Sleep training a baby with reflux may seem challenging, but the truth is that it’s possible! Here’s how!

As much as we would want to, babies don’t come with a user’s manual. 

For many parents, sleep training a baby with reflux can be one of the most challenging aspects of caring for their infant. 

It’s important to understand that when a child has reflux, they have an extra sensitive stomach and these symptoms should not be ignored.

This post will teach you the basics of sleep reflux and the difference between reflux and other conditions. Stay tuned until the end where I give you a few tips for how to improve your baby’s sleep when she’s struggling with reflux.

Let’s begin! 

What is reflux in infants? 

Reflux is when food and stomach acid come back up the esophagus, usually after a person eats too quickly. 

But reflex can also appear in babies and make their life uncomfortable–and even cause them to spit up or drool constantly!

Since babies are so tiny, the esophagus has to be able to fit food or milk past a very small opening. Usually, this is no problem. But for some infants, it can act as an extra safety valve that protects them from eating too much at one time. 

When they eat and drink more quickly than usual (which many do!), it can cause the muscles in their lower esophagus to relax and allow food or milk to flow back into the stomach. This is called “baby reflux.”

What are the symptoms of baby reflux? 

Some of the most common symptoms of baby reflux include:

  • bulging or fullness in the baby’s abdomen
  • excessive spitting up, especially after eating or drinking milk
  • a sour odor coming from the mouth and nose when they spit-up. Their drool may also have a sour smell to it (especially if there is lots of acid reflux) or be foamy
  • swallowing difficulty where the baby is making gagging sounds when swallowing or drooling excessively
  • frequent bouts of crying that last for hours at a time and won’t stop no matter what you do – whether it’s feeding the child or changing the diaper.

These are all symptoms of acid reflux that you should watch out for! 

Reflux vs. colic vs. constipation

Colic is when a baby has bouts of crying that are unexplained – and often severe enough for them to shake, grimace, and make a “colicky” noise. 

Babies with colic often look just like they’re crying, even when they’re not. They can be difficult to calm down or console once the symptoms start.

On the other hand, constipation is a common condition in infants and children of any age group that causes them to have hard stools and difficulty passing bowel movements.

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between colic, reflux, and constipation because they have similar symptoms – but it’s important that parents identify which condition their child has in order to know how best to treat them.

4 tips for sleep training a baby with reflux

Many parents often wonder if they should start sleep training a baby with reflux.

My answer is simple: if you haven’t started with sleep training yet, wait until the condition gets better. If you’re in the middle of sleep training, there’s no reason why you should stop. 

Although sleep training may not transform a reflux baby into the ideal sleeper, it can still help you establish healthy sleep habits and soothe your little one when she’s fussy. 

Make sure the sleep reflux is under control

Before you start or continue sleep training your baby, make sure you see your pediatrician and ask for their recommendation.

Although minor reflux resolves itself with time, more serious reflux requires medication. I strongly recommend that you should make sure your baby’s reflux is under control before starting or continuing with your sleep training efforts. 

If it’s been a while and you see signs of improvement in your baby, then absolutely start sleep training. 

Move the last feeding of the night to an earlier time

It’s a general recommendation that babies with reflux should be held semi-upright for 20 or 30 minutes before laying them down for bed.

You want to give the stomach acid time to settle and not cause your baby discomfort.

With this in mind, you want to move the last feeding of the night to an earlier time in your bedtime routine. For example, feed her before giving her a bath. A bath can be an amazing activity to help keep your baby in a semi-upright position and give her time to process the food. 

Hold her in a semi-upright position for as long as you can without becoming uncomfortable or feeling too tired yourself. Then place her in her crib while she’s still awake and not drowsy. 

You should do the same thing when she wakes up during the night. Give her a feed and then hold her upright for at least 20 minutes before putting her back to sleep. Word to the wise: make sure she doesn’t fall asleep in your arms. 

Be realistic in your feeding expectations

Babies with reflux need to eat smaller, more frequent meals. This means that she might be waking up a few times per night

So don’t expect your little one to be sleeping long stretches of 10 hours through the night. Remember, reflux is very uncomfortable and she might be in pain. 

If you were planning on weaning her off breastfeeding, consider postponing this at a later time. Experts recommend that babies with reflux should continue with their night feedings longer. 

Avoid developing negative sleep associations 

Here’s another thing you need to watch out for when sleep training a baby with reflux: not letting her fall asleep in your arms by rocking her too much. Why? Because this can make her reflux worse!

If positive associations help babies fall asleep on their own without any meddling from the parent, negative sleep associations mean the baby is dependent on the parent to fall asleep.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t comfort your little one. On the contrary, if she fusses or cries, go to her crib and pat her on the back to help calm her down. You can also jiggle the crib to simulate a moving motion or pick her up if she’s inconsolable – although this should be your last resort. 

Final word 

Sleep training a baby with reflux is challenging. But despite the challenges, parents will do whatever they can to make the life of their little one more comfortable. 

The most important thing to remember is this: make sure your baby’s reflux pain is well controlled before starting or continuing with sleep training.

Work closely with your pediatrician and always follow their recommendations. 

Good luck!