Night Time Reflux in Infants: Tips for Parents

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Night-time episodes can be a common occurrence in patients who deal with acid reflux. When you have an infant or child with reflux, it can be even scarier, since they cannot always tell you exactly how they feel. If your child is not sleeping well, spits up at night, has a chronic night time cough, chokes or exhibits any breathing issue, they could be having problems with night time acid reflux.

These are a few reasons you should get your child’s acid reflux assessed by their pediatrician or gastroenterologist.

Disrupts sleep

Patients with reflux episodes at night are obviously not getting as much sleep as someone who isn’t dealing with painful burning. Research has noted that many people with acid reflux have sleep disturbances that include arousal from sleep, increased wakefulness, and overall poor quality of sleep. Growing infants and children need even more sleep than adults, so any disruption can be hard on them and make for, at the least, very grouchy days.

May cause more damage than day time episodes

Lying flat at night not only can cause more acid to splash up into the esophagus, but it may be even more damaging than previously thought. This is because the natural clearing done by the esophagus does not work as efficiently while lying down.

Potential of aspiration

There aren’t any studies that measure exactly how many infants or children have aspirated on their reflux, which occurs when some of the stomach contents end up in the lungs. Most of these pediatric patients can cough the contents out and clear their lungs themselves. However, if you have a child with any neuromuscular disease or low muscle tone it might be harder for them to clear their lungs. Speak with your pediatrician about the signs to look for (such as fever, cough, wheezing) and when to bring your child in to be assessed. Though rare, should your child stop breathing, it is important to try not to panic, dial 911 immediately and be up to date on infant CPR.

Some of the ways to help limit night-time reflux include:

  • Elevate the head of the bed by about eight inches

  • Wear loose clothing or don’t tightly swaddle baby

  • Avoid eating meals or large feedings late in the evening

  • Burp baby well to avoid gas contributing to the pain

  • Allow at least 30 minutes before laying baby down after a feeding

  • Talk to your infant’s pediatrician about thickening feedings or changing formulas

  • Avoid high fat or spicy foods prior to bedtime. If breastfeeding, avoiding spicy or gas causing foods like beans, cauliflower, or broccoli might help)

  • If breastfeeding, you may want to talk with your child’s pediatrician about whether an elimination diet could help you determine if anything you are eating could be contributing to the problem

  • Give your child their medications as prescribed by the doctor and do not try to treat their acid reflux with over-the-counter medications

Night-time acid reflux can be a real pain. But working closely with your child’s pediatrician and gastroenterologist can help you develop a plan to keep the burn at bay!

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.