If you’re searching for solutions to your precious preemie’s reflux, you’ve found them! In today’s blog, we’ll take a closer look at reflux, what it is and why it happens. Then we’ll show you some excellent methods to reduce and eliminate this painful, frustrating problem. If that sounds like the information you need today, read on!
What is Reflux, Anyway?
Reflux is the shortened name for gastroesophageal reflux. It’s defined as a preemie spitting up or throwing up constantly. (Most babies and preemies spit up occasionally.) Reflux is also commonly known as “acid reflux,” as the stuff coming back up has stomach acid in it. Reflux can also become GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease if the symptoms are severe. (This is rare, though.)
The way reflux happens is that, first, a preemie will eat something, which passes from their mouth, through their esophagus (throat), and then into their tiny stomach. Usually, food stays down there and gets digested, but with reflux, it doesn’t. Instead, it comes back up through the esophagus and then comes out of their mouth as spit, vomit, or a combination of the two.
Now, here’s the thing; most preemies with reflux will not have much of a problem with it (even if their parents do). They will grow and develop just like they usually would, with no problem. Occasionally, though, a preemie will have a more severe case of reflux for some reason and, in some instances, will need medical intervention to take care of it. (That’s when it becomes GERD.)
What are the Signs of Reflux?
Below are a few of the most common signs of reflux. Some are signs of other things, too, which can be a bit frustrating and confusing, frankly. They include:
- Vomiting, Spitting Up, or Both. As I mentioned earlier, all babies spit up occasionally. It’s when they do it very frequently and forcefully that you need to start worrying.
- Fighting you at feeding time. If your precious preemie arches their back or refuses to take your nipple when breastfeeding, they might be suffering from reflux.
- They regularly have hiccups. Hiccups are caused when there’s excess air in the esophagus, which causes irritation. Some people refer to them as “wet burps” (but, TBH, we find that term kind of gross).
- Wheezing, coughing, and congestion. When acid comes back up into the esophagus, it can cause congestion, wheezing, coughing, and other breathing problems. Experts warn that the symptoms can worsen if your preemie is lying flat.
- Frequent fussiness. Preemies suffering from reflux can be irritable and fussy. (You would be too if you were getting nasty acid in your throat all the time.)
What Is GERD?
GERD, as we mentioned earlier, stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease. While not an actual illness but more a condition, GERD has symptoms that last from 6 to 14 months or sometimes longer. With GERD, your preemie will suffer from everything we’ve talked about already. However, a lot of other signs and symptoms usually accompany this more severe reflux problem, including:
- Trouble sleeping through the night.
- Respiratory problems including pneumonia
- Failure to gain weight
- Frequent vomiting
9 Natural Reflux Solutions for Your Preemie
Before we start with the 9 natural reflux solutions, what you need to know is that reflux, in the vast majority of cases, goes away on its own. It’s when the reflux symptoms that your premium is experiencing don’t improve or get worse that you should seek the help of your pediatrician or another healthcare provider.
1- Breastfeed your Preemie
For regular readers of our humble blog, you know that we’re breast-feeding warriors! It’s the number one best food for your preemie, no question. It’s also a remedy for reflux as preemies digest breastmilk twice as fast as they digest formula. (More food digested means less to come back up the wrong way.)
2- Use a Lactose-Free Formula
One reason doctors believe preemies get reflux is due to an allergy to lactose or milk sugar. If that’s your preemie, ask your doctor to recommend a lactose-free formula.
3- Burp Them like a Tupperware
It might seem counterintuitive, but stopping your preemie’s feeding and burping them more often can sometimes relieve reflux symptoms. That’s because burping will help to release any gases in their stomach.
4- Switch Nipples
As with colic (which you can read about here**), if your preemie swallows too much air due to a nipple that’s too big or small, it can increase their reflux symptoms. There are many different bottles on the market that you can choose with extra nipples to help reduce or relieve their symptoms.
5- Keep Your Preemie Sitting Up after Meals
Many preemies suffer from reflux because, directly after feeding, their mommy or daddy put them down into a prone or supine position. (i.e., laying flat). To prevent reflux from occurring, it’s best to keep your preemie sitting up during feeding and for about 20 minutes afterward.
6- Don’t Play Directly After Your Preemie Eats
Playing with your preemie, which generally means bouncing them lightly or moving them around, can increase the likelihood of reflux. It’s best to let them have time to digest their food after meals. Experts recommend waiting about 30 to 45 minutes after they’ve finished.
7- Change YOUR Diet
As you might already know, anything you eat as a preemie mama will get passed to your preemie through your breastmilk. If you eat many products that can cause gas like cheese, red meat, cabbage, beans, and other foods, you might consider cutting down on those until your preemie’s reflux has passed.
8- Avoid Tight-Fitting Baby Clothes and Diapers
The pressure that tight-fitting clothes or diapers can put on your preemie’s tummy can sometimes be enough irritation to cause reflux. It’s recommended that you use loose-fitting baby clothing and, when changing the diaper, make sure not to over tighten it.
9- Add a Thickener to Your Breastmilk
Reflux is sometimes caused when a preemie eats too fast. To slow them down, some pediatricians recommend thickening your breastmilk. (If it’s been expressed, that is.) This will slow them down when eating and, hopefully, reduce the reflux symptoms. Rice cereal is often used to do this, and it adds extra calories too, which can be a boon for preemies trying to catch up with their full-term peers.
Reflux, frankly, is one of the least worrisome problems that your preemie will likely face as they make their way in the world during their first few weeks and months of life. Most cases, thankfully, aren’t severe and will eventually resolve on their own. Yes, it can be frustrating and worrisome, but, again, reflux is typically not life-threatening in any way.