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Motor Milestones

Tummy Time Tears - Maybe It’s Reflux

Dr. Allison Mell, DPT
October 25, 2022
Tummy Time Tears - Maybe It’s Reflux

Hi mamas, we see you, we hear you and we hear that crying baby. Yes, tummy time can be hard and the tears can make it harder. But are the tears more than the normal amount for tummy time practice? Perhaps. Your baby may seem to be uncomfortable or kvetching (excuse my yiddish – whining), and that is okay, but if your baby is painfully crying or screaming during tummy time, you may have a medical condition on your hands.

Your baby may be experiencing acid reflux, which could be a difficult thing to diagnose. Here’s the issue, babies spit up, and can spit up often. Some babies are happy and smiling while they throw up their milk all over your nicest loungewear. And many pediatricians will (correctly) say this constant spit up is not a problem as long as baby is gaining weight properly, eating and sleeping well, and has a generally happy demeanor. However, there are many babies who suffer from acid reflux, which is more than the smiley spit up and causes serious pain.

Acid reflux is not just affecting their little bellies, it may impact them reaching developmental milestones. Is it surprising that something you think of as a medical issue can correlate to their developmental process? You see, the whole body is connected and even in the tiniest bodies that are trying to grow and learn new skills so fast, “minor” medical conditions like acid reflux can have a big impact on their milestones.

How, you ask?

Babies who suffer from acid reflux, which happens when acids of the stomach rise back up into the esophagus irritating the lining and causing a burning sensation, will try to avoid positions that cause more pain. Prone positioning, aka, lying on their tummies can increase this pain (cue the heartbreak during tummy time for our little babies!). The opening to the esophagus is on the right side of the the stomach, so you may notice baby turning towards the left to “get away” from the pain. This movement could lead to a positional torticollis- when the neck and trunk muscles become tight on one side making it difficult to rotate the head and accomplish skills like rolling or typical quadruped crawling (on all fours).

Baby may also be arching his back quite often which is a sign that baby is trying to move into a new position to avoid pain. FYI, This is not the same as the Landau reflex that kicks in around 5 months where baby looks like he’s flying or swimming. Or baby may also experience frequent burping,irritability, coughing or difficulty feeding. Even if baby isn’t spitting up all over the place, silent reflux can still cause lots of pain but isn’t as obvious or identifiable. Additional symptoms can include difficulty breathing or very noisy breathing, constant congestion and ear infections, gagging, or inability to gain steady weight.

What to do for reflux troubles?

  1. Burp baby over your shoulder and hold her vertically immediately after feedings-letting gravity help out a little.
  2. Positioning your baby in supervised left sidelying (lying on baby’s left side) can help keep the acid away from the esophogeal opening and slowly ease baby into the tummy time position.
  3. Always, always, speak to your pediatrician. There are many ways to treat acid reflux, and treating the cause is more important than treating the symptoms. Your baby may be missing milestones due to an acid reflux issue. Fortunately, there are treatments and routes you can take to help baby be in less pain and once again enjoy the developmental journey!
  4. Check out our membership for tips to help your baby reach all their milestones!

Dr. Allison Mell is the founder of Tots on Target and a physical therapist based out of New Jersey.

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