It is pretty common, according to MayoClinic.com, for young babies to have reflux. While some may require treatment for their reflux, many others are so-called "happy spitters" who can be managed with a few simple lifestyle changes. One of the changes often suggested by pediatricians is to keep the upper body elevated, even when sleeping.
Up until the early 1990s, parents were advised to put babies down for sleeping on their stomachs. This, however, changed when the "back to sleep" campaign was initiated to reduce the risk of SIDS. Now, babies are to be placed to sleep on their backs, including most of those who have reflux. Doctors sometimes advise that infants with severe reflux sleep with their heads inclined on a wedge, however.
Significance of Reflux
Reflux is fairly common in young babies. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse reports that at least half of babies 3-months-old and younger have some degree of reflux. Reflux occurs when the stomach contents back up into the esophagus. While those who have severe symptoms are in the minority, they may experience severe episodes of spitting up, fussiness and changes in their eating patterns.
Reflux symptoms can be worse when the baby is lying down. They may spit up more, or have increased discomfort from stomach acid creeping into their esophagus. This is why many doctors recommend infants with reflux be kept in an upright position for some time after feeding. They may also recommend infants with reflux sleep with their heads elevated, to minimize symptoms that occur during the night.
Features of a Sleeping Wedge
A sleeping wedge is a specialized device that fits in a baby's crib, either on top of or beneath the mattress. AskDr.Sears.com reports that some wedges are designed for use in adult-sized beds, for parents who choose to co-sleep with their babies. The baby is still placed down to sleep on his or her back; however, the wedge keeps the head higher than the stomach. This can keep some of the stomach acids from causing discomfort or spitting up overnight, which helps both the baby and the parents sleep better.
Wedges are not the only option for babies with reflux. AskDr.Sears.com reports that different sleep positions may help; however, this should first be discussed with the baby's pediatrician due to the risk of SIDS. Babies with reflux should sleep on their left side at night for optimal stomach positioning. In severe reflux cases, tummy sleeping may be appropriate; however, the NDDIC warns that this recommendation is rare. Babies should always be placed on their backs to sleep, unless otherwise indicated by their pediatrician. As an alternative to an expensive sleeping wedge, placing an object under the head of the mattress can keep it angled.