Very common in its nature, infant acid reflux (more accurately, gastroesophageal reflux) is a problem that occurs in babies when the contents of their stomach flows back into the esophagus, causing acid reflux, or as we commonly refer to it, heartburn. Often times, acid reflux can occur after a feeding, but there are times babies get acid reflux when they cry, cough or strain. Generally, babies who suffer from infant acid reflux are otherwise healthy.
Very common in its nature, infant acid reflux (more accurately, gastroesophageal reflux) is a problem that occurs in babies when the contents of their stomach flows back into the esophagus, causing acid reflux, or as we commonly refer to it, heartburn.
Often times, acid reflux can occur after a feeding, but there are times babies get acid reflux when they cry, cough or strain. Generally, babies who suffer from infant acid reflux are otherwise healthy.
When babies reach the age of 12 to 18 months old, infant acid reflux will basically resolve itself. Although babies can outgrow infant acid reflux, it can be problematic in the meantime, so it's best to change your feeding technique in the way of smaller, more frequent feedings, changing positions during a feeding (it's best not to lie babies flat when they eat--hold them upright as much as possible or sit them in a carrier during feedings to help the natural flow of food into their stomach), and interrupting feedings to burp the baby can all help ease (if not prevent) infant acid reflux.
In more severe cases of infant acid reflux, your doctor might recommend medication/s to help relieve some of the symptoms of infant acid reflux in your baby.
Signs and symptoms of infant acid reflux may include (but are not limited to):
- Spitting up milk/food
- Irritability during or after feedings
- Dry cough
- Refusing to eat
- Crying when placed on his or her back after a feeding
There are times the symptoms of infant acid reflux get so bad, your baby might arch his/her back while crying, which might look like he's having a seizure, but in most cases, it's just the pain and discomfort caused by the infant acid reflux.
It's very normal for small babies to experience infant acid reflux in the first few months of life; it will not hinder baby's normal growth and well being, but in severe cases, it's best to go see a doctor. Watch for these symptoms:
- Baby stops gaining weight
- Baby has projectile vomiting
- Baby spits up green or yellow fluid
- Baby spits up blood or something that resembles coffee grounds
- Baby resists feedings
- Baby has blood in his/her stool
- Baby has fever, diarrhea or difficulty breathing
- Baby begins vomiting at age 6 months or older
If you suspect your baby has infant acid reflux, talk to your doctor about getting him/her relief until he outgrows it. However, if you feel it's something more serious, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or pyloric stenosis, then do not hesitate to take your baby directly to the nearest emergency room, where they can refer you to a specialist right away.
What normally causes infant acid reflux, simple in nature, is a weakening or damage to the lower esophageal sphincter, a band of muscle that contracts and relaxes when we swallow to allow the passage of food/liquid into our stomach via the esophagus. When this muscle becomes weakened or damaged, the contents of our stomach has a tendency to flow backward, back up to our esophagus, which causes acid reflux, or heartburn. Until your baby's lower esophageal sphincter matures and strengthens, the contents of your baby's stomach may flow back into his/her esophagus and out the mouth, causing heartburn and at times, a sour taste in the mouth.
While most cases of infant acid reflux will clear up on their own by the 18th month, some babies go on to experience GERD in later years, making it hard for babies to gain sufficient weight and in some cases, making it difficult for babies to breathe.
If your baby's infant acid reflux does not clear up on its own, your doctor might recommend the following treatments:
- Feeding technique changes
- Alternative feeding methods
Even with proper treatment and medication, your baby might still experience some level of infant acid reflux from time to time. To keep infant acid reflux signs and symptoms at bay, consider the following:
- Keep baby upright (feed in an upright position and do not lie baby down on his/her back at least until 20 - 30 minutes have passed after each feeding; do not jiggle baby after feedings and resist the temptation to swing baby in air or hold upside down, ever!)
- Smaller, more frequent feedings (sit baby in carrier or car seat to prevent contents of stomach from flowing back up into esophagus)
- Take time to burp your baby (although the best way by far to burp your baby is to place him on his/her stomach across your lap after a feeding in one fell swoop, in cases such as infant acid reflux, you might want to avoid that burping technique as it can interrupt natural digestion and baby might be prone to vomiting and heartburn. In which case, it's best to be super patient and hold baby over your shoulder to burp, rubbing his/her back gently)
- Check the nipple (make certain the nipple you're using is the right size. If it's too big, the milk will flow too quickly and your baby won't have enough time to swallow. If it's too tight, your baby will be forced to suck too hard and that, too, can cause infant acid reflux)
It's important to keep in mind that infant acid reflux is not a serious health concern; but, it does cause baby pain and discomfort, so be patient during and after feedings and burp your baby as needed. Keep lots of bibs on hand, and understand there may be extra laundry to do while you ride it out.