Reflux, Why it Hurts Sleep, and What to To

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Reflux is a very uncomfortable condition, and the burning associated with it would keep anyone up at night.  Working with kids with special needs, reflux (and in extreme cases GERD) tends to come up a lot in conversation (no pun intended).  This is often an issue that begins when the child is just an infant and parents are told to medicate, and medicate some more.

However, diet is an incredibly important factor and often we can greatly reduce and, in some cases, eliminate issues of reflux with simple, dietary changes.  And that means no more meds (woo hoo!) . Here are my recommendations:

Look at your child’s diet

For kids with special needs that suffer from reflux, I encourage parents to eliminate processed foods, sugar, gluten, and dairy.  Reflux is often a sign of allergy or intolerance to food, and by eliminating what are common aggravates is a big step in the right direction.

It is estimated that 2.5% of kids 3 years and younger have some kind of milk/dairy allergy that often is developed in the the months after a child is born (   Gluten is also a food that often causes stomach issues, not just acid reflux.  I know my husband had terrible heart burn issues for months, which completely disappeared after following a gluten-free diet.

Consider eliminating the foods just for 2 weeks to see if there is a difference.  If symptoms subside or reduce, it’s a pretty good chance that one of those foods was causing issues!  When re-introducing new foods, always add one at a time to observe your child’s reaction.  If eliminating these foods do not help the symptoms, consider reducing or taking out other possible reflux causing foods: carbonated drinks, chocolate, sugar, oranges, sweets, salty snacks, fruit juices, tomatoes, and vegetables like onions, cabbage, broccoli, or cauliflower. 


According to, breast fed babies have fewer issues with reflux. If you are breastfeeding, consider reducing or eliminating any of the foods in the previous point from your diet.  Whatever you are eating, your baby will get through breastmilk.

If you exclusively bottle feed your baby (formula or breast milk), reflux can aggravate any feeding issues your baby might be facing.  Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to help bottle feeds go more successfully:

Small meals, more frequently

For some kids, smaller meals more often allows for easier digestion and alleviates reflux symptoms.  Sometimes, the stomach cannot handle big meals and needs to work a bit more.  Along with this, positioning is key when feeding as well.  Make sure your child is in a perfect vertical position while feeding.  This allows gravity to keep food and stomach contents down.

Don’t eat too close to bedtime

My recommendation is that if your child is dealing with reflux (especially at night), avoid feeding at least 2 hours before bedtime so the stomach can digest properly. If lying down after eating, the stomach acids actually leak out into the esophagus causing a lot of discomfort (  This might be a difficult thing to do for young babies, but do the best you can.

Of course, if your child’s symptoms persist, it is best to consult with your child’s physician in order to solve the problem.  However, simple dietary and lifestyle changes can make a positive difference in all aspects, including your child’s sleep!

Does reflux keep your child with special needs up at night?  Contact Melissa to learn how to get your child sleeping great at night!