Silent Reflux in Newborns

There is nothing more disconcerting for parents than seeing their infant in pain and and not knowing why or what to do to help him. This is often the case with silent reflux in newborns. Because its symptoms are not obvious and, in some cases, difficult to decipher, silent reflux is often undetected or misdiagnosed in infants.

Silent reflux can be painful for newborns. (Image: photobac/iStock/Getty Images)

Definition

Silent reflux occurs when the acidic stomach content comes up the esophagus. Unlike with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, infants with silent reflux do not spit up or vomit the stomach acid but swallow it instead. This can cause a painful burning sensation. While some infants may experience severe pain with silent reflux, others do not. According to Acid Reflux-Heartburn-GERD, some babies may not give any indication of pain or discomfort until they are about 3 months old.

Symptoms

There are a variety of symptoms that babies with silent reflux may have, though they are not always obvious. The most common include crying during or after feedings, excessive swallowing, choking with swallowing and bad breath. According to Acid Reflux-Heartburn-GERD, parents can sometimes hear the stomach acid coming up the esophagus. Other symptoms that could indicate silent reflux include repeated hiccups, irritability, difficulty settling and sleeping problems, a frequent red, irriated throat, a persistent runny nose, bronchitis, recurring ear and sinus infections and a nighttime cough. Acid Reflux-Heartburn-GERD says babies with silent reflux are often overweight because they have a tendency to eat often as a way to try to soothe their pain.

Complications

Silent reflux can lead to different complications. The almost-constant presence of stomach acid in the esophagus can lead to redness and irritation and often esophagitis, which is inflammation of the esophagus. If left untreated, it can also result in a bleeding esophagus, leading to anemia. According to Kids Health, stomach acid also can enter the trachea, lungs and noses of babies affected by silent reflux, causing breathing problems. Children may also aspirate some of the stomach content, which could eventually cause an infection, leading to pneumonia.

Parents' Role

Babies suffering from silent reflux sometimes require antacid medication, which can be prescribed by a doctor. But there are steps parents can take to help alleviate some of their baby's discomfort. Infant Reflux Disease says positioning a baby with silent reflux upright during and for 30 minutes after feeds can help lessen reflux by keeping stomach contents down. It also recommends propping the baby up when sleeping on his back. Other things that may lessen discomfort are offering small frequent feeds, burping often during feedings and giving the baby a pacifier. Breastfeeding is best for reflux babies, according to Infant Reflux Disease. For formula-fed babies, thickening their feeds with cereal sometimes can help. Parents should consult their child's pediatrician before trying anything new.

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