Reflux and Tummy Time

We all know that tummy time is super important. But, what if your baby’s reflux is making it easier said than done?

I need to make this very clear: none of what I am sharing here is medical advice regarding reflux. I am not a medical doctor and cannot/will not speak to what is/isn’t “normal” in regards to reflux or provide any medical advice for addressing your baby’s reflux. These tips are simply to guide you on doing tummy time if your baby is dealing with reflux! Also, understand that the tips I will share below are geared toward healthy babies who are gaining weight and have no health concerns related to reflux. Baby’s health always comes before tummy time!

Reflux in babies is incredibly common – more than 50% of babies will have some degree of reflux. This happens because the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) is immature/underdeveloped in infants. Some babies just experience some spit up and aren’t bothered by it. While others experience GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and more severe symptoms like pain, excessive vomiting, and trouble gaining weight. You should work with your child’s medical team to decide if your baby has GERD.

I also want you to understand that just because your baby spits up sometimes, or spits up while on their tummy doesn’t mean that they have GERD. It could just be that the pressure on the baby’s tummy from being picked up, moved around and pressure from tummy time causes stomach contents to come back up because of that underdeveloped esophageal sphincter!

Is your baby’s spit up/reflux a reason that you don’t put baby on his/her tummy as often as you want?

Spit up is a huge hurdle I see parents have when trying to tackle tummy time. I often hear “she spits up her whole (or half of or so much of) bottle when I put her on her tummy!

But, spit up alone isn’t a concern and a reason to avoid tummy time. It likely looks waaay more than it really is. If your baby is happy, just throw down a towel and keep rolling with tummy time! 

*if your baby isn’t happy, keep reading*

The good news? Tummy time will actually help improve reflux! When your baby strengthens the muscles of the tummy, neck, obliques, etc the muscles of the esophagus will also strengthen. This will help reduce the amount of the stomach contents that come back up!

However, I know realistically that it can still be so hard to persevere through tummy time when your baby is constantly spitting up and seems to be uncomfortable! 

So, let’s talk about some ways to make it more tolerable so that we can reap all of the benefits of this important, tummy down position:

  • Start with tummy time on an include: chest to chest, a boppy pillow or towel roll under the chest or tummy time on your legs. These will all decrease the amount of pressure on your baby’s tummy.
  • Utilize baby wearing as a way to help strengthen the neck right after feeding times. This decreases pressure on the tummy while baby’s food digests and also gives you a few hands free moments.
  • Use alternative tummy time positions during times when your baby’s reflux is at its peak. Check out this Instagram post for some ideas for non-floor tummy down alternatives.

If your baby has severe symptoms of GERD, know that this is a symptom of another issue and it’s important to look for the root cause! It could be linked to a poor latch (can happen with breast and bottle feeding) lip/tongue tie, food allergies, etc. It is important to find a team of medical professionals that can help you troubleshoot your baby’s symptoms and work toward a solution! Follow Milk Matters PT and Baby Reflux Lady as they are both amazing resources!!

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