Sometimes during my baby massage courses I see babies who appear to have reflux. In recent years, this condition has overtaken colic in popularity – if you find your baby is crying at the same time every evening then it may be colic and you may want to read my blog post which gives some massage tips, babies and colic.
Many babies may bring up some of their milk if they have eaten too much, however in some babies the valve connecting their oesophagus (food pipe) to their stomach hasn’t fully developed. This means that when they have their milk, it will mix with the acid in their stomach and then seep back up. Sometimes, a baby may have silent reflux and this is where there is no milk brought back up.
What signs are there for reflux?
If your baby has reflux, you may find they are distressed after being fed, especially when you try to lie them down. Some babies will be physically sick, however some babies may have silent reflux, which means the milk and acid moves up the windpipe, but is not being brought out through the mouth.
Some young babies may have trapped wind, so if you find your baby raising their legs and clenching their fists it may be worth carrying out some massage techniques to help with wind (again, you may want to see the blog post for colic). If you find your baby is the same after every feed and that you cannot put your baby down, then you may want to consider if it may be reflux. Lying a baby down when they have reflux can be uncomfortable, as it can encourage the acid and milk to move up their windpipe, so you may find they get more upset. I have seen some babies projectile vomit after being fed and being laid down, while other babies have become completely inconsolable for some time. If you find this is constantly happening then it could be a sign of reflux and it is worth speaking to your health visitor for further advice.
How do I massage a baby with reflux?
When giving a baby with reflux a massage, it is worth considering when they last had food. If it has been a while you may find your baby is happy to lie down, however some babies do not tolerate lying flat at all. For all babies, I would recommend waiting at least half an hour before massaging, but for a baby with reflux you may need to wait longer. If you find they are not comfortable with being led flat then using a v-shaped pillow, or another prop which provides the same angle, may be beneficial. You may find that lying them at this angle can be enough to stop the acid and milk seeping back through the valve.
If your baby is still not comfortable at this angle, find one that is suitable for both of you. For some parents it involves giving a massage one handed while sitting up, but as long as you know the safety considerations and you are both comfortable then this is absolutely fine. If you’re not sure if your baby is enjoying the massage you can read more in how do I know if my baby enjoys massage.
Many years ago I had a parent on my baby massage course who had had a consultant recommend massage to her for reflux. While I haven’t been able to find research to support it, and even contacted my membership body at the time, it does make sense to me as massage is a passive form of exercise and we include techniques on the stomach.
While your baby is experiencing reflux it can be very difficult to manage until it is controlled. If you find you can’t put your baby down, consider looking for baby sling libraries and seeing if you can find a sling which works for both of you. For some babies, reflux is a inconvenience which is quickly grown out of, while for others it can cause constant crying and confusion for parents while they try to understand what is happening with their baby. If you are struggling, please speak to your health visitor, so they give you support to help you and your baby.
Louise is an holistic therapist who owns Therapy Centre, Bristol BS14 9HB, a clinic offering a range of holistic and beauty therapies. Louise offers reflexology, aromatherapy, holistic massage, Indian head massage, reiki, baby massage and story massage. She is a mum of two boys and when she is not working she enjoys getting outdoors with her family. For further information about Louise, visit louise-morgan.co.uk.