When your baby continually spits up and is irritable after feedings from acid reflux, you want to do all you can to soothe her. For some infants with acid reflux, otherwise known as gastroesophageal reflux, lying on their backs, especially after a feeding, further irritates the problem and upsets them. Laying your baby on her belly may help with the reflux, but it can also pose a more serious risk.
Common Acid Reflux
More than half of all infants experience acid reflux from birth through 3 months of age, but most infants outgrow it between the ages of 12 to 24 months, notes the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Most babies with reflux experience symptoms that do not pose serious health concerns. These symptoms include spitting up, coughing, irritability, poor feedings and blood in the stools. Generally, changes to the feeding routine can help resolve these symptoms.
If your baby's acid reflux does not interfere with her growth or desire to feed, you should be able to treat the reflux at home without laying your baby on her stomach. Try shortening feedings, but feed more often, taking breaks every 5 minutes to burp. If you're feeding with a bottle, hold your baby upright while you feed -- and whether bottle-feeding or breast-feeding, keep your baby upright for one-half hour after feeding. Your doctor may also recommend thickening the formula or breast milk with a small amount of rice.
If the acid reflux is interfering with your baby's health, your doctor might suggest additional treatments, including medications, which can help keep acid from backing up into the esophagus and or that reduce stomach acid. Generally, even babies who need medication for acid reflux and who cry when put on their backs should still sleep on their backs. However, your doctor may recommend placing your baby on her stomach, although this recommendation is rare.
Safety Concerns for Stomach-Sleeping
Unless your doctor advises otherwise, you should not lay a young infant on her belly to sleep because this increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. A young infant may suffocate in this position, especially if he has not developed the ability to roll over. If your baby is awake after you've kept him upright for 30 minutes after feeding, you can lay him on his belly for tummy time -- a time to encourage your child to practice lifting his head to strengthen the neck, arm, and shoulder muscles. You can begin supervised tummy time when your baby is 1-month-old. Once your baby has mastered rolling over, usually by 7 months, he should safely be able to sleep on his stomach to help the acid reflux.