Help Baby Sleep Well In Spite Of Infant Reflux

Latest update: December 18, 2018

Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD
Medical fact-check: Dr Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.

Infant reflux (GER and GERD) is annoying and painful - it is bound to keep baby and you from sleeping well. Luckily there are simple acid reflux techniques to keep nights at best.

Not sure if it really is infant reflux or which type your child has? The Baby Reflux Symptoms Guide helps you decide.

GERD (Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disorder) refers to having pain with the reflux which may require treatment. All infants have some form of non-painful reflux (GER) due to the under developed lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle allowing gastric contents to easily pass back into the esophagus. The LES tightens between 6 to 12 months of age, thus preventing reflux from then on.

Infant reflux tips to get the best sleep

When diagnosing GERD (Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disorder), your doctor will probably suggest thickening baby's milk for a while and/or taking anti-acid medication (such as ranitidine, omeprazole (Prilosec), and lansoprazole (Prevacid)).

Whether your child has GERD, or the less serious GER (Gastro Esophageal Reflux), you can do the following to help her feel better and sleep more comfortable:

  • Holding upright and burping: After feeding, always hold your baby upright for at least 20-30 minutes. Pat her back and/or put her high on your shoulder to help with burping.
  • Burp during feeding: Every 3-5 minutes or so, pause the feeding and hold baby upright.

    Burping also reduces the amount of air/gas in the stomach that is swallowed during feeding. This extra gas would act in a way to propel more milk back into the esophagus, causing more reflux.
  • Feeding upright: Have your infant sit/lie as much upright as possible during feeding.
  • Feed less more often: Having to deal with less food at a time helps reduce the infant acid reflux effects.
  • Breastfeed when possible: thumbs up for breastfeeding: breastfed babies have less chance to develop a serious form of reflux.

    That's because breast milk is lighter and digested much faster. And, the sooner the food leaves the stomach, the less chance it has to go back in the wrong direction.

    Being held close to you during feeding also helps with soothing and relaxing.

    Try out different breastfeeding positions: lying down, sitting up are rugby position are good sitting-down options. Or try walking around. Whichever way helps baby feel more comfortable. Ask me if your baby has difficulties feeding (is restless, cannot 'cope' with the milk flow, coughs, gags, etc.).
  • Use a baby carrier: Carrying your infant upright after feeding becomes so much easier (hands-free) and is very (!) efficient at helping your baby soothe. A good sling will also allow a breastfeeding position. See more on baby wearing benefits.
  • Experiment with food: even though finding the right diet for acid reflux in babies is often trial-and-error, some foods do trigger or make acid reflux worse so it is worth trying to eliminate those. Keeping a log will help you discover food-reflux connections.

    • When breastfeeding: mind your own food and experiment with leaving out dairy products and limit of foods known to cause gassiness if consumed by mom: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and (excessive) garlic. Infant abdominal distention from intestinal gas causes more pressure against the stomach and makes reflux worse. Also limit fizzy drinks.
    • When formula feeding: consult your doctor or pharmacist to see if you can try out different formulas and note how your little one reacts.
    • When baby is on solids: avoid the allergens as above.

Sadly, sometimes none of these tips will make a big difference in preventing the infant reflux symptoms at all. Then, it is all about keeping your baby as comfortable as possible (like with carrying in a sling).

But it's worth trying different things (always give one idea several days before deciding if it works or not - unless it's causing horribly bad side effects of course!) - you may find just the thing that works for you.