Like adults, infants also tend to suffer from acid reflux, which causes them to spit up. Unfortunately, it can be quite frequent for many.
What Causes Acid Reflux in Babies?
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, gastroesophageal reflux (GER) happens when stomach contents come back up into the esophagus, causing heartburn.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more serious and long-lasting form of GER and may prevent an infant from feeding.
In infants, gastric reflux is common as the band of muscle, or sphincter, that squeezes the top opening of the stomach shut does not yet close at full strength, especially in premature babies. As a result, babies often have reflux and spit up after feeding.
Certain factors, such as being born prematurely, lying flat most of the time, and consuming only a liquid diet, contribute to infant reflux in most cases.
Signs and Symptoms of Acid Relux in Babies
Kids with infant reflux often spit up more than usual after feeding. Plus, they become fussier.
Other symptoms include colic, gagging or trouble swallowing, irritability (especially after eating), poor eating or refusing to eat, poor weight gain or weight loss, and wheezing or trouble breathing.
As long as your baby is healthy, content, and growing well, acid reflux is not a cause for concern. In fact, the problem will occur less frequently as your baby gets older and becomes more active.
You can always try some natural remedies that are effective in reducing the episodes of infant reflux and associated discomforts.
Simple Ways to Deal with Acid Reflux in Babies
Here are some home remedies for acid reflux in babies.
1. Adjustments While Sleeping
Never feed your baby while he or she is in a sleeping position. It is always better to have your baby sit upright on your lap while nursing, and don’t lay your baby down immediately after feeding.
Hold your baby upright for at least 30 minutes after feeding.
2. Try Massage Therapy
Regular massage helps improve the functioning of the respiratory and digestive systems in babies.
Massage stimulates the vagus nerve, the nerve in the brain that controls various regions of the respiratory and digestive systems.
It even helps the body develop more quickly so that each and every body part starts operating more effectively sooner.
A 2014 study published in Biological Research for Nursing reports that massage helps reduce symptoms in infants suffering from GERD.
Massage even helps improve cognitive ability, reduce crying, and aid in sleeping.
- Put your baby in a lying position.
- Apply some warm olive or coconut oil on your baby’s stomach.
- Gently massage the stomach in a clockwise direction for 3 to 4 minutes.
- Then, massage the back gently for 2 minutes.
- Finally, massage the hands and legs with long, firm strokes.
- Repeat this two or three times daily.
3. Make Your Baby Do Some Exercise
To help babies deal with the symptoms of acid reflux, you must try some basic movement exercises.
Exercise will help improve digestion.
A 2017 study published in Oxidative and Medicine Cellular Longevity reports that exercise appears to be an environmental factor that can determine changes in the qualitative and quantitative gut microbial composition with possible benefits for the host.
However, it is important to note that you should not feed your baby until about 30 minutes after exercise and never feed immediately before an exercise session.
Exercises that target gas and bloating, such as bicycle legs or knee-pushing exercises, are some of the best options to try.
- Put your baby in a lying position.
- Hold the legs in a half-bent position with your hands.
- Gently begin to move your baby’s legs as if he or she was riding a bicycle.
- Do this for 10 minutes, several times a day.
4. Feed Your Baby More Frequently
Sometimes, acid reflux in babies can be treated by making small changes in the feeding routine.
Always remember that babies are more likely to have reflux and to spit up when their stomach is too full.
On the other hand, a less full stomach puts less pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), and this in turn prevents food from going back into the esophagus from the stomach.
When feeding, try to hold your baby in a more vertical position, and keep him/her upright for 10 minutes after feedings, too. Avoid putting your baby down right after feeding, and make sure to burp your baby after every feeding.
5. Thickening the Breast Milk or Formula may Help
Whether you are giving your baby breast milk or formula milk, thickening it a little with some rice cereal can help in treating acid reflux in babies.
Thickening the food is thought to help stop stomach contents from sloshing up into the esophagus.
In a 2017 study published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, researchers found that term babies with GER given feed thickeners had nearly two fewer reflux episodes per day. Babies with GER were also 2.5 times more likely to have no reflux symptoms if feed thickeners were used.
You should consult a pediatrician to know about the kind of thickening formula that you can add to formula or breast milk depending upon your baby’s age.
6. Avoid Secondhand Smoke Exposure
Lifestyle changes can help reduce reflux, and an important strategy in this regard is to avoid exposing your infant to secondhand smoke. In fact, infants or children of any age should completely avoid exposure to tobacco smoke.
Tobacco smoke can relax the lower esophageal sphincter and increase the tendency for reflux to occur.
A study published in the Journal of the Oklahoma State Medical Association found that environmental tobacco smoke represents a significant contributing factor to GER.
The study even stressed that pediatricians should systematically ask questions about the infant environment and recommend that children should remain in a smoke-free environment.
7. Nursing Mother’s Should Take Care of Themselves too
When you are breastfeeding your baby, you need to give importance to your diet, too. The diet you follow has a direct influence on your baby’s health and its growth and development.
In fact, breastfed babies may benefit from a change in the mother’s diet. Hence, breastfeeding mothers should keep a close eye on their diet to help avoid acid reflux in babies.
- Give up all dairy products immediately, as the protein found in dairy products can irritate a baby’s immature digestive tract.
- Avoid common allergens including wheat, gluten, citrus, nuts, eggs, and soy.
- Limit high-fat, fried, or spicy foods, as well as carbonated drinks, chocolate, and caffeine.
- Keep away from alcohol and cigarette smoke.
- Breastfeeding mothers should eat probiotic yogurt daily to improve both their own and their baby’s digestive system.
- As water is a key ingredient in breast milk, nursing mothers should drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep their body hydrated.
- Feed your baby smaller amounts of food at regular intervals, several times a day.
- Never try any kind of solid food without consulting your doctor.
- Make sure your baby is not overeating.
- Avoid rough handling or bouncing your baby.
- Avoid any tight clothing, such as tight diapers or elastic waistbands, while sleeping.
- If a food allergy or intolerance is suspected, consult your doctor.
- If bottle feeding, check the bottle’s nipple size. A smaller nipple will make your baby gulp air while eating and a larger nipple will speed up the flow of milk.
- Acid Reflux (GER & GERD) in Infants. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-infants.
- Even Doctors Get Confused About Reflux Disease in Babies. Thomas Jefferson University. https://www.jefferson.edu/university/news/2016/05/1/Reflux-Disease-in-Babies.html. Published February 5, 2005.
- Czinn SJ, Blanchard S. Gastroesophageal reflux disease in neonates and infants : when and how to treat. Paediatric Drugs. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23322552. Published February 2013.
- Baird D, Harker DJ, Karmes AS. Diagnosis and Treatment of Gastroesophageal Reflux in Infants and Children. American Family Physician. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2015/1015/p705.html. Published October 15, 2015.
- Neu M, Pan Z, Workman R, Marcheggiani-Howard C, Furuta G, Laudenslager ML. Benefits of massage therapy for infants with symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Advances in pediatrics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24379449. Published October 2014.
- Monda V, Villano I, Messina A, et al. Advances in pediatrics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5357536/. Published 2017.
- Lightdale JR, Gremse DA. Gastroesophageal Reflux: Management Guidance for the Pediatrician. Pediatrics. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/131/5/e1684.full. Published May 1, 2013.
- Kwok TC, Ojha S, Dorling J. Feed thickener for infants up to six months of age with gastro-oesophageal reflux. Advances in pediatrics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29207214. Published December 5, 2017.
- Exposure to tobacco smoke. Reflux Infants Support Association Inc. https://www.reflux.org.au/articles/exposure-to-tobacco-smoke/. Published May 29, 2012.
- Breastfeeding. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/. Published August 6, 2018.