Tummy Troubles - Reflux and Digestion

Babies are changeful creatures. The speed at which they develop physically is incredible and with this rapid growth and development inevitably comes a host of different challenges. One of which is a rather fussy and sometimes delicate digestive system. There are so many factors that can upset the balance inside their little tummies.

Reflux, colic, the change from colostrum to breast milk, introducing formula or other artificial milk, starting solids, moving from fruit and veg to carbs and meat/fish, introducing dairy, adding liquids other than milk into their diet, the exposure to germs as they begin crawling and exploring the world around them, the changes in their feeding patterns due to lengthier sleep at night… the list goes on! And ALL of this is happening in the first few months of their life. Crikey.

 

How Do I Know If My Baby Has Reflux?

Reflux is common in babies under 12 months. Essentially it is an adverse reaction to feeding caused by the fact that the ring of muscle around the oesophagus (food pipe) is not yet fully developed. Symptoms include vomiting or bringing up milk during or after feeding, hiccups or coughing during or after feeding, generally unsettled behaviour, crying or showing obvious signs of discomfort. Sometimes the signs of discomfort also appear without vomiting, this is known as silent reflux. Again, these symptoms are quite common in infants under a year and are usually nothing to worry about. The NHS guidance offers some helpful support for reflux. If you are at all concerned, it is always recommended to speak to your GP.


How To Manage Reflux

There are some simple steps you can take to help your baby to feel more comfortable during a feed if they are prone to reflux. Firstly, feed little and often. Shorter more frequent feeds will help them to cope a little better with the milk intake. Burp gently, but regularly throughout the feed. This will help alleviate any trapped wind and reduce the frequency of vomiting. When finding a good position to feed it, always ensure their head is higher than their bottom. (Play the logic game. Milk goes down and hopefully stays there!) Finally, keep baby upright for as close to 30 minutes as you can after a feed allowing time for the digestion process to happen before laying them flat when sleeping. (I know. This is the last thing you want to be doing at 3 am, but if it helps them fall into a comfortable, digestive issue free sleep after a feed, then chances are they’ll sleep a whole lot longer from that point on.) I used to pop baby’s head in the snug of my neck (mainly so I could smell that incredible newborn smell that sometimes means all sleep depravity is instantly forgotten), keep them upright along my body and gently pat their bum. If you haven’t done this, do! It helps soothe them and it's the best hug you’ll ever have.

 

Starting Solids

Another milestone is the first taste of actual, real, proper food. Starting solids is brilliant fun, for you and your baby. It’s one of my favourite topics, I could talk about it all day. Especially baby-led weaning which I bloody love to bits! Mess ‘n’ all. However, starting solids isn’t always a piece of cake. See what I did there? Sorry, comedy is NOT my forte and probably also not what you’re here for. In my house, however, for baby number two starting solids was actually a piece of 'accidental' cake as it was big bro’s birthday party. BUT I’m absolutely not recommending “double fudge chocolate gateaux” as a first food. Do as I say, not as I do springs to mind right now…

Moving on swiftly, starting solids is a big change for your baby and a big thing for their digestive system too. They have lived for the past 6 months on a liquid diet, exactly the same day in day out. You suddenly then one day give them broccoli. Not exactly like milk! If you have waited until the 6-month mark, which is highly recommended, the chances are they’ll also advance quickly from fruit and veg to other food groups too. (Which is totally fine as from 6 months the list of foods to avoid is very small indeed.) Most babies cope very well with the introduction of solid foods and apart from a change in their nappy output, you’ll see very little change. For some babies, however, it's not quite as simple.

 

Why Babies React To Starting Solids / Weaning

Some may begin to exhibit some similar symptoms to a refluxy baby- evidence of physical discomfort, bringing food back up, wind etc. This type of reaction could mean a few things – it could simply mean they are sensitive to the change and with time the discomfort will ease, it could also mean they are eating too much, they could possibly be too full from a milk feed prior to a meal, or it could be the sign of an allergic reaction. If you suspect they may be having an adverse or allergic reaction to a food, always seek NHS advice. Many babies have a mild allergic reaction to foods in the early days, it is certainly not uncommon but is definitely something to keep a close eye on.

 

Reacting To Solids – What To Do

If your baby exhibits a severe reaction – a rash, choking, struggling to breathe, persistent vomiting or diarrhoea, always seek medical attention immediately. If they show signs of mild discomfort, tummy ache, wind or reflux-type symptoms you may wish to simply make some dietary changes. (Never make changes to the milk they are on before 12 months without discussing it with a GP or Health Visitor first) You can, however, adapt the solids foods you are offering. Try increasing the fibre-rich foods – fruit, veg, beans etc. These are healthy and easy to digest. Simplify dishes and offer single ingredients rather than a sauce with herbs and spices. (A piece of salmon, some sweet potato, and some broccoli makes a complete meal in the same way as a rich lasagne would do, but is much easier on the tummy). Offer ingredients one at a time and make a diary so you can track the reactions they have to certain foods. This is also handy for reference later on if the problem persists. Finally, if they are very new to starting solids and are in discomfort often, just give up for a while! Food is fun before they are 1, and maybe they just aren’t ready.

If you would like to learn more about starting solids, I am running a workshop on two dates this June. If you’re local, come along and find out more! An Introduction to Baby-led Weaning 21st and 24th June, 10-11.30 at The Mill Birth and Wellbeing Centre. Choose whichever date suits you, bring your baby and come join the chat! ***BOOK HERE***


Baby Massage For Digestive Discomfort

One incredible tool for easing any tummy troubles in young babies is massage. Easing digestive discomfort does not always have to involve a trip to the GP. The wonderful Julie at Nomad Therapy quotes “One of the top physical 'complaints' I hear when parents bring babies to class is wind, constipation, 'colic', gas, the 'witching hour', (or 5) and how stressful this can be for both parent and baby. There are many different ways which don't involve medication that can help.” She can recommend some specific baby massage techniques which you can use easily at home on a daily basis to help ease any digestive symptoms your little one might be showing. I'm a great believer in the power of massage, digestive-wise or not - it does so much to both calm your baby and strengthen the bond between you both.  She is running a fantastic Tummy Trouble workshop 11-1 pm on the 17th May covering all aspects of digestion in babies and how massage, strokes and stretches can soothe your baby. She offers words of wisdom alongside practical suggestions, with a dose of reality thrown in! For more info or to book one of her workshops, check out her website www.nomadtherapy.co.uk