Silent reflux in babies: the symptoms, treatment and remedies

by Catriona Watson |

When you have a newborn, seeing them distressed or upset is one of the hardest things you have to go through as a parent.

You've probably heard of reflux where a baby spits back up milk after feeding. Although seeing your baby be sick can be alarming, it is very common and this occurs simply because your child's food pipe isn't fully developed, causing milk to come back up.

Reflux can make babies very uncomfortable and irritable, perhaps resulting in frequent crying. This excessive and uncontrollable crying, often caused by general stress and abdominal discomfort, is referred to as colic and many believe there is a link between the two. But what about silent reflux?

What is silent reflux?

Silent reflux is effectively the same as reflux but the baby does not vomit or spit the milk back up so the symptoms are much less obvious. This means that stomach acid is causing discomfort, often behind the breastbone. It can make your babies throat sore or burn, so if they are coughing then this is one of the main symptoms that they do tend to display.

As symptoms of silent reflux do not appear, it is a relatively unknown phenomenon which means it might go unnoticed, misdiagnosed or mismanaged. However, as a parent, you're likely to know your baby and when something is wrong.

Traditional acid reflux is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), whereas silent reflux is often referred to as laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR). According to Web MD "Silent reflux is common in infants because their sphincters are undeveloped, they have a shorter oesophagus, and they lie down much of the time."

If silent reflux persists it can cause long-term irritation or damage. Examples of complications in babies are:

Silent reflux complications:

  • Narrowing of the area below the vocal cords

  • Contact ulcers

  • Recurrent ear infections from problems with eustachian tube function

  • A lasting buildup of middle ear fluid

If your baby has persistent symptoms then it is best to visit your GP to seek advice and treatment for silent reflux.

What are the symptoms of silent reflux?

The NCT says silent reflux refers to the "condition where no outward symptoms of reflux appear, which can make diagnosis difficult. Babies show signs of being in pain, especially when not upright, and may have a persistent cough". However, your child may exhibit some of the symptoms of silent reflux which will make it easier for you to understand what is wrong.

The symptoms of reflux:

  • Bringing up milk or vomiting after feeding

  • Coughing or hiccuping when feeding

  • Irritability and being unsettled during feeding

  • Swallowing or gulping after burping or feeding

  • Not gaining weight due to not being able to keep food down.

What are the treatments or remedies for silent reflux?

There are certain treatments that can be prescribed by your doctor for reflux, colic or silent reflux. However, the condition and symptoms do often tend to deteriorate over time as your baby grows. Once your baby is older, their muscles develop further and they will spend more time sitting up which should help to prevent acid from rising up in their throat.

If formula feeding, sometimes doctors or health visitors can put your baby on a thicker formula which might be easier for your baby to keep down. GP's may also prescribe an infant antacid to neutralise the acid in your baby's stomach.

9 simple remedies for silent reflux:

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1) Gentle movement

Putting your baby in the sling or pushchair and gently moving them can help with reflux and encourage them to settle. Babies often prefer moving to sitting or lying still. Crying tends to make reflux worse and keeping your baby upright will hopefully ensure they cry less because they are close to you.

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