Key points to remember
- the medical name for reflux is gastro-oesophageal reflux
- reflux is when your baby's stomach contents are released back into their food canal and mouth
- it's very common and doesn't usually hurt your baby
- reflux mostly gets better by itself with time - most often by the time your baby is 1 year old
- reflux does not usually need any investigation or treatment
- see your family doctor or Well Child nurse if you are worried
What is reflux?
Reflux is when your baby's stomach contents are released back into their food canal and mouth. The food canal is called the oesophagus. It is a long tube of muscle that runs from the mouth to the stomach.
Reflux is very common and happens in around half of all babies.
Reflux does not usually need any special tests or treatment.
The medical name for reflux is gastro-oesophageal reflux, or 'GOR'.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Babies often bring up milk during or shortly after feeding. This is sometimes called 'posseting', 'spilling' or reflux and is different to vomiting. Reflux is effortless. Vomiting is forceful.
You might hear your baby burp, belch or swallow hard. Most reflux is swallowed back into the stomach but sometimes it comes all the way back up into your baby's mouth. Parents are usually more aware of the reflux when the milk comes all the way up to the mouth, especially after feeds. It does not usually harm your baby and is unlikely to cause problems later on in life.
How long will it last?
Although it can be very distressing to parents, infants do reflux and bring up feeds more than older children, and it usually gets better by itself.
Reflux usually begins before babies are 8 weeks old and may get worse until they are around 4 months of age. Most babies get better before they are 1 year old. This probably happens because babies are spending more time sitting and standing by this age. They are also eating more solid foods.
A small number of babies continue to have symptoms after the toddler period.
Will reflux cause any other problems?
Reflux won't normally cause other problems.
In a very small number of babies reflux can lead to problems. In this case, your baby might have gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).
Things you might see with GORD are:
- long or frequent periods of irritability and crying
- blood visible in the reflux
- back arching after feeds
- poor sleeping
- poor weight gain
- long lasting cough or wheezy breathing
If you are worried about any of these signs please contact your doctor. They will discuss with you whether your baby needs any tests or treatments.
What tips can I try to help my baby's reflux?
Reflux can be upsetting for parents.
It is natural to be worried that something is wrong.
There are a number of simple steps you can take which may help your baby:
- take your time with feeds and stay calm and relaxed if possible
- burp your baby regularly throughout feeding
- don't force them to take more milk than they want - some babies like to feed small amounts often
- check that the hole in your baby's teat is not too big - giving milk too quickly can make reflux worse
- hold your baby upright for a short time after feeding
Remember, if your baby brings up a lot of milk, they may be hungry again quite quickly. If that happens, you might need to feed them again sooner than usual.
Is there anything else I should do?
For most babies you don't have to do anything about reflux. It is a natural process which will get better by itself.
We don't suggest changing formulas or changing from breastfeeding to bottles. Neither of these steps will help the reflux at all.
When should I seek help?
Sometimes the amount or effects of the reflux can become a problem and need treatment. Sometimes there may be another problem causing the reflux which may need to be identified and treated. Sometimes the reflux itself can cause problems.
See your family doctor or Well Child nurse if:
- you are worried
- the reflux becomes forceful
- the reflux is green or dark yellow
- you see blood in the reflux
- there are any changes in your baby you are not sure about
- the reflux carries on after your baby turns one
- NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). January 2015. Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: recognition, diagnosis and management in children and young people. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng1. [Accessed 13/05/2105]
- Raising Children Network. Australia. June 2011. Gastro-oesophageal reflux. http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/reflux.html. [Accessed 13/05/2105]
- The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. December 2010. Reflux GOR. http://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Reflux_GOR/ [Accessed 13/05/2105]