Does your baby throw up all the time? Is he choking or gagging during meals? These problems might be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Commonly referred to as acid reflux, this condition affects children and grownups alike. More than 20 percent of Americans are struggling with it.
The primary symptom of acid reflux in infants is throwing up or spitting up more often than usual. Babies may also experience nausea, vomiting, and colic.
Even though GERD isn’t a life-threatening disorder, it may cause discomfort and affect your baby’s health. Luckily, there are ways to manage its symptoms naturally through diet and simple lifestyle changes.
First, let’s see what causes GERD in infants and how to identify its symptoms.
What Is GERD?
Acid reflux in infants occurs when stomach contents come back up into the mouth or esophagus. This causes heartburn, spitting up, and regurgitation. There are two main forms of GERD, which share similar symptoms:
- Gastroesophageal reflux (GER)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
GER is a normal process that impacts healthy adults, children, and infants. It’s unlikely to cause complications and doesn’t require treatment. Babies with this condition typically have episodes of wet burps or spitting up.
GERD is a more serious form of gastroesophageal reflux. In general, doctors make this diagnosis when acid reflux occurs more than twice a week. Without proper treatment, this condition can affect the baby’s health and quality of life.
Both GER and GERD are common in infants and have similar characteristics. The difference between the two lies in the severity and duration of symptoms.
How Common Is Acid Reflux in Infants?
Acid reflux affects people of all ages, from babies to seniors. Even though the symptoms of pediatric GERD are similar to those in adults, infants may experience severe complications.
According to a study conducted on 130 infants, 20 percent of subjects regurgitated more than four times per day during the first two months of life. About 73 percent experienced daily spilling in the first month of life. Their symptoms improved within 12 months.
Another study has found that 47.1 percent of infants had at least one vomiting or regurgitation episode per day. This number decreased over the next few months.
As you see, acid reflux in infants is perfectly normal. However, if your baby’s symptoms don’t improve, he might lose weight or develop nutrient deficiencies. As a parent, it’s your responsibility to make sure your child is healthy and happy.
What Causes Acid Reflux?
This disorder is often the result of a weak esophageal sphincter. Your baby’s diet plays a role too.
Certain foods and beverages can trigger or worsen acid reflux in infants. These include:
- Soda and carbonated beverages
- Citrus fruits
- High-fat foods
- Fried foods
These foods stimulate the production of stomach acid, causing heartburn and reflux. Overeating can cause GERD too.
Infants can also develop this condition due to congenital disorders, food allergies, and certain medications. Exposure to cigarette smoke and air pollutants may contribute to GERD we well.
Babies spend most of their lying down. This makes it easier for food and beverages to splash back up. Plus, their esophageal sphincter muscle isn’t fully developed, causing your child to spit up.
Certain foods, such as milk, irritate the lining of the esophagus, leading to pain and swelling.
For this reason, it’s important to keep track of what your baby eats and adjust his diet along the way. Simple changes, such as removing milk from his menu, can make all the difference.
Signs and Symptoms of GERD in Babies
As we have previously mentioned, babies suffering from GERD spit up more than usual. However, this isn’t the only symptom of acid reflux in infants.
Depending on the severity of his condition, your child might also experience the following:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss or difficulty gaining weight
- Crying for no obvious reason
- Irritability, especially after feeding
- Trouble swallowing
- Arching of the back after eating
- Recurring infections
- Wet hiccups and wet burps
- Bad or sour-smelling breath
In general, babies with acid reflux have trouble gaining weight. They also experience recurring hiccups and gagging. Some cry a lot at night or a few hours after feeding.
Acid reflux in infants can be painful and distressing. This causes your child to cry and affects his sleep.
Since your baby throws up frequently, he may develop nutritional deficiencies. His body doesn’t have enough to absorb and break down the nutrients in food.
Unexplained weight loss, poor immunity, and recurring infections are common in babies with severe GERD.
The good news is that these symptoms usually subside without treatment. As your child grows, his esophageal sphincter muscle becomes stronger. Thus, it becomes more effective at handling food.
In severe cases, medical help is a must.
If your baby is vomiting bile or blood, take him to a doctor as soon as possible. The same goes for severe constipation, abdominal distention, chocking, fever, lethargy, and other bloody stools.
These symptoms may indicate a more serious condition or cause life-threatening complications.
For instance, acid reflux can be the result of pyloric stenosis, a disorder that blocks food from flowing into the GI tract.
Another possible cause is eosinophilic esophagitis. This condition leads to inflammation and injury of the esophagus.
What Are the Complications of Acid Reflux?
Infants are more vulnerable to the side effects and complications of acid reflux. Their bodies are not fully developed and lack the mechanisms needed to handle these problems.
If your baby has severe acid reflux, he’s more likely to develop complications. These may include esophageal stricture, esophagitis, or Barrett’s esophagus. Dehydration is common too.
Babies with GERD are prone to respiratory problems. The frequent coughing and choking may lead to a sore throat, chest congestion, or laryngitis. Plus, the stomach acid irritates their lungs and throat.
Without adequate treatment, acid reflux in infants may contribute to asthma and pneumonia. Food allergies only make things worse.
If your baby’s GERD doesn’t improve, consult a doctor. He will perform a physical examination to eliminate other conditions that may cause similar symptoms.
The pediatrician can also diagnose potential food allergies that make GERD worse. Depending on the severity of symptoms, he might recommend an endoscopy, pH probe studies, or barium swallow tests.
How Is GERD Treated in Infants?
This condition usually clears up by itself. Dietary and lifestyle changes can he;p accelerate healing and prevent complications.
Health experts recommend preventive measures, such as:
- Feeding your baby small, frequent meals
- Testing your child for food allergies
- Holding the baby upright for up to 30 minutes after a meal
- Using a different formula
- Switching to solid food
- Keeping the baby’s head elevated after eating
- Burping the baby more often
- Adding rice cereal to breastmilk or formula
- Avoiding tight clothing on your child
- Giving your baby a massage after eating
- Minimizing distractions during mealtime
- Using anti-reflux formulas (Hipp UK AR Formula, Hipp German AR Formula, Aptamil AR Formula)
These simple lifestyle changes can reduce acid reflux in infants. Plus, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your baby is healthy and gets all the nutrients needed for optimal growth.
Most times, medications are not necessary. However, if your baby has severe GERD, the doctor may prescribe proton pump inhibitors or alginates. These drugs reduce acid levels in the stomach and protect the esophagus.
The pediatrician might also recommend acid-blocking medications for a few days or weeks. This form of treatment works best for infants with asthma, inflamed esophagus, or low weight caused by GERD.
Since these drugs can prevent the absorption of iron and calcium into the body, they should be your last resort.
Surgery is only recommended in severe cases when acid reflux affects the baby’s growth or breathing. Doctors may prescribe surgical treatment when everything else has failed.
Before considering meds or surgery, change your baby’s diet and eating habits. Feed him little and often. Thicken breast milk or formula with rice cereal.
Switching to solid foods can help too. Consult the doctor before taking this step. Avoid any foods that may irritate the esophagus and trigger heartburn.
Also, keep your baby away from secondhand smoke as it can worsen his symptoms.
If the problems persist, try to eliminate cow’s milk from his diet. Feed your baby with an anti-reflux formula – Hipp UK AR Formula, Hipp German AR Formula, Aptamil AR Formula. Make these changes for about two weeks to see how your child reacts.
Ideally, keep a journal and write down how your baby’s feeling after every meal. This will help you figure out what foods are good for him, and which ones to avoid.
Most times, acid reflux in infants can be relieved through dietary changes. Unless your baby has severe GERD, medications are not necessary.
If you’re not sure where to start, discuss with a doctor. He can guide you in the right direction and make recommendations based on your child’s needs.
For more information, check out our blog. Here you can read about the best infant formulas and get helpful tips to keep your baby healthy.