Everybody has reflux. But not everybody is sick with reflux. And so it goes for babies. Spits, urps and wet burps, the sin qua non of reflux, are what we expect in healthy, normal babies. But are there other signs to suggest that your baby has more than a simple case of the spits? You bet. Here are 5 common signs of reflux in babies that parents often witness but don’t associate with reflux:
1. Irritability. Tummy contents are quite acidic and create painful irritation when washed over the swallowing tube and throat. Look for pain after eating and when lying down. The irritability associated with reflux also causes baby to arch more than crunch.
2. Congestion. If refluxed tummy contents reach the throat it creates a slight degree of swelling and irritation. The result is noisy, congested breathing often mistaken for allergy or cold. Think of reflux when congestion is persistent and associated with other signs of reflux.
3. Sleep disturbance. When it comes to reflux, gravity is king. And recumbency may make it more apparent. While a baby may not have dramatic symptoms during waking hours, the horizontal baby may show her true colors. Look for acute, “pin-in-the-foot” awakening, unsettled sleep.
4. Difficulty feeding. Sometimes feeding difficulty is the only sign that a baby is suffering with acid-related pain. Esophagus (swallowing tube) irritation classically makes babies pull back and fight the breast or bottle resulting in feeding sessions painfully long for mom and baby. I’ve referred to this pattern as indecisive or chaotic feeding.
5. Gas. Yes, gas. As it turns out, the indecisive feeding described in #4 above frequently leads to big air swallowing. And what goes down must come out. I frequently evaluate babies with debilitating gas where the inciting problem is actually chaotic feeding from reflux. Who knew?
For more colorful details of the above symptoms, pick up a copy of Colic Solved – The Essential Guide to Infant Reflux and the Care of Your Screaming, Difficult-to-Soothe Baby (2007 Ballantine).