Infant Reflux: Interview with local mum & expert Laura Heller Bennett

November 9, 2017

Laura’s son Jonah was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at birth. When he was brought to the nursery right after he was born, for observation, he turned blue. He had what is called apnea episodes, which means he stopped breathing. After running some tests, the doctors found that he had severe Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. Acid went so far up his esophagus that his lungs shut down to protect themselves. Jonah was sent home on a monitor, which monitored for apnea and bradycardia (slowing of the heart rate). 

14 years forward, Laura - a North Miami based Grassroots SME (subject matter expert), Patient Advocate and Educator with a M.Ed in both Mental Health Counseling and School Counseling -  helps parents of babies w/ infant reflux navigate the health care system & make sure they learn as much as they can to be the best advocates they can be for their babies. We asked her a few questions about Infant Reflux, her experience, the most common signs and symptoms and what could help parents when taking care of their babies suffering with this condition. 

1. How common Is reflux in babies?
Infant reflux is very common. The more severe cases are not so common, but they aren't rare, either. To put things in perspective, some estimates put it as high as 1 in 5 babies - yesterday only I received 10 messages from parents of children suffering with this condition - and it can happen multiple times a day, particularly after feeds.

2. What are the most frequent signs of infant reflux?
Some frequent signs are:
    •    Frequent screaming episodes with eyes shut and brows furrowed
    •    Sudden screaming during sleep and frequent wakes up with crying
    •    Arching the back and the neck
    •    Acidic (clear) spit up and spit up with pain
    •    Difficulty feeding: the child seems hungry yet is agitated and pushes away/refuses the bottle or over eats
    •    Chronic ear or respiratory infections (bronchitis, bronchiolitis, pneumonia)

3. What are some factors which can increase the risk of reflux in babies?
Several factors seem to be associated with an increase the risk of of reflux in babies such as protein (food) intolerances/allergies, tongue and lip ties.

4. Will my baby grow out of reflux?
The majority of babies grow out of infant reflux by 12 months. If there are food intolerances or allergies then reflux can be exacerbated by ingesting offending proteins up until about 3 yrs of age. 

5. When is reflux a medical problem?
Infant reflux is a medical problem when there is intense pain and hours of inconsolable screaming. It's also a medical problem when baby refuses to eat, however, some babies, like my son, ate to soothe the burn and did not have an issue with gaining weight; gaining weight should never be a reason not to medicate! Infant reflux is a medical problem when the baby experiences ALTEs, Apparent Life Threatening Experiences. This happened to my baby, this is why he was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit  at birth: the acid went so far up his esophagus that his lungs shut down to protect themselves, this is apnea. He was sent home on an apnea monitor. 

6. What are some tips to help minimize reflux or to help babies with reflux feel more comfortable?
I sound like a medicine pusher: Medicine! Do your research and know how to advocate for your baby and find the right medicine. No baby deserves to suffer in pain. Diet, too, is something to explore, such as mother's diet while breastfeeding or specialty formulas. Do not thicken breastmilk or formula without a very specific prescription from a SLP who's conducted a Swallow Study! Thickening bottles is very old fashioned and can be quite dangerous! Always seek advice from medical professionals. It can take quite some time to get into see a Pediatric Gastroenterologist, so make that appointment now and maybe hopefully you can cancel it as you get closer to the date! 

7. Do you have any tips so that things are a bit easier for parents caring for a baby with reflux?
Babywearing! It not only saved me and my baby, but it saved my entire family! My husband started to use my pouch after he saw how much it helped calm our son, and I then got him one of his own. My mother even used the pouch when babysitting because she could see it stopped Jonah from crying so much.

If you want to know more about infant reflux, please visit and/or contact Laura here.

* The information on this interview is not exhaustive and complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
 Please consult your doctor with any questions you may have regarding the treatment of your child. *

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