Acid Reflux in Babies
Parents are always observant when it comes to their babies, and those little amounts of food that escapes from their mouth won't go unnoticed.
Seeing babies spit up what they just ate may cause some parents to worry. However, in most cases you don’t need to worry at all. Acid reflux in babies is common, and rarely requires treatment.
What is Acid Reflux?
Stomach reflux occurs when stomach contents regurgitate back up to the esophagus. Although this can often be seen among infants and rarely be a cause of concern, acidic reflux in babies should always be monitored by parents.
Causes of Acid Reflux in Babies
The most common cause for acid reflux in babies is due to their underdeveloped esophageal sphincters.
The esophageal sphincter is a muscle that serves as the entry point from the esophagus to the stomach. It relaxes to let food in and contracts to block food from going back to the throat. As the esophageal sphincter matures, it can affect the frequency and amount of acid reflux that occurs.
The following factors also contribute to the occurrence of acid reflux in babies:
- When babies frequently lie on their tummy
- Feeding your baby foods that contribute to acid production, like citrus fruits and tomato
- Fatty foods can keep the esophageal sphincter open for longer, which can allow stomach contents to reflux
- A pure liquid diet has a high chance of being refluxed as it can easily pass through the esophageal sphincter
- Failing to burp your baby after each feeding, as stomach gases can push food back to the esophagus through the underdeveloped sphincter
- In extreme cases, acid reflux can be caused by other severe conditions such as food intolerance, pyloric stenosis, esophagitis, hiatal hernia, and GERD
Symptoms of Acid Reflux in Babies
Acid reflux in babies is easily identifiable most of the time. After feeding them, you will see the food coming out the sides of their mouth.
Symptoms for normal acid reflux are rarely a cause of concern for parents. These symptoms are spit-ups and rare occasions of mild coughing on reflux episodes.
On the other hand, the following signs for severe acid reflux should be something that parents should watch out for and consult with a medical professional:
- Weight loss
- Spitting up green or yellow colored liquid without the intake of similar colors
- Presence of blood or coffee ground-like materials in spit ups
- Black stool or presence of blood in stools
- Projectile or frequent vomiting
- Chronic coughs and breathing difficulties
- Difficulty or painful swallowing
- Unusual irritability when feeding
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Most cases of acid reflux rarely require treatment and usually go away within the baby's first year. Acid reflux only requires treatment in severe cases or when accompanied by any of the signs mentioned above.
Medications for acid reflux—such as proton pump inhibitors (PPI) and H2 blockers—can cause unwanted side effects like blocking calcium and iron absorption. This method of treatment also increases the chances of your baby developing certain digestive and respiratory infections.
Surgery is only considered under extreme cases where the baby is not responding to the medication or develops a severe complication.
Preventing Acid Reflux in Babies
Under normal circumstances, babies are born with underdeveloped esophageal sphincters, so occasional acid refluxes are unavoidable. Rather than finding a treatment for acid refluxes, the best way to address this is through preventive action. Knowing and avoiding what triggers your baby's acid reflux reduces the number of episodes significantly.
Since acid reflux is directly related to what your baby eats, their feeding time is the first thing you should monitor. Overfeeding can cause acid refluxes. The best feeding approach you can do is feeding your baby in smaller amounts but with more frequency, and always burping them afterwards to release gasses.
Proper positioning also helps reduce the occurrence of acid reflux. Having your baby's head and chest elevated for 30 minutes after feeding lowers the chances of reflux occurring. You should also avoid raising your baby's legs higher than their head for long periods, especially during diaper changes.
Complications due to acid reflux happen if it is not addressed accordingly. You should always be on the lookout for the signs of severe reflux.
Learning what is normal for your baby can help identify early signs of distress and take appropriate actions. After all, your baby won't be able to tell you how they feel directly. When you are unsure about what your baby is experiencing, don't hesitate to ask for advice from a medical professional.