For the sleep deprived mom, having a newborn can be rough going. But having an infant with reflux can be downright torture. The endless (and sleepless) hours of crying, trying to soothe your baby while you're straight up delirious — it's like you should be the one who's crying. If you're looking for a hand to get you through the never-ending waking hours, there are some tips on how to get a baby with reflux to sleep. I checked in with Pediatric Sleep Consultant Riki Taubenblat, as well as Dr. Gina Posner and Dr. S. Daniel Ganjian from MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California to see if there was some hope for sleepless moms and their babies.
According to Health Line, reflux is common among infants, so take comfort in knowing that you're not alone. Getting a baby to sleep is hard enough but throw some GERD into the mix and it's downright impossible. Gastroesophageal Reflex Disease, otherwise known as GERD, can happen for so many reasons. Some of the causes can be "overfeeding, weak abdominal muscles, an immature or weak lower esophageal sphincter, or a slow digestive system," according to Health Line. But if you're wondering what the signs are, here's what you should be looking for if you suspect — or know — that reflux is the reason your baby is unable to sleep.
"Some of the most common signs that reflux is causing your baby to have sleep problems are [that] they typically cry and spit up a lot when you lie them down flat," Dr. Posner tells Romper. Another way you can tell if reflux is the culprit to your baby's sleepy time woes is "if you see your child is waking up and uncomfortable within one hour of feeding, has frequent spit-ups, and has back-arching associated with feeds," adds Dr. Ganjian. He also says that if your child is not growing as expected, then they could have reflux to blame.
All babies get fussy sometimes and can find it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep, but there are other non-reflux reasons for this. Taubenblat tells Romper that babies who suffer from reflux should calm down after you hold them upright for a few minutes, but if they don't, their fussiness could be a sign of something else like "an ear infection, or just not feeling well." Another common reflux-like cause that may interrupt sleep is "hyper-lactation — when mom produces more milk than the baby needs and baby guzzles the milk so fast that a large portion of it is not digested properly, which leads to stomach pain, gas, and a lot of fussiness," says Taubenblat. Dr. Posner also points out that reflux can sometimes be silent "where [babies] don't spit up." So make sure you check in with your pediatrician just to be sure there's not something more serious going on.
If you're looking for some relief, there are a lots of tips to help both you and your baby sleep better, even if they have reflux. One of the ways to help your baby sleep better is "keep [your baby] upright for 30 minutes after a feed," according to Dr. Posner. Dr. Ganjian says having "the head of the bed elevated" may help, too, and Taubenblat suggests waiting a full 45 minutes after a feed before you lay your baby down to go to sleep, since keeping them upright helps "[give] her body a chance to digest her meal properly and keep the contents in her stomach, out of her esophagus."
Another tip Taubenblat suggests is "offering more frequent, smaller feedings [because it's] easier on babies with reflux who have trouble digesting large quantities of milk." But, if your child's reflux is really bad, talk to your pediatrician about other alternatives — including medication — that may help in more severe cases.
If you're a nursing mom whose baby is experiencing reflux, Dr. Ganjian suggests "removing caffeinated drinks from your diet" because the caffeine may be irritating your baby's stomach. Trust me, I know, giving up caffeine is not an easy task for the already sleep deprived mom, but if it helps your child sleep, then hopefully you won't have to rely on that cup of coffee so much. If your child is formula fed, Dr. Posner recommends trying "a thickened formula like AR," which can help. Dr. Ganjian also suggests that moms can "try mixing some rice cereal into your babies' milk," to help thicken it up. But no matter what, reach out to your pediatrician for their advice, too. They'll know the best way to keep you and your baby comfortable, safe, and well rested.