Silent reflux is similar to acid reflux in that it’s caused by a reflux of acid from the stomach. Silent reflux, however, gets its name because the acid reaches its way only to the lower esophagus without being spit up, as often happens in infants with acid reflux. Both are a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly referred to as GERD. Breastfeeding reduces the chance that your baby will develop silent reflux; however, it isn’t a guarantee. If your baby has silent reflux, breastfeeding is still a healthy choice for her.
Symptoms of silent reflux include frequent hiccups, a chronic cough, poor weight gain or rapid weight gain, sour breath, burps that sound wet and frequent episodes of spitting up breast milk. Babies with silent reflux often avoid breastfeeding, or may arch their backs and gulp milk while nursing. In severe cases, babies may develop chronic ear or sinus infections and spit up blood or have blood in their stools.
Silent reflux tends to run in families, according to the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition. In addition, premature babies and babies with other health problems have a higher risk of suffering from silent reflux than their full-term, healthy counterparts.
Certain foods you eat may trigger silent reflux in your breastfed baby. Common problematic foods include dairy products, soy products, and foods that include wheat, corn or corn starch. Chocolate, caffeine, eggs, citrus products, carbonated drinks, alcohol and acidic foods may also induce silent reflux.
While medications are available to treat your baby’s silent reflux, La Leche League International suggests trying natural remedies first. First, continue breastfeeding. Breastfed babies have fewer silent reflux symptoms than formula-fed babies. Try holding your baby in a more upright position while feeding and burp her frequently. Dress her in loose clothing, and try rolling her to her left side during diaper changes in stead of lifting her legs toward her stomach. Most importantly, eliminate all trigger foods from your diet for two weeks and watch for improvement. If her symptoms cease, slowly add one food back at a time, waiting at least 48 hours between each, to see if any foods trigger her silent reflux symptoms. If her symptoms continue despite an elimination diet, prescription medication may be necessary.
- "Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition"; Pediatric Gastroesophageal Reflux Clinical Practice Guidelines; May 2009
- KellyMom; Spitting Up & Reflux in the Breastfed Baby; Kelly Bonyata
- La Leche League International: GERD and the Breastfed Baby; Sharon Knorr; 2003
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Gastroesophageal Reflux in Infants