Acid reflux, or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), in infants can be worrisome for you and uncomfortable for your baby. Although GERD is rarely serious in infants and will typically resolve on its own by age 1, it’s important to know how you can help your baby and what the treatment options are. Here’s what you need to know about acid reflux in infants.
What Causes GERD in Infants?
Acid reflux in infants is caused by food and acid in the stomach traveling back up the esophagus into the mouth. The reflux may cause irritation to the esophagus and cause your baby to spit up excessively or vomit. GERD is usually the result of a digestive system that has not yet fully matured. Because of this, once the digestive system is fully developed around one year of age, your baby’s symptoms should resolve on their own. Typically, infants who suffer from acid reflux are otherwise healthy.
Symptoms of GERD in Infants:
While spitting up is a normal daily occurrence in infants up to and even occasionally beyond six months, these symptoms may suggest your infant is suffering from acid reflux:
- Spitting up or vomiting excessively and often throughout the day
- Crying during or immediately after feedings
- Frequent gas/belly pains
- Fussiness at the breast or bottle
- Gagging or choking while eating
- Persistent Coughing
How Do Doctors Diagnose GERD in Infants?
More often than not, your baby’s pediatrician will be able to diagnose acid reflux based upon the symptoms alone. Typically, any further testing will not be necessary. If the pediatrician is concerned that the issue may extend beyond an immature digestive tract, he or she may recommend further testing.
Testing may include:
- X-rays of the digestive tract: Your baby may be given barium in a bottle to highlight possible obstructions to the digestive tract on the X-ray images.
- Ultrasound: to rule out pyloric stenosis.
- Blood and urine samples: to rule out the possibility of infections that may cause vomiting.
- Esophageal PH monitoring: This is a procedure in which a small tube is inserted into baby’s esophagus through the nose or mouth to monitor acidity levels. This may require hospitalization.
- Upper endoscopy: This procedure is typically done under general anesthesia and involves placing a small tube with a camera lens into baby’s esophagus, stomach and small intestine to rule out the presence of obstructions or other complications.
Most babies will not require the above testing and a diagnosis should be possible based on symptoms alone.
How Can I Help My Baby Feel Better?
Having a baby who suffers from acid reflux can make a parent feel helpless. There’s nothing worse than seeing your baby in pain and not being able to solve the problem. Fortunately, there are a few simple things you can do to help reduce your baby’s GERD symptoms. These include:
- Slightly elevating baby’s head: Instead of lying baby flat to sleep, place a wedge under the crib or basinet mattress to give his head a slight boost. Many moms and dads love the Fisher Price Rock N Play Sleeper for keeping a baby with acid reflux slightly propped. Baby should always be placed on his back to sleep.
- If bottle feeding, offer more frequent but smaller meals.
- Burp baby often during feedings.
- Keep baby upright for 30 minutes following a feeding.
- Some pediatricians may recommend adding one teaspoon of rice cereal to baby’s bottle if bottle feeding. There are conflicting opinions on this approach before six months of age so be sure to consult your pediatrician and do your research before trying this option.
- If you are breastfeeding, try adjusting your diet by strategically eliminating things like dairy, caffeine, beef, eggs, etc., that might be contributing to your baby’s reflux.
- If formula feeding, try experimenting with different formulas. Consult your pediatrician for recommendations.
- Use bottles that eliminate baby’s air intake such as Dr. Brown's.
- If your baby is still experiencing a considerable amount of discomfort despite the above changes, your pediatrician may prescribe simethicone or a calcium carbonate antacid to further reduce his symptoms.
In extreme, but rare cases, GERD may cause breathing problems and even pneumonia. There is a surgical option available in which the surgeon wraps the top part of the stomach around the esophagus to form a block that prevents reflux from occurring due to stomach acidity. This, however, is a very uncommon and rarely necessary procedure for infants.
If you have questions about acid reflux in infants or would like information about natural birth, pregnancy and postpartum services or women’s care, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife and for a tour of our Birth Center. We are here to support you through your pregnancy and beyond.