As we wrap up the month of September, talking about pain, one of the things that I felt was worth discussing is the pain of an infant with acid reflux disease. If you have ever had a “reflux baby” then you know what I am talking about. Unfortunately, the diagnosis can be difficult because it can be hard to know exactly what your baby is upset about. They can’t tell you with words what is going on, but there are ways to clue into your baby’s pain.
The main way an infant expresses pain is by crying. Babies often have different cries that mean different things. Most moms can distinguish baby’s cries from normal and abnormal. If your baby has a high pitched cry, a cry that is different than normal and is also inconsolable then it might be caused by pain.
Another way reflux babies show pain is by exhibiting feeding difficulty. The baby may refuse to eat, bob on and off of the nipple, and choke or cry during feedings. They may also appear to swallow hard or may have the classic reflux spit up. Important note: Not all babies with acid reflux spit up and not all babies that spit up have acid reflux.
Babies who have pain from acid reflux may also exhibit their pain by body movements. They might twist and arch their backs during a feeding or pull their knees up into their stomach to signal stomach pain.
One of the severe forms of pain expression in infants with acid reflux is Sandifer Syndrome. This syndrome is characterized by nodding and rotation of the head, neck extension and writhing movement. Oftentimes it can be mistaken for a seizure disorder. Thankfully, when the acid reflux pain is controlled the symptoms usually dissipate.
In my next blog I will discuss ways to deal with this type of pain in your acid reflux baby.
Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist 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.