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Acid Reflux and Sleep

The last thing you and your baby need is anything that might detract from them getting a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately for some infants, acid reflux can do just that, resulting in sleepless nights (and some uncomfortable days, too).

Acid reflux occurs when food from the stomach comes back up into the baby’s mouth, causing spit up or vomit. Even in a healthy baby, this occurs several times a day, but when it happens too often it can lead to weight loss and other problems, including sleeplessness.

If you’re concerned that your baby may have acid reflux, also called gastroesophageal reflux, or GER, by all means consult your pediatrician. (In rare cases, babies may suffer from a similar but worse condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.)

The good news is that after emerging around the four-month mark, infant acid reflux generally disappears by 18 months. The other good news is that there are indeed things you can do to help make your baby more comfortable and sleep better if they develop this condition.

Make the Night’s Last Feeding Earlier

You may want to give your baby her last feeding earlier than usual to allow more time for the food to settle before she lies down. Ditto for feedings before naps. Giving the baby around 30 minutes to digest should increase the chances of food staying down and them making it through the night.  

Feed the Baby Smaller, More Frequent Meals

Giving the baby smaller amounts of food at a time — but feeding them more frequently — might

help them digest more of their food and prevent acid reflux. This way, the baby can get all the nutrition their growing body requires without filling their little tummies too much at any given time.

Try Adjusting the Baby’s Sleeping Position

Ironically, the safest sleeping position for babies — lying flat on their back — is also thought to contribute to acid reflux. But it is possible to adjust the baby’s sleeping position while still keeping them plenty safe.  

Gravity helps food go down. Which is why some parents choose to tilt their baby’s upper body at an upward angle during sleep. Keeping the angle at less that 45 degrees is generally recommended. You can achieve that positioning by placing a rolled-up towel under the baby’s mattress, or by placing a baby mattress wedge in their crib.

Try to Avoid Establishing Negative Sleep Associations

With frequent nighttime wakings, it may be tempting to soothe your baby to sleep quite often. While babies do need comforting, you may want to be mindful that it’s better for everyone if the baby does not develop negative sleep associations — anything external he or she must rely on to fall asleep.

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Chase Scheinbaum
Chase Scheinbaum

Chase Scheinbaum is a journalist and uncle four times over who's written for Businessweek, Village Voice, AJ+, Men's Journal, Fatherly and other publications.