Acid Reflux In Infants

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Spit-up is a perfectly common occurrence with new babies. You can expect to change your baby’s clothes often as well as your own as messes are inevitable. But how do you know when the spit-up is something more severe? How do you know if your baby has acid reflux?

What Is Acid Reflux In Infants?

As previously mentioned, regular reflux is a common problem with young infants. It is often called by many names such as acid reflux, indigestion, or heartburn, but the term you may hear your pediatrician use is gastroesophageal reflux or GER.

Basically, whether it is in adults or babies, reflux occurs when the contents of the stomach back up into the esophagus. Since it most commonly affects infants, these contents are usually just a mixture of saliva and stomach acid with a slightly milky color (from breast milk or formula).

Symptoms Of Reflux 

About 50% of infants spit up several times a day. It doesn’t usually bother them and they typically grow out of it by about 12-14 months at the latest.

Spit-up isn’t the only symptom of reflux though. You may also notice:

  • Regurgitation
  • Burping
  • Aspiration
  • Fussiness at mealtime
  • Hiccups
  • Gagging or choking

Causes

The main cause of baby reflux is due to their immature digestive systems. It is very easy for gas bubbles as well as a full tummy to block access to the stomach and cause milk to end up back in the esophagus.

More specifically, the lower esophageal sphincter is the culprit. This is the small muscle that acts as a shut-off valve between the stomach and esophagus. It should remain shut after food passes through, but this muscle is underdeveloped in babies and may remain open, allowing food to flow back and forth.

Types of Reflux

Besides the “normal” acid reflux, there are also two other types of reflux you and your pediatrician should keep an eye out for.

GERD

This is the more severe form of GER: gastroesophageal reflux disease or GER It is less common than GER but still something to watch for since it will require immediate medical attention.

Some of the symptoms you may notice in addition to those of GER are:

  • Poor weight gain
  • Refusal to feed
  • Chronic coughing, particularly at night
  • Wheezing or rattling in the chest
  • Constant irritability
  • Pain in chest
  • Hematemesis (vomiting blood)
  • Iron deficiency anemia

These symptoms will vary from case to case and many don’t see the more severe ones. Just watch out for excessive spitting or vomiting which may occur several times a day over a period of about 3 weeks as well as poor weight gain. These will be your first signs.

Silent

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have silent reflux, or laryngeal-pharyngeal reflux (LPR). This is basically a minor case of GER, labeled as “silent” since it’s not usually accompanied by heartburn or similar pain/discomfort.

Spitting up or vomiting with silent reflux can still irritate the throat and esophagus due to stomach acids, so it is not something to be ignored just because it’s less severe.

How to relieve acid reflux

While there are medications you pediatrician can discuss with you if needed, try a few natural “remedies” first to see if you can help your baby feel more comfortable.

  1. Massage

Any sort of gastrointestinal distress in babies, including gas and constipation, can be helped with a proper baby massage. Just start by rubbing our baby’s belly in a clockwise motion then move to the back and do the same thing. Finish by running your hands down their arms and legs and giving plenty of cuddles.

2. Exercise

This can also be helpful for gas and constipation as well as reflux. Lay your baby on their back and hold onto their lower calves or ankles. Move their legs as if they were marching or cycling. Just be sure you don’t do this too soon after a feeding session as lying on the back can trigger an episode of reflux.

3. Feeding Habits

Practicing good feeding routines and habits is probably the best thing you can do to help your baby and prevent episodes of reflux.

Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding, try changing up your feeding position. Use a nursing pillow to elevate your little one so they are eating in a more upright position. This will help with digestion and food flow.

I can tell you from personal experience that these things really work. Around the time my little one was 4 months old, I realized he was spitting up a lot and feeling discomfort when I was nursing him.

After adjusting his feeding position – sitting him more upright – and burping him often, I noticed an improvement in his symptoms. I also made sure I waited 30 minutes to an hour before laying him down to sleep to prevent any flare-ups.

4. Avoid Trigger Foods

Trigger foods can include what your baby eats as well as what you eat (if you are breastfeeding).

Basically, if you are eating something that is known to cause gas, it may do the same to your baby after it finds its way into your breast milk. These may include:

  • Caffeine
  • Spicy foods
  • Citrus
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Fried foods
  • Alcohol
  • Artificial fruit juice
  • Tobacco
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Kidney and black beans

If you are not breastfeeding, consider switching to a gentler formula or changing over to the breast altogether. Some formulas are too harsh for sensitive tummies and may be harder to digest resulting in more frequent spit-up and reflux.

Switching to breastfeeding also helps to prevent gas bubbles. Baby bottles, no matter how well they are made, are notorious for holding extra air which can be swallowed by your baby. This creates a bubble of gas that causes discomfort and can prevent your little one’s food from being digested properly.

Reflux is very common with babies and sometimes just takes time to grow out of as their little bodies mature. However, with proper care and precautions, you can prevent some episodes and help your baby feel more comfortable. Above all, be sure not to ignore signs that may be dangerous to your baby’s health.

Do you have any experience with reflux with your baby? How did you handle it? Be sure to share your story with us.

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2 Replies to “Acid Reflux In Infants”

  1. I wish this great website with all these great tips existed at the time my son was born.
    When he was a baby, he was gassy all the time that would prevent him from sleeping at night or during the day.
    He used to cry a lot and needed constant attention. I always had to rock him to sleep.
    I was really burned out and thought I was the only mom going through this. I felt helpless and alone. At least now I know that it’s part of life of all moms who have a baby with acid reflux symptoms. All these are just now memories because my son is now 17 years old and he is perfectly fine.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story, Justine. I know how challenging, discouraging and stressful it can be when you have a baby with reflux. You did great by trying every strategy to comfort him. I am sure today you must be very proud to see him becoming a young man.

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