves travelling from the brain to the stomach. During pregnancy some babies may lie in an awkward position, causing strains in the neck and skull. The massive forces of labour and birth may also have lasting effects.
Even in the most straightforward birth, we have found restrictions in a baby’s upper body. Add to these interventions such as a forceps, Ventouse or a C-section birth, and these forces can be much much greater.
If a nerve is in any way compromised by being compressed, inflamed or overstretched, either its sensory or motor function may be affected. In the case of reflux, we often find tissues around your baby’s head and upper body is restricted or strained.
How can craniosacral therapy help?
Craniosacral therapy works in babies by helping to relieve stresses and strains in the tissues resulting from pregnancy, labour and birth. Very gentle techniques are used to assist in the release and unwinding of the tissues around the baby’s skull, neck, upper back and sacrum (base of the spine).
A session will start with your therapist evaluating for strains and then using gentle pressure to work with any areas of tension. Depending on your baby, one or several sessions may be required to instrument change.
Along with reflux, we see great improvement with many digestive issues including colic, painful trapped wind and constipation.