Managing Acid Reflux in Babies

The gestation period of 9 months is a pretty long time for your baby to develop in the safety of your womb.  However, even at full term, many areas of a baby’s physiology are still not fully developed and functioning at 100%.  Muscles, of course, are still very weak hence the need to hold up your baby’s head and the inability to sit as a newborn.  The muscles that control the feeding and digestive process are also quite immature at birth, which affects some babies more than others.  Often this leads to acid reflux that may be painful for your baby.  Fortunately there are some time-tested solutions for managing acid reflux in babies that we will share with you today.

What is Acid Reflux?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), more commonly called acid reflux, is the leading feeding problem among babies.  It occurs due to a weak lower esophageal sphincter separating the esophagus from the stomach.  This muscle usually forms a band that closes off the esophagus after milk passes through into the stomach.  When the lower esophageal sphincter is immature, it does not seal properly and allows stomach contents like milk and acid to re-enter, or reflux, into the esophagus.  Depending on the degree of reflux, it may cause a burning pain, which adults know as heartburn, or can lead to stomach pain, excessive burping, gas, coughing, gagging during feedings and regurgitation.  Acid reflux is the major issue behind colic.  Usually acid reflux subsides by 9 months to one year of age when babies spend more time upright.

Tips for Managing Acid Reflux

If your baby’s lower esophageal sphincter is weak, there is really nothing you can do to strengthen it.  As your baby matures, the muscles will naturally become stronger.  However, there are ways of managing acid reflux to give your baby some relief.

Managing Acid Reflux in BabiesFirst, breastfeeding helps babies avoid acid reflux.  Breast milk not only provides the perfect set of nutrients for your baby, it also contains enzymes that assist with digestion.  Babies who digest faster have less incidence of acid reflux.  Additionally, babies are not allergic to breast milk like they can be to certain types of formula.  Gravity will help your baby’s digestion as well, so keep your baby upright as much as possible during and after feedings.

When the stomach is full, acid reflux is more likely to occur.  Try feeding your baby more often so she’s consuming less milk at a time.  This will also ensure she’s not over-hungry by feeding times and hopefully reduce the amount of air she swallows while suckling, as trapped air can exacerbate the problem.  Also, burp your baby more often during feedings if she experiences acid reflux.  Trapped gas can cause regurgitation and pain.  If you typically only burp between breasts, unlatch your baby several times per breast for burping.  And burp your baby every hour between feedings too.

Many babies with GERD tend to wake during the night because they are uncomfortable.  Position your baby at an angle to let gravity work to her advantage in keeping milk in her stomach.  Never put a pillow in your newborn’s crib.  Instead, build a ramp or use a wedge pillow under her mattress to create a slight tilt.  Make sure there are no spaces where your baby can get fingers or toes caught and check on your baby regularly.

Your pediatrician may recommend natural gripe water to help soothe your baby’s acid reflux.  This is a mixture of natural ingredients that aid digestion such as ginger, peppermint, chamomile and fennel, which you can give to your baby through a medicine dropper or mix into bottles of breast milk.  If your baby is old enough for solids, you may want to add some rice cereal to a bottle of breast milk too.  Thickening the liquid contents of the stomach may help resolve the acid reflux issues.

Some spit up is normal for every baby.  If you feel your baby’s regurgitation is excessive, consult your pediatrician.  Remember, this condition is only temporary as your baby’s body continues to develop into a fully functioning being.  With these solutions for managing acid reflux and lots of TLC, you and your baby will make it through.