Dr. Sarah Mitchell
About Author
June 27, 2020

Acid Reflux & Baby Sleep: Help your Baby with Reflux Sleep Better [Complete Guide]

Reflux in babies

Reflux in babies can dramatically affect their ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. It will also affect Moms confidence in how well her baby can sleep which can increase parental interventions at bedtime which can lead to more night waking.  Meaning the more you have to help out at bedtime to get your baby to sleep, the more help you’ll have to continue to deliver in the night time. 

The drive to sleep is biological, but the way we sleep is a learned habit.  All humans wake in the night.  Babies who were held, fed or rocked to sleep at bedtime, will ask for this same help when they surface from sleep in the night.   To be an independent sleeper, go down without help and sleep 11 + hours through the night, your child needs to be at least 3 months of age and have this important skill. 

Symptoms

Reflux in babies can present in many different manners.  Reflux exists on a continuum.  Meaning the symptoms may vary in severity from child to child. 

Many kids are “happy spitters.”  They spit up but it doesn’t seem to bother them.  They show no signs of pain or distress.  

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the more serious form of reflux is gastroesophageal reflux disease GERD.

The AAP  describes the symptoms of GERD as the following:

  • Refusal to feed
  • Crying and/or arching the back during feeds (i.e., seems to be in pain)
  • Blood or greenish color in the spit-up
  • Increase in frequency or intensity of the spit-up (i.e., forceful)
  • Belly is swollen or distended or feels hard
  • Respiratory symptoms—including wheezing and coughing

Silent Reflux

I am not an expert on reflux.  My second child had “silent reflux” where the stomach contents escape through a weak esophageal sphincter and splash up into the esophagus or “food tube.”  Once the contents are in her mouth she swallowed them back down.  She would grimace when this would happen.  In the morning when I picked her up from her crib she often had wet spots on her mattress around her head.  In the night she would turn in her head and spit the reflux out.  But she didn’t cry out or need my help falling back asleep, as she was an independent sleeper from the beginning.  Even though she would wake in the night with the reflux, she knew how to relax herself back down into sleep. Her reflux wasn't excruciating and she had the learned skill of falling asleep independently. The learned skill. 

In my practice I have worked with many, many babies with reflux that varied from mild to severe.  My most recent client had rumination syndrome which is where entire stomach contents come back up and she chews on it again and then swallows it back down.

Babies with reflux will need more comfort and care than other babies.  They will also sleep through the night later than most kids because of the variable of reflux.  This doesn’t mean they will always be terrible sleepers.  They just need more time and to get the reflux under control. 

Why Your Reflux Baby Struggles With Sleep

  1. She’s gassy. I’ve found that babies with reflux, they often can be challenging to burp.  The feeling of needing to burp can cause them to take short naps or wake more frequently in the night.  
  1. She feels pain. The acid splashes up into her esophagus and she wakes up because of it.

  2. For babies over 4 months, over time you’ve held her upright to fall asleep, and she’s associated that falling asleep looks like being held upright.  So when she wakes in the night, like all humans do, she wants/needs to be held to fall back asleep.

  3. For older babies, you’ve now got a little PTSD.  Those first few months with a baby who has reflux are so stressful.  She’s been in pain or uncomfortable and now you’re programmed to jump at the slightest toot.  Your worry meter is super sensitive. 

  4. Because of the stress you’ve been through, you have doubt that she’s capable of sleeping long age appropriate stretches.   

If you’re struggling with reflux and lack of sleep, the first thing you need to do is get the reflux under control.  

I have had many clients find amazing results with Infant Acid Reflux Solutions

Here are the links I think may be helpful.

Their  treatments based on MarciKids Study done at University of Missouri

Book an appointment Schedule

Video Compilation 

3 Tips to Help Your Baby with Reflux Sleep .

  1. For breastfeeding Moms a food diary can help.  Can you notice a correlation between any foods you eat and increased reflux symptoms?   Personally I noticed that caffeinated things and sugary things bothered my daughter more.  My son did not have reflux and tolerated caffeine fine.  Every child is different.
  2. Can you work on moving feeding away from sleep so that her stomach isn’t full when she’s laid down, which puts more pressure on the esophagus and can aggravate the reflux.
  3. Timing of sleep.  You can download my sleep timing chart which outlines how long your baby can comfortably stay awake between naps and bedtime by monthly age.  

Summary

You can have a “good sleeper.” Don’t lose hope. You first need to get your baby out of pain and diminished signs of reflux before you can completely tackle sleep and have your 4 month and older baby sleeping through the night 11+ hours.  While you work on the reflux, consider foods that might aggravate it, moving feeding away from sleeping and timing of sleep. 

Once the reflux is under control and you’re ready to get to the stage where you can put your little one down completely awake without any rocking, bouncing or feeding as part of your routine take a look at my sleep consultations.  There’s nothing like having a sleep expert with experience helping parents of babies with reflux guide you through the process.  

You can be loving, attached and well rested.  


Read More:

Toddler Won't Stay in Bed? How to Help Your Toddler to Stay in Bed

What You Need To Know About Sleep Training Vs Sleep Teaching

Why Newborns Babies Are Fussy At Night? What Causes It | EXPLAINED


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