Sleep and Reflux

Apr 20, 2017

So now we've covered all the basics: what reflux is, and some common causes and their solutions.

But here's the biggy - if your baby has reflux, what does that mean for his sleep?


The first step I'd take is to go back and really look at it. Is this true GERD? Is my baby too young to know? What are some things I can do to help relieve symptoms?

Keep in mind that number 2 on the list of Causes of Reflux (both common reflux and GERD) is (drumroll, please) lack of sleep... but at the same time, true GERD may make it difficult for your child to sleep properly because of the pain he or she is in.

The two really do go hand in hand.

So here's what I will tell clients who come to me with a suspected case of reflux (GERD or otherwise): Let's start by talking about sleep. Is your baby getting an appropriate amount of sleep for his age? Is her awake time limit appropriate for her age? Is he napping long enough? How about nighttime sleep - is that long enough? Good routine? Sleep sanctuary?

Well, if the answer to those questions is "No," then let's start there. Let's implement some of the basics of healthy sleep hygiene and see if some of that fussiness will go away on its own in a few weeks.

If it does - great. Now you've discovered it was never reflux at all, and all that fussiness was a simple case of over-tiredness (though I've learned that those cases are often far from simple!)

And if not... well, then things can get a wee bit more complicated. While I'd never assume my child has GERD unless it's verified by pH testing, the last thing we want to do is put the child in a situation that may make it more difficult for them to learn to sleep - both now and in the future.

You see, learning to sleep well is all about associations, and one of the associations that your little kiddo has to make is sleep=enjoyable. But if your little one experiences pain every time he is laid down on his back, especially since that pain can be exacerbated by crying, he's not going to have positive associations with sleep at all - no siree. We adults get nitpicky about mosquito bites, hot rooms or lumpy mattresses when we're trying to fall asleep - but if your little one is in pain, that's a whole different ball game.

The first step, then, is to help your child get the sleep he needs (even if it's not ideal in terms of independent sleep) while simultaneously working to alleviate the pain he may be feeling from the reflux. (Check out my previous blog post for tips and tricks to alleviate reflux.)

Once you feel that the reflux is under control and has subsided, then is the time to discuss teaching her those crucial independent sleep skills.

Babies who once had severe GERD may take a wee bit longer to sort things out than other babies. They often have some negative associations that they have to unlearn, so the process can take a bit longer, but it absolutely can be done.

Have some more questions or ready to get started? Click HERE to learn about working with me.

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