Baby acid reflux is common. Most all babies spit up from time to time, but sometimes it can be very severe and even life threatening. My daughter had severe acid reflux that almost took her life. This is our experience in finding naturally remedies that worked. We were able to manage her acid reflux by using tips to reduce pressure on the esophageal sphincter, avoiding food allergens, and spicy foods. Unfortunately, prescribing antacids to infants is becoming very common for baby acid reflux, even though too much stomach acid is not the problem, and it has dire consequences.
Our experience with acid reflux, aka infant GER.
My daughter was only a month old and we were home alone. I was still married at the time, but he was working out of town. My baby daughter and I had been co-sleeping all this time. However, I was getting very little sleep because I had a paranoia of smothering her during the night. I decided I needed to try to transition her to the crib.
That night I put her to sleep in her crib for the first time, and I was going to sleep next to her on the floor. I had grown use to her sleeping next to me, so with every little baby coo I popped up to check on her. It was around midnight and once again she made a noise. I told myself I need to relax and go to sleep, she’s fine. I thank God I checked, and did not listen to my own advice. This time she wasn’t peacefully asleep. Her face was in panic, her mouth gasping for air. I swooped her out of the crib, giving her the baby Heimlich while running to the other end of the house for better lighting and the snot sucker.
Her face was growing deeper in color from red to purple, there was no visible object in her mouth. A tiny bit of air passed and she sounded very congested. She was not congested when she went to bed. I grabbed the snot sucker, a gadget with a long hose that you use your mouth to suction with. It is very handy and I highly recommend it. I laid her on her side, and sucked the low side towards the back of her throat.
Nothing still, the color of her face was growing to a deeper shade of purple. We lived in the country and emergency response is lacking. The nearest hospital was 45 minutes away and the response team was our friends at the local volunteer fire department. I told myself I am going to try one more time, before calling for help. A few more thumps on her back and another suction with the snot sucker, and finally she let out a scream. The mucous in her throat had cleared, and she was breathing once again. This event was maybe 2 minutes long, but the desperation of it all felt like hours.
I spent the rest of the night holding her on the living room sofa too scared to sleep. I noticed when she laid in my arms she would become congested and start gagging. So, I held her completely upright all night. This experience even terrified our dog. Ever since that night our little dog followed my daughter everywhere for the first year. That night about 3 a.m. I sat my daughter in her upright swing, so I could stoke the fire. The swing was more reclined than the position I was holding her in. Again, she started to choke. My dog ran from her to me signaling for help. I swooped her up, and it stopped. We anxiously waited for the sun to rise, so we could see her pediatrician first thing in the morning.
He looked at her, told me she looked healthy, and dismissed our terrifying experience. He was treating me like an overly paranoid new mother. I explained what happened and that it was so severe I am scared to sleep. His only response was you have to sleep. He only seemed interested in scheduling vaccinations, after I just shared with him she was struggling to breathe at night. Frustrated, I went home and did my own research.
She never choked as severely again, because I knew that laying her down triggered it. I spent the next 5 days holding her upright on the couch all night, and I was at my end. I had not slept a wink in almost a week, so I drove 4 hours to my parents for a little help.
What was going on - Baby Acid Reflux
Most babies have some degree of acid reflux, aka GER. GER is the back flow of acids from the stomach up into the esophagus. It is not uncommon for baby's to spit up, experiencing GER from time to time. The cause of baby acid reflux is thought to be from the muscle sphincter separating the stomach and esophagus not yet having enough strength to prevent back flow. Also, the distance between esophagus and stomach is shorter in a baby, and babies spend a lot of time on their backs.
Now some children suffer from more severe infant acid reflux, severe symptoms can include: frequently spitting up and vomiting, irritability, pain, trouble feeding, poor weight gain, coughing, choking, breathing problem, or wheezing after feeding . If your child has these more severe symptoms, they might be diagnosed with infant GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). The difference between GER and GERD is the severity and frequency of symptoms. In infants, GER is much more common than GERD. Diagnosis and treatment varies, often lifestyle changes will do the trick . Most children outgrow baby acid reflux in the first year, and nearly all do by year two .
Testing for infant GERD
A doctor may use the following test to diagnosis infant GERD: inserting a tube down a the baby's throat to monitor pH this can require hospitalization, barium xray, or endoscopy and biopsy in some cases. None of those options are appealing. Additionally, the course of action is generally an antacid medication to decrease acid production like H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) .
Caution with antacid medications for babies
The idea behind antacid medications is to reduce the acid so it doesn’t cause irritation when the esophageal sphincter isn't preventing the stomach acid from back flowing into the esophagus. However, the problem isn’t too much acid. The problem of reflux in babies is an immature esophageal sphincter .
An interview by ABC News of Dr. Eric Hassall, staff pediatric gastroenterologist at Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation in San Francisco explained, there has been a gigantic increase in the amount of antacids prescribed to infants in past decades. It has increased seven-f0lds in as little as 5 years. He blames advertising and pharmaceutical company promotion for the increase, as well as misleading misdiagnoses. The FDA has not approved these drugs for children under a year old because no studies have found them effective in that population . I would also add my opinion, that there is a growing epidemic of digestive issues (leaky gut, food allergies, celiac, etc...) in all age groups, because of food quality.
These antacid medications have not been approved by the FDA in children under 1 years of age, yet children as young as 4 months old are being prescribed these medications. Stomach acid serves many purposes it is a line of defense against bacteria. Reducing stomach acid increases a babies risk of pneumonia and gastroenteritis . Additionally, stomach acid breakdowns the food we eat, aiding in nutrient absorption. If we reduce this beneficial acid, what kind of problems will that cause in the long run to a tiny growing baby?
Side effects of antacids in babies
Side effects of infant antacids: The Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in 2017 found infants prescribed antacids to manage acid reflux, or spitting up, under age 1 had more bone fractures later in childhood . The FDA is now issuing warnings that PPIs aren’t as safe as they are touted. High dose or long term use of antacid, such as PPIs have been found to cause:
- b12 deficiency : B12 is vital for brain development in infancy among many other vital roles, additionally low B12 in childhood is linked to adult depression .
- bone loss 
- bone fractures 
- infection 
- dementia 
- inhibit nutrient absorption 
As Chris Kresser explains, “all acid stopping drugs (not just PPIs) inhibit nutrient absorption, promote bacterial overgrowth, reduce resistance to infection and increase the risk of cancer and other serious diseases” . It's not mentioned here, but I can't help wonder the impact this will have on causing leaky gut, which seems to lead to so many autoimmune conditions.
Baby acid reflux natural remedies - What worked for us
In our experience my daughter would become very congested and this would cause gagging and block her airway. It seemed the acid was back flowing, irritating her throat and causing excessive mucus, and being an infant she did not yet know how to clear her throat. Also, sometimes she would scream in painful fits lasting about 30 minutes. This was difficult to watch, but I was determined to manage without medication. In my experience most everything comes back to diet. We practiced the recommendations found online, and it allowed us to manage her condition without antacids. Here is how we managed my daughters baby acid reflux naturally without medication:
1. Nurse laying down:
I began nursing while laying on my back with her laying on my chest. This is to reduce the speed of milk entering into the baby's mouth. If using a bottle, switch to a nipple with a small hole to reduce the flow speed.
2. More frequent feedings:
Eating large quantities will increase pressure on the sphincter muscle between the esophagus and the stomach. Eating more frequent smaller meals will reduce pressure, thereby decreasing the chance of the sphincter opening and allowing back flow of acid.
3. Upright after eating:
We would wait 30 mins after eating before going to bed. This also meant the late night nursings required us to sit in a chair upright. Very little sleep was had during these first months.
4. Stay propped up:
Keep baby propped up at night, 30 degree angle is recommended to reduce acid back flowing.
5. Identify offending food:
Breast fed babies typically have milder reflux than formula fed . However the mother's diet in a breastfed baby could be triggering the acid reflux. Try avoiding spicy, garlicky, and oniony food. I noticed my daughter would have reflux if I ate anything spicy.
Also, your child may have a food allergy. I later learned my daughter is allergic to chicken eggs (but not duck, more here), this could have been a trigger. The most common food allergies found in children are: dairy, gluten, soy, and/or egg . Try eliminating these foods from your baby's diet and yours if you are nursing, and see if the baby's reflux improves. Additionally, if your child is having a reaction to gluten, sometimes removing just gluten is not enough. Why, because there are other proteins your body may have a cross reaction too, and respond to like gluten. Rice is a common baby treat, and rice can cause a cross reaction in those with a gluten sensitivity. I am celiac and was gluten free, but still feeling horrible. Then I took this cross-reactive blood test, and found I was allergic to most grains, including rice.
6. Avoid crying:
Do your best. Crying can open the sphincter allowing the back flow of acid. This is what typically triggered the painful acid reflux screams in my daughter. This one was challenging during our move. We were traveling back and forth on 5 hour trips each way. We spent a lot of time on the side of the road trying to avoid crying.
I believe there is generally always another way, an alternative natural approach. I am cautious about health due to my own. The idea of giving my daughter anything that will reduce her ability to absorb nutrients and alter other normal healthy processes of the body, scares me. How would that affect her growth and development?
Digestive health epidemic
Proper digestive system is needed to breakdown foods and absorb nutrition. When our digestive tract is unhealthy we can develop painful bloating, acid reflux, migraines, ADHD like behavior, autoimmune disorders, and more. Antacids disrupt the body's natural ability to break down food.
Our modern diet and conventionally grown foods is having negative consequences on our digestive health. If your child is suffering, pay close attention to their diet. Gluten intolerance is becoming an epidemic , and there is a lot of research implicating our modern foods to be the cause. GMOs, glyphosate, modern wheat, and more is be linked to severe intestinal disorders. I won't go into it too much now, check out my upcoming article Should Everyone be Gluten Free?
However, as I mentioned earlier, there is an epidemic of gut health issues and food allergies increasing in all age groups. Our foods are becoming increasingly toxic. GMOs and herbicide use in our food system has substantially increased since the 90s. GMOS were introduced in the 90s, and herbicide usage has soared. My own digestive issues began in the 90s, is this coincidence? I don't know. A study of pigs fed GMO corn had severe stomach inflammation . Nearly 300 million pounds of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the most popular herbicide Round-Up, is applied in the U.S. every year, compared to 11 million pounds back in 1987 . A quick search of glyphosate links this toxic product to many health conditions.
Gluten intolerance epidemic - A recent study found fish exposed to the herbicide, Round-Up Ready, developed digestive issues and gluten intolerance . Our foods are heavily treated with this disastrous chemical. Gluten free is so popular, because it's the result of our foods being poisoned and modern preparation. Further compounding the issue, is our new grains are bred to have more gluten than ever before. I would suggest trying to switch to an organic diet as much as possible. These chemicals are devastating our digestive systems and leading to numerous chronic health conditions.
My point with all this is, our modern production of food is bad for our digestion, and can be contributing to the growing number of children with baby acid reflux. Organic food is the best option, and is becoming increasingly necessary for a long and healthy life. As a single mom I know how hard organic food is to afford, our grocery bill is our largest bill. But life has taught me, it is difficult to enjoy life without health and prevention will always be cheaper than treatment.
Baby acid reflux could be caused by or made worse by:
- indigestion from foods they are allergic to or hard to digest foods
- spending so much time on their backs,
- immature esophageal sphincter
- too much stomach acid is not the problem
Digestive health is essential to long term good health, and to manage acid reflux. Stomach acid is necessary for good digestion, with low stomach acid foods ferment and nutrients aren't effectively absorbed, this is especially bad for growing children. We successfully managed baby acid reflux naturally by doing everything in our power to reduce pressure on the esophageal sphincter and by avoiding indigestion.
- Position baby slightly upright when sleeping to help prevent back flow
- Nursing sessions with baby on laying on top of mother's chest, with mother laying flat on her back to reduce speed of milk flow
- Try to identify any potential food allergens and remove from diet
- Try avoiding spicy or oniony foods.
- Frequent small feedings to prevent pressure on the sphincter from large meals.
- Trying to prevent crying, as best as possible
It was around 7 months of age that we discovered her egg allergy and removed eggs from our diet. It was also at this time her severe reflux stopped.
The take away, if something feels off even if you are told otherwise, trust those mama instincts!
Had I listened and let them (more than one) get into my head that I was just a paranoid new mother, and put her back in the crib the next night I’m not sure she would be here today. Also I encourage, with a little tenacity there’s almost always more than one option and in my experience diet modifications is a powerful tool in dealing with health conditions. Share your experience with baby acid reflux?
For more ideas on baby acid reflux natural remedies, I recommend reading this.
I am not a doctor. Just a concerned mom, that likes to do her research to make decisions she feels is best for her little family! Health has become a passion out of necessity, and I like to share my findings and opinions. If you want to know my story, it can be found here.
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