Interview by Mummy Social Team Member Victoria Green.
Aine Homer also known as The Baby Reflux Lady, is a mum, an author and a coach with her main focus being on reflux. She has two daughters, who, between them had colic, reflux, silent reflux, CMPA and multiple other food allergies. After struggling with getting a diagnosis she made it her mission to find the root cause and address it and then share with others.
Hello Aine, thank you for taking the time to chat with us about this subject, it’s one we often here about but do not necessarily know how to deal with. For those parents that haven’t experienced having a baby with reflux, can you explain what it is? Are there different types of reflux?
Hey, you’re welcome, and thank you for this opportunity to write about infant reflux. It’s a massive issue, affecting 40% of babies in the UK every year (approximately 280,000 babies). It had such a devastating impact on my experience of motherhood that I quit my job and now focus solely on helping and supporting families to navigate the reflux minefield.
Strictly speaking, reflux is an involuntary regurgitation of stomach contents, including stomach acid. It is this stomach acid that causes pain to babies as it damages the oesophagus (food-pipe).
However, many babies who display continuous discomfort and irritation in their lower digestive system also get diagnosed with reflux.
Reflux can be very painful, and has some serious risks associated with it, which can be very scary for parents and babies alike. Babies with reflux are in pain most of the time, their oesophagus is being irritated by stomach acid, which is not supposed to be there, and the almost constant presence of the acid can eat away the lining of the oesophagus making it raw, red, blistered and very sore. Most babies with reflux sleep very poorly because of this constant pain (a few sleep very well at night because they are so exhausted from day-time discomfort, pain and crying).
Life for these families is exhausting, typically baby feeds a lot (because feeding soothes some of the pain but can also fuel the reflux cycle), there can be a lot of clean up required if baby vomits after every feed (frequently projectile vomit). And these babies cry a lot, naturally. They need to be held upright all the time, they need the comfort of mum’s arms. Their painful screams are the hardest thing for a parent to hear, because we instinctively know our children are hurting and feel completely helpless to help them. And all too often our doctors tell us that our baby is fine, that they are gaining weight and that it might be our anxiety causing baby’s distress. None of which, are true.
There are different types of reflux, Gastro Oesophageal Reflux (GOR), which may have baby vomiting a lot but without pain; Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disease, which is GOR with “marked distress” (as specified by NICE Guidelines). GOR is not usually seen by doctors as being a condition that needs addressing in babies unless they are not gaining weight.
Within these definitions, there is also reflux and silent reflux. Reflux will have vomiting associated with it, and babies with silent reflux will have the pain and discomfort of reflux without the vomiting.
In my opinion, colic is also a form of reflux. While it doesn’t have vomiting associated with it, the underlying causes are common with those of reflux and so we can address these when we understand them in more detail. Many babies who have been first diagnosed with colic later get a reflux diagnosis when they do not grow out of it by 3 months.
In your opinion, what should a parent do if they think their child has reflux?
If Parents have a suspicion that their baby is particularly unsettled (which is often the main symptom that staves out to parents as not being what they expected), the they should start observing what’s going on. It is only be observing what’s going on for our babies to that we can figure out the underlying cause.
Our babies are telling us everything we need to know in their symptoms and behaviours, many of which we don’t typically associate with reflux. Click here to find out more about reflux symptoms.
Reducing our baby’s pain or completely resolving their reflux relies on us figuring out the underlying cause, or causes, of it. And this needs us to observe everything. There are multiple causes of reflux, and so reading the patterns of symptoms that present in each baby is vital, because what works for one baby may not work for another.
At present, this is not something that our healthcare providers are doing, it is the basis of my approach to reflux. I have written about the patterns of symptoms of reflux extensively in my book The Baby Reflux Lady’s Survival Guide.
There are certain symptoms that parents should always seek advice from their doctor with which are blood in vomit or pooh, green or yellow vomit, pooh being green, black or mucousy, choking or difficulty breathing as these can sometimes be a sign of something else going on. Otherwise, all other symptoms will be pointing to the underlying cause(s).
Is there a cure for reflux or is it all about managing symptoms? If the latter, then what are your best suggestions?
Reflux can be completely resolved when we understand the underlying cause.
Managing symptoms is important in the short term, the long term goal should always be to completely resolve it. The earlier we start to observe babies symptoms and behaviours, the easier it is to resolve.
There is no one-size-fits all solution for reflux because the causes for reflux are multiple. It can be caused by baby drinking too much air, genetics, food allergies or intolerances, pyloric stenosis, hernia, ulcers, intestinal blockages and more. It is when we understand the full suite of symptoms that babies are displaying as a pattern that we can figure out exactly what’s going on and so what the most appropriate course of action should be.
Depending what is causing each baby’s reflux, there are a different set of comping strategies that will support each baby. My biggest recommendation however, is to provide as much comfort as possible to your little one, to reduce the crying that they do. Crying causes babies to swallow more air, which can be a singular cause of reflux, and so it is really important that we do everything in our power to reduce the amount of crying.
There seems to be some sort of ‘old wives tale’ that a baby’s reflux will be better once they start weaning. In your opinion does weaning a baby help with reflux? Or is it based on each individual case?
Weaning can help in some cases, however, for 54% of babies with reflux, the introduction of food makes things worse. Whether weaning will work for your baby will depend on the underlying cause of their reflux.
For example, if your baby’s reflux is caused by overfilling their stomach with milk and air, then solids may help because they may take on less air with their food; also, the food stays in the stomach much easier.
However, if the natural immaturity of your baby’s digestive system means they cannot fully digest the food they are eating, then their lower digestive symptoms (trapped wind, painful gas, bloating) may get worse and result in even less sleep for everyone.
When we change what foods baby is eating to foods they can easily digest, this makes all the difference. My top five foods to avoid in babies with reflux are sweet potatoes, apples, pears, bread and baby rice; because these foods can ferment in babies guts, resulting in ongoing abdominal discomfort, and some can contribute to constipation.
I also do not recommend early weaning for any baby. The introduction of solids should be based on baby’s physical readiness for food not on their age. The two biggest signs that babies are getting ready for food is that they can sit upright independently and support their own head. These are particularly important for babies with reflux because until this stage, the stomach is more horizontal than vertical, and so stomach contents (including the problematic stomach acid) can leak out of the stomach into the oesophagus more easily, continuing the problems.
At Mummy Social we are firm believers in having a great support network around you. Having a reflux baby can be very isolating especially when you’ve had a sleepless night or are constantly covered in vomit! What support is available for parents who have babies with reflux?
Unfortunately support for parents of babies with reflux is hit and miss. In some towns you may find post-natal classes where the teachers have experience of supporting babies with reflux and so they understand a bit more. There are lots of free forums online where you will find other parents going through the same thing, and just understanding you are not alone is reassuring. I run a members group to provide answers and support to parents with both practical and emotional support because the latter is missing for so many families.
You can also find reflux support with other mums on the Mummy Social app.
The starting point for all the work Aine does with her clients, is understanding the cause of each baby’s discomfort and what are the specific actions to take from that. More information can be found at her website and through her book The Baby Reflux Lady’s Survival Guide is available on Amazon and through major retailers everywhere.
To follow Aine on social media you can find her on the following profiles…