Helping babies sleep with colic or acid reflux

a guest blog by Mandy Gurney, sleep expert, Millpond Children’s Sleep Clinic

Helping babies sleep with colic or acid reflux |

Colic and acid reflux are two very common and unpleasant conditions that can affect young babies. Unfortunately, both of these will interfere with your baby’s sleep. Although they are not sleep problems as such they will cause discomfort at night, which may mean your baby keeps waking throughout the night or it is difficult for them to settle once put down to sleep at night.


Infant colic

 Affects up to 30 % of infants under three months of age and is characterised by long periods of inconsolable crying that starts and stops without obvious cause, bloated tummies and obvious signs of discomfort displayed by your baby such as pulling their legs up to their chest. It can last for three or more hours a day and for three days or more per week and often strikes in the evening.  

Despite decades of research cause of colic remains unclear. It may be that the underdeveloped stomach is under strain, daytime stress is being released, or the act of crying results in the intake of air into the stomach, with consequent discomfort. The symptoms frequently start in the second week of life and can occur in both breast- and bottle-fed babies. Unfortunately, there is no single effective treatment and often only time brings relief.

Remedies that help some babies may not help others. Rhythmic movement, such as rocking and walking around, often helps. Gently rubbing his abdomen or patting his back while holding him across your forearm or up against your shoulder may relieve some of the discomfort. Once an episode has run its course, your baby is likely to be tired and ready to sleep.

Whilst colic can be extremely wearing for both you and your baby, one consolation is that colic rarely lasts beyond 3-4 months of age.

Gastro-oesophageal reflux

This is a common condition, affecting at least 40% of infants. It is characterised by effortless regurgitation of stomach contents after a feed or meal, in otherwise healthy babies and usually begins before a baby is eight weeks old. Episodes can be very frequent -about 5% of affected infants have six episodes or more each day.

Silent reflux is a condition where stomach contents either reach the back of the throat and are swallowed back down by the baby or don’t fully reach the mouth, but can also cause discomfort.

Reflux can create stomach pains rather like heartburn, which are more uncomfortable when your infant is lying down. This makes it harder for babies to both fall and stay asleep. From a medical point of view, reflux is not a problem provided your baby is gaining weight and is otherwise healthy, but it can badly disrupt sleep.

Reflux can be very worrying for parents, but it resolves in 90 per cent of babies before they are a one year old, even by 6 months the number of babies with reflux dramatically declines.

Limiting the effects of reflux:

·   Offer more frequent, smaller feeds or meals.

·   If you are bottle-feeding, experiment with styles of bottle and teat to help reduce excess air intake during feeding.

·    Hold your baby upright for 30 minutes after a feed and wind regularly during and after feeding. Similarly, allow enough time between your baby’s pre bed feed and bed time to enable milk or food to settle.

·    Avoid putting your baby in a car seat or laying your baby flat for nappy changing straight after feeds.

·    Loosen tight clothes and nappies around your baby’s tummy.

·    Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke.

·    Do not let your baby cry for too long as it can encourage regurgitation.

About Mandy Gurney:

Mandy is a sleep consultant and Director of Millpond Children’s Sleep Clinic. Mandy trained initially as nurse, midwife and health visitor and set up Millpond in 2000. Millpond is a unique sleep clinic. It was the first private clinic to specialise in babies' and children's sleep problems and is the only clinic to help school-aged children. It now has a reputation as the UK's leading children's sleep clinic. Millpond are sleep advisors to the NHS and provide regular national workshops to the NHS and the corporate sector. Mandy is a key note speaker and writes for national media, on-line parenting sites and newspapers.

She’s the author of Teach Your Child to Sleep (Hamlyns 2016) of which there is a new edition coming out summer 2020. 

Find out more about Mandy Gurney and Millpond Children’s Sleep Clinic here:


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