How to Feed a Baby With Reflux

We know spit up down the front of your shirt isn’t your best look, but for many new moms, it’s a rite of passage. You finally just go with it because changing would mean even more laundry added to the ever-growing pile of burp cloths. But the truth is that changing the way you feed your baby can actually reduce or eliminate their uncomfortable reflux that’s causing all that spit-up.

Even though young babies’ immature digestive systems make them prime candidates for reflux, there are several feeding strategies we suggest to improve it. Not only does reflux cause spit-up, but it can also cause your baby a lot of discomfort, and we know more than anything you want your baby to feel good. 

You’ll first want to identify if your baby is experiencing reflux and what might be causing it. Then we’ll give you our top tips to get your baby’s tummy back on track (and your shirts back to pristine condition.)

What is acid reflux in babies?

When a baby drinks breast milk or formula, it has a tendency to back up from her stomach. This is referred to as reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux (GER). Reflux is most common during the newborn stage (0-4 months) and improves as time goes on. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, this is because an infant’s ring of muscle between the esophagus and the stomach is not fully mature, allowing the contents of the stomach to flow backward. 

So how do you know if your baby has reflux?

How to Identify Acid Reflux or GER in Your Baby

Mild reflux in young babies is common. According to Medline Plus, “About half of all babies spit up many times a day in the first 3 months of their lives.” 

And even more will spit up about once or twice per day. In other words, it’s generally not a condition to be concerned about (and it’s temporary.)

Usually most parents just take the spitting up in stride if their baby seems comfortable and happy. In these cases, it’s mostly a nuisance to you while they could care less!

But there are also babies who may experience gas along with their reflux making them pretty uncomfortable or they might have what is called “silent reflux.” 

Whereas a baby who spits up will usually feel instantly better, a baby experiencing silent reflux will likely be in pain. This is because the acid will come up the throat, but then they swallow it back down.

If you have a baby showing the following symptoms, they’re likely suffering from one of the types of reflux:

  • Frequent spit-ups
  • Arching body during or after feeding
  • Crying when laid on their back
  • Inconsolable crying after feeding (but could also be hours later)
  • Pulling legs up 
  • Trouble sleeping

If your baby is under 4 months and growing well, you don’t need to be concerned about your baby’s reflux. But even though you don’t need to be “concerned,” it's still stressful when you feel like your baby isn't feeling their best but you can't help them.

Identifying your baby’s symptoms as reflux is the first step to fixing it. Knowing what causes it helps, too. That's when you’ll be able to utilize our tips to help your baby feel their best (while keeping the spit up to a minimum.)

Cause of Reflux in Babies

The cause of reflux in a young baby is pretty straightforward. It’s really not about anything you’re doing wrong, instead, you just have a tiny little human on your hands whose digestive system is still maturing.

Other than that, the fact that babies lie on their backs so often and are on a completely liquid diet make them susceptible to reflux symptoms. Premature babies, especially, have a hard time.

This all sounds pretty standard, right? And the fact that your baby is on a 100% liquid diet is out of your control. Luckily, there are some easy strategies that you can start implementing today that will improve your baby’s reflux or even eliminate it altogether.

Feeding a Baby with Reflux: Top Tips

We at bökee are all parents. Though we can’t say necessarily that we’ve experienced it all, we’ve certainly experienced a lot raising babies. What we do know is that no two are alike and what works perfectly for your first baby will surely be the one thing that doesn’t work with the next. With that said, we suggest giving these different strategies a shot in order to help your baby through their reflux.

1.) Try Paced Bottle Feeding

If you bottle feed, implementing paced bottle feeding is a good place to start.

In a nutshell, paced bottle feeding utilizes the following:

  • A slow-flow nipple 
  • An upright feeding position
  • Only 20-30 seconds of continuous feeding and then pull the bottle back to give your baby a break

With paced bottle feeding, you slow down a bottle-feed in order to better mimic typical breastfeeding patterns. “Paced feeding reduces the risk of overfeeding that may result in discomfort to the baby,” writes the Minnesota Department of Health

In our article, “How Paced Bottle Feeding Will Benefit Your Baby,” we discuss this feeding strategy further and give you the steps on how to put it into practice.

2.) Feed in Smaller Quantities, but More Frequently

Just as paced bottle feeding reduces the likelihood that your baby will overeat and get reflux, feeding your baby in smaller quantities but more often can have the same effect.

When babies take in a large meal at one time, it can be difficult to digest all at once. It also makes it more likely that some will come right back up through your baby’s immature ring muscle between the esophagus and stomach.

With this strategy, your baby will still drink the same amount of breast milk or formula in a 24-hour period, but could be given in 10 feeds instead of 7 (as an example.)

3.) Keep Baby in an Upright Position During Feeding and After

Babies sleep a lot and that means a lot of laying down. But reducing this amount of time is one of the easiest ways to prevent reflux symptoms. 

We recommend the following:

  • Keep baby upright during feeds
  • Hold your baby upright for the 20 - 30 minutes following a feed
  • Wear your baby in a baby carrier so you can get a break while being able to keep your baby upright more often

With this said, we want to caution you against usually sleep positioners. You may be tempted to try these due to their promises of reducing a baby’s reflux, but the AAP advises against their use due to SIDS concerns. Even babies with reflux should be placed on their back on a flat mattress to sleep. 

4.) Burp Frequently

This works great with a paced bottle feeding approach. Every 20-30 seconds try burping your baby. At a minimum, you should burp your baby after every 1-2 ounces of milk ingested.

The best way to burp a baby experiencing reflux is by holding them with their tummy side against your chest and burping them over your shoulder.

This will allow for removal of trapped gas and acid from your baby’s system before giving them further milk to drink. They may still have “wet burps” but that's a whole lot better than a full-blown spit-up at the end of a feed!

The tips we just covered are the easiest to implement right away. And for many babies, it will be all you need to do! If your baby is still spitting up or is experiencing irritability related to gas or silent reflux, we recommend trying these last two suggestions:

5.) Consider “Drops” Prior to or After Feeding

Gripe Water is a natural remedy that helps to relieve reflux and other infant stomach aches. The herbs can help ease digestion. Utilizing these drops in combination with the above recommendations will likely work for many babies.

If you think your baby’s discomfort is related to gas, Mylicon is an over-the-counter remedy that many parents swear by. It’s common for babies to have both reflux and gas, so it’s worth a shot if what you’ve done hasn’t shown a lot of improvement.

We love using these two options with the bökee. Because a baby experiencing silent reflux or gas is often crying and inconsolable, this leaves you having to open these bottles one-handed while you carry your baby in the other. The last thing you want to do is put your baby down in these moments. The bökee may have originally been designed for easier bottle prep, but it works great to stabilize medicine bottles to get the tops off so you can get the medicine to your baby more quickly.

6.) Use a Bottle That Reduces Reflux

Though it can be annoying to have to go out and buy a brand new set of bottles, getting the right bottle can often be the solution you’re looking for to eliminate your baby’s reflux. You'll want to look for bottles with a type of vent system that eliminates air bubbles in your baby's breast milk or formula.

You can find some great anti-reflux bottle options here.

You may also see recommendations to use a special formula designed for reflux relief or to put rice cereal in your baby’s bottle to thicken your baby’s milk (making it more difficult for them to bring it back up). But these two options should be done at the direction of your doctor. So, how do you know when it’s time to contact your pediatrician?

When to Consult a Doctor for Your Baby’s Reflux

Though mild cases of reflux can usually be improved by using the above strategies, some babies may need further intervention if those don’t help. 

Babies who experience further distress may be experiencing a more severe form of reflux called GERD. Consulting a doctor at this time is necessary.

This may be noted by the following symptoms:

  • Large volumes of spit-up
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty eating
  • low/no weight gain

If you notice any of these in your baby, getting direction from your doctor is imperative.

Final Word on Feeding a Baby With Reflux

Luckily for most families, dealing with reflux and spit-up is a challenge that’s easy enough to work through. Taking the time to implement a few of the simple strategies above will help you avoid the milk stain while keeping a smile on your sweet baby’s face.

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