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Is your infant with reflux sleeping in a safe position?

Infant with reflux sleeping

An infant with reflux sleeping problems can be difficult for tired parents to handle. But while you may be desperate for solutions to relieve your baby’s reflux symptoms, ensuring they’re safe at night is most important.

There are many so-called “solutions” and baby products on the market that claim to treat reflux. But many of these products and recommendations can be dangerous for infants. 

In this blog article, we’ll discuss the symptoms and causes of reflux, how to ensure your baby is put down safely, and what not to do when trying to relieve your little one’s reflux. 

What is reflux?

Almost all babies spit up—some more than others. While parents don’t always love getting spit up down the front of their shirts, spitting up usually doesn’t bother the baby. (Some pediatricians like to call these babies “happy spitters.”) However, some babies have what’s called gastroesophageal reflux (GER), which can sometimes be more uncomfortable for them.

GER or “reflux” is very common and not typically cause for concern, as long as your baby is otherwise healthy and growing well. In fact, more than half of all infants will experience reflux as part of their normal growth and development. 

Reflux occurs when a baby’s stomach contents return to their esophagus (the tube connecting the mouth and stomach). Cases of reflux in babies can vary from mild to severe. They typically start when a baby is about 2-3 weeks old and peak around 4-5 months. 

Why does a baby’s reflux get worse at night?

Sleeping can be a big challenge for an infant with reflux, especially if symptoms become worse or more noticeable at night.

Babies with GER are often gassy and can have a harder time burping. That feeling of needing to burp can cause them to wake up more often. The acid splashing up into an infant’s tiny esophagus can also cause discomfort and make it harder for them to get a good night’s rest. 

So how do babies with reflux sleep? Well, just like every other baby should—on their back.

Baby sleep positions for reflux

Many parents worry that their baby with reflux might spit up and choke while sleeping on their back. But this is just a parenting myth that has been passed on from generation to generation. On their back is the safest position for a baby to sleep.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), there is no evidence that healthy babies placed on their backs are more likely to choke than those placed on their stomachs.

Thanks to the human gag reflex, your baby will automatically swallow or cough up any fluid they spit up, which prevents them from choking. Because of the alignment of the trachea and esophagus, the risk of choking is actually higher when babies sleep on their stomachs.

Back is best (even with reflux)

While you may have heard that putting your baby down to sleep on their stomach can help with reflux symptoms, this unsafe sleep position puts them at a higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Even for babies dealing with reflux, the ABCs of safe sleep still apply:

  • A for Alone
  • B for on their Back
  • C for in a Crib

To reduce the risk of SIDS, infants should always be put to sleep on their backs on a firm flat surface without any crib bumpers, bedding, or stuffed animals. 

Products that promise to reduce reflux by elevating your baby’s head—like wedges or sleep positioners—are not recommended by the AAP. Swings, reclined bouncy seats, or rocking sleepers are also not approved for safe sleep. (Fisher Price’s popular “Rock n’ Play” was recently recalled for this very reason.) 

For babies with reflux, there is even evidence that sleeping in a semi-inclined position can make their symptoms worse.

How to get a baby with reflux to sleep through the night

For an infant with reflux sleeping through the night can be a challenge. Growing babies need a lot of sleep, so when reflux keeps them awake, it can lead to crankiness—for the baby and their parents. Fortunately, most babies outgrow reflux around six months old when their esophagus gets longer, and they start sitting up on their own.

The best you can do for your baby with reflux is to put them down in a safe sleep position and offer them lots of comfort when needed. While it might take them a little longer to sleep through the night, many go on to become great sleepers. You just have to hang in there!

When to be concerned about reflux symptoms

While it’s uncommon, some babies experience a more severe form of reflux called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Other symptoms can also signal a blockage or other serious problems.

See a pediatrician right away if your baby:

  • Refuses to eat
  • Isn’t gaining weight
  • Doesn’t have as much energy
  • Cries or arches their back during feeding
  • Has blood or greenish-tint in their spit-up
  • Has more frequent or forceful spit-ups
  • Has a swollen, hard, or distended belly
  • Is wheezing or coughing
  • Begins spitting up at six months or older

Taking your baby to see their pediatrician for all scheduled well-child visits is the best way to ensure they’re healthy and growing as they should. You can discuss any concerns with your pediatrician and get expert advice on the best way to care for your bundle of joy. 

Get quality care for your baby at LMH

From newborns to teens, the dedicated pediatric team at Logansport Memorial Hospital takes a compassionate and personalized approach to managing your child’s health and wellness.

Your concerns are our concerns, and communication is always a top priority. Our pediatricians will always take the time to listen and answer your questions so that you can make informed decisions about your child’s health.

Request an appointment 

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TOPICS: Pediatrics