What causes baby reflux?

Author Philippa Murphy

What causes baby reflux?

Before you read this article, I’d like to make it clear that it is about Gastroesophaguel Reflux (GER/GOR) not Gastroesophaguel Reflux Disease (GERD/GORD). The confusion that exists on the internet these days about the difference of these two symptom lists is rife. More and more GER symptoms are being lumped together with GERD symptoms, which then leads a lot of parents down the medical path for reflux unnecessarily. 

Difference between GER and GERD

If your baby is bringing up the majority of their milk after every feed and experiencing little to no weight gain then they may have GERD and medical assistance is needed. On the other hand, if baby is managing to retain the majority of their milk, having big to small posits throughout the day after each feed, while gaining steady weight (20-25grams a day for 0-6 month olds) and have the symptoms below, then they have GER and the great news is, their symptoms can be healed naturally by understanding and rebalancing input and output levels.

For the remainder of this blog when I refer to reflux, or Digestive Overload, the cause of reflux, I am talking about GER/GOR.

Symptoms of reflux

After decades of clinical research I have come to realise that GER is actually better known as Digestive Overload, which is the underlying cause of reflux, formed by unbalanced feeding practices, retained air and tongue/lip tie. The Digestive Overload behaviours are:

  • The release of small or large amounts of milk – spilling or projectile.
  • Varying textures of milk – clear or cottage cheese.
  • Habitual swallowing of the burp (often called ‘silent reflux’).
  • Irritability, grizzling, inconsolable crying, screaming.
  • Bloating (hard distended stomach) cramps, excessive gas.
  • Heightened communication around and during bowel motions from excessive wind passing through the intestines, frequent frothy and/or explosive bowel motions, or constipation.
  • Wakefulness from discomfort with episodes of longer periods of sleep, but the latter is often from exhaustion through crying and lack of sleep rather than feeling comfortable.
  • Frequent searching for something to suck - exhibiting the ‘root reflex’. 
  • Weight gains may be at the lower recommended level.
  • Arching backwards or sideways, writhing, wriggling.
  • Pedalling legs.
  • Gulping their milk, seeming very hungry while being restless – sometimes refusing to feed, pulling off the nipple or when bottle-fed, having flailing arms and legs with much turning of the head because of digestive discomfort.
  • Hiccups - a newborn's natural reflex for releasing ingested air. The more overloaded they are by wind, the more hiccups they experience.
  • Blueness or darkness around the mouth, which will come and go.  This can be visible above the top lip, under the bottom lip, or both simultaneously and can sometimes spread as far as the bridge of the nose between the eyes.  This sign of wind is present for all newborns because all experience natural levels of ingested air. It becomes more prominent as wind accumulates to overload levels.

The cause of reflux

Most parents are taught that the majority of symptoms above happen because of acid moving up the oesophagus. That baby is born with an immature digestive system, and this has the sphincter muscle at the bottom of the oesophagus allowing acid to travel upward and burn the oesophagus. With this hugely marketed belief, the acid inhibitors that many newborns are prescribed seem like a possible path of recovery to the parents. However, acid and an immature digestive system, or weak sphincter muscle, is not the cause of reflux. 

Yes, that’s right. It is not the cause. I know, I know, your paediatrician said it is, your doctor said it is, most of the internet says it is and your friends on the many reflux Facebook groups say it is, but it’s not. How do I know this? Because I have healed reflux naturally for hundreds of newborns, and if it was because of an immature digestive system I wouldn’t be able to do that. Also, if it was the lack of maturity in the digestive tract then why don’t all of our newborns have reflux?

A newborns digestive system takes around two-and-a-half years before it functions the same as an adults, which is what we define as maturity. With this known, it’s fair to say that when I heal the reflux symptoms, it’s not about the digestive system suddenly maturing to a level where it can process food better, nor the sphincter muscle changing.

The remedy of reflux is possible because I work from the perspective that the newborns digestive system is perfect from birth – not immature, no lack – and that it’s up to us to learn how to nurture alongside their basic digestive capacities and capabilities from birth. Once we do this, while understanding their innate Six-Wind-Cues and how to respond to these along with their other cues, we find that reflux behaviours significantly diminish, and in most cases stop.

Sadly however, these symptoms exist because much of the mainstream teaching on feeding and burping does not nurture alongside nature. In particular the way we are now taught to feed our babies with cluster feeding, feeding baby every 0-3 hours, feeding from both breasts in one sitting, the often overlooked breastfeeding diet, or how to establish a healthy breast supply in the first week, and how to express, to name a few. Also parents are often told that newborns don’t need to burp (especially breastfed babies) that they don’t have wind, or relieving a few burps and settling baby to sleep is best practice.

Notably, the education around feeding practices have changed considerably compared to a couple of decades ago. This change has sorrowfully seen a rise in Digestive Overload behaviours for our young. All because we have been taught that the status quo of ‘demand feeding’ is being baby led, which is of course what we all want to be – baby led. But to be fully baby led we need to understand and work alongside the newborns innate digestive processes. When we do this, along with being led by their full array of ‘demand cues’, we naturally fall into a rhythm of not feeding them every time they root to suck, or are unsettled, or not sleeping as current ‘demand feeding’ education advises. Overloading the digestive system is then avoided and baby reflux can become a thing of the past.  

To learn more about how to nurture alongside your child’s natural digestive biology and their full array
of cues, inclusive of my discovery of the Six-Wind-Cues, feel free to read my blogs
The why and why not of cluster feeding’ and ‘The witching hour – it is not normal’.
These articles include the science behind my findings.  


Our newborns are crying out for change! Quite simply, Digestive Overload (which is the cause of not only reflux, but also colic and lactose and dairy overload) does not need to be happening for our newborns and I will shout this from the roof tops loudly, until the day I die for the sake of our newborns. Despite the fact that it is largely contrary to the existing beliefs, marketing and some of the medical advice.  Our children want to be heard and understood on a level that allows them to relax, to feel better and have their parents relax. Thus enabling the growth of their intuition, which can only flourish from a stable foundation of knowledge. 

Please feel free to comment below and if you know of someone that might like this article, please like and share the love via the social grey buttons.


Last Updated: 15 July 2018


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