All about silent reflux in babies: A concise guide for parents

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The signs of silent reflux in babies are not always obvious. Don't let your little one suffer in silence...

If you are a parent of a baby with reflux, you know the agony it brings, with quite obvious signs. But what if your little one has silent reflux? Do you know about the symptoms of silent reflux baby might be suffering from? 

Let’s find out more about this topic not many parents know too much about. 

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Reflux can make babies very uncomfortable. Image: File Photo

What is reflux in babies and what causes it? 

In young babies, reflux occurs when food backs up (refluxes) from their tummy. This causes baby to spit up or vomit. 

Reflux in babies is also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER). It happens because in young babies, the small ring of muscle between the stomach and the esophagus is not mature and not fully functional yet. In other words, think of it like a valve that doesn’t close properly.

When it doesn’t shut properly, the stomach’s contents flow backwards and out. You will notice this as spit-up or vomit. It’s made extra uncomfortable by the fact that stomach acid might also come up and out with the milk. 

It doesn’t help that your baby is on a liquid diet of only milk, or that they are flat on their backs most of the time — these factors all contribute to infant reflux.

The good news is that usually, reflux disappears by the time your baby is around 18 months old. This is because soon enough, the muscle between the stomach and esophagus will mature.

When this happens,  it remains closed at all times except when your baby swallows, making sure the stomach contents do not come out. 

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You can help prevent or ease silent reflux in your baby by remembering to burp him after each feed, and keeping him upright. Image: File photo

What is silent reflux? What are symptoms of silent reflux baby will experience?

By now you know what causes reflux and what happens when a baby has it, i.e., the contents of the  stomach flow out. 

But when a baby has silent reflux, things are slightly different. This is because a baby with silent reflux will swallow the milk that flows back out of his tummy, instead of spitting it out.

So, after a feed if you notice your little one swallowing when there clearly should not be milk in his mouth, he could have silent reflux. 

Silent reflux is also known as Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR). According to Web MD, the symptoms of silent reflux baby may experience include: 

  1. Hoarseness
  2. “Barking” or chronic cough
  3. Reactive airway disease (asthma)
  4. Noisy breathing or pauses in breathing (apnea)
  5. Trouble feeding, spitting up, or inhaling food
  6. Trouble gaining weight

Rarely, silent reflux in babies may cause,

  • Narrowing of the area below the vocal cords
  • Contact ulcers
  • Recurrent ear infections 
  • Buildup of middle ear fluid

In general, reflux — silent or otherwise — will clear up on its own by the time your baby is around 18 months old. 

But if it doesn’t (and you notice the symptoms of silent reflux baby will experience, as listed above), there it’s best to head to the doctor. 

Diagnosis and treatment of silent reflux in babies

If the doctor suspects your baby has silent reflux, he or she may run some tests and conduct a physical exam. If the diagnosis is indeed silent reflux, then, according to Web MD, treatment might include: 

  • Smaller and more frequent feedings
  • Keeping your baby in a vertical position for at least 30 minutes after feeding
  • Medications such as H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors — these can only be presribed by a paediatrician

During the tests, if any abnormalities to your child’s esophagus or stomach are discovered, then, surgery might be discussed with you as a treatment option.

As we mentioned earlier, mums and dads, generally, silent and regular reflux will clear up on their own. You can help your baby cope with the discomfort these bring by remembering to burp him after feeds, and carry him upright. 

You should always consult your paediatrician if you are concerned about your baby’s health in any way. 

Also read: When infant projectile vomiting is of concern

References: Mayo Clinic, Web MD

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