What causes baby reflux? How can you treat it naturally? See what natural remedies worked wonders for my daughter’s infant reflux.
Does your baby fight the breast? Or arch his back regularly? Or scream if you lay him on his back? Does he projectile vomit after meals (or even spit up a little more than normal)? You may be experiencing the troublesome effects of reflux in babies.
What Are Baby Reflux Symptoms?
So you think your baby may have acid reflux? While symptoms may vary, here are some main ones to look out for:
- Crying or uncomfortable after eating
- Coughing or choking regularly
- Refusing the breast/bottle
- Arching back after eating
- Resistance to laying on back
- Gassy and/or foamy bowel movements
- Colicky, unhappy, or seemingly uncomfortable in body
- Wheezing, apnea, or breathing difficulties (respiratory infections)
- Sour breath, burps, and hiccups
- Throwing up, usually projectile vomiting (not with silent reflux*)
- Failure to thrive or failure to gain weight
What Causes Infant Reflux?
First, let’s ground ourselves in this truth… all babies have some level of reflux. This is because their entire digestive tract is immature. The sphincter muscle that separates the esophagus from the stomach is often undeveloped and opens regularly, allowing stomach acid to flow back up the throat, causing burning and pain.
As baby’s brain and nervous system develops, they their vagus nerve function (what controls bowel mobility and digestion) may be weak. It also doesn’t help that we often put babies on their back, whether for play or sleep, and this can only exacerbate symptoms. For some children, infant reflux will be more severe or they may be more sensitive to the effects.
Get free updates on baby’s first year! – Free Updates on First Year [In-article]
Sign me up!
How Acid Reflux in Infants Diagnosed?
There are actually two forms of baby reflux: acid reflux and silent acid reflux.
- Acid reflux in infants usually results in regular projectile vomiting and intense crying.
- Silent reflux is more subtle and characteristic of sour breath, hiccups, and physical stiffness or discomfort.
Most doctors will diagnose acid reflux or silent acid reflux in infants by persistent symptoms. However, some doctors may suggest the following tests:
- Blood tests: Some doctors will look at various blood markers to see if the eating issues stem from something else like anemia or an infection.
- Ultrasound: A device that uses high frequency sound waves to create an image of the upper GI tract looking for obstructions or abnormalities.
- Barium swallow or upper GI test: The baby drinks barium, which coats the esophagus, stomach, and upper part of small intestine. Barium is a chalky white liquid that highlights any obstructions or abnormalities in an X-Ray.
- pH probe: A long, thin tube with a probe at the tip is inserted through the mouth and positioned in the lower part of esophagus. It measures the baby’s stomach acid levels and identifies any breathing problems. This is a very invasive test—baby will have to be hospitalized to administer it.
- Upper GI endoscopy: This is another invasive test that requires a hospital stay. Doctors use an endoscope to look directly inside the upper GI tract and detect any issues.
Because most of these tests are invasive or involve some negative side effects (ever tried to find a vein on a baby?!), it might be best, with your doctor’s approval, to start treating based on your baby’s acid reflux symptoms to see if he improves.
Natural Remedies for Baby Reflux
Elevate baby while sleeping
If baby doesn’t seem to settle when placed on her back, try swaddling her and putting her in a chair. This is an excellent rocker/sleeper for baby with acid reflux as well. If you are co-sleeping, you can use this device, which would also work well in a crib.
Elevate baby while eating
While it’s tempting to use your nursing pillow and feed baby as he lays down, it’s best to have him sit upright. This ensures that the milk goes down into the stomach versus staying up in the esophagus, which causes the discomfort. You can also have baby lean slightly against your chest if you’re bottle feeding, or have baby nurse upright. A Boppy pillow can be helpful for positioning baby upright after meals, too.
Hold baby upright for at least 30 minutes after feeding
To make this easy, you can babywear in an infant carrier or simply snuggle baby as you walk around the house or sit in a comfy chair. If baby needs to go to sleep after feeding, be sure they sleep elevated to reduce acid reflux symptoms (never place any pillows in the bassinet or crib!).
Nursing mom elimination diet
Dairy can cause problems, because the proteins found in this food can irritate baby’s immature digestive tract. If you suspect this may be the case, give up the offending food/drink for a good month before you determine if it’s the culprit. Other common allergens include wheat, gluten, citrus, coffee, nuts, eggs, and soy.
While I normally don’t recommend supplements for young babies, there are times they can make a big difference, particularly with baby reflux. Try a probiotic specially formulated for infants. L. reuteri is an especially helpful probiotic strain, as it has been clinically shown to reduce crying time by 50 percent in colicky breastfed infants. The idea is that probiotics can boost baby’s digestion and help alleviate many of the baby acid reflux symptoms naturally. Mix a little into breast milk or formula and spoon feed or give with a syringe.
Try body work
Some babies may have reflux due to the birthing process. Griffin’s birth was long and difficult, so I got him to a chiropractor right away. You can find chiropractors trained for the postpartum/newborn stage here. You can also try massage therapy or cranial sacral treatments. Again, look for practitioners with clinical experience with acid reflux in infants. Finally, you may want to do do some basic movement/massage exercises with baby targeting gas and bloating, such as bicycle legs or moving your hands gently along her digestive tract in a clockwise motion.
Nat Phos is a natural cell salt that we normally produce to aid in digestion, but it can be insufficient in newborns. Always consult with your pediatrician before administering homeopathic remedies. If you get the OK, dissolve 1/2 a tablet in breast milk and feed to baby with a syringe after each feeding. Children under three months can typically have up to six tablets per day, but again, you’ll want to check with your healthcare provider.
Are There Any Special Herbs or Supplements for Reflux in Babies?
Some moms also have success using products like Gripe Water or Colic Calm for baby reflux. I felt most comfortable with the cell salt, because it was supplementing something our body already creates (versus adding in new herbs or formulations). A baby’s microbiome is so pure—you want to be careful what you add to it.
Is There Medication for Infant Reflux?
Of course, some medical doctors may recommend prescription medications to decrease or neutralize your baby’s stomach acid, and thereby reduce some of the initial symptoms of baby reflux. Examples include:
- Antacids such as Mylanta and Maalox
- Histamine-2 blockers such as Axid, Pepcid, Tagamet, or Zantac
- Proton-pump inhibitors such as Nexium, Prilosec, or Prevacid
Because many infants with baby reflux aren’t producing enough stomach acid, acid-blocking medications are not recommended in cases of uncomplicated infant reflux. Otherwise healthy children taking these medications may face an increased risk of certain intestinal and respiratory infections. In addition, prolonged use of proton-pump inhibitors has been linked to problems in iron and calcium absorption in infants.
My Experience With Infant Reflux
Soon after our daughter Paloma was born, I could tell she wasn’t comfortable. She always had a reddish hue to her skin and she was very stiff. Every time I tried to bend her legs or arms, she would fight me. She never spit up, so I didn’t think it was baby reflux, but she was gassy and got hiccups a lot.
Since I was nursing, I gave up dairy in hopes that it would help. I also noticed that she liked sitting up and even sleeping in reclining chairs versus flat on her back. But it wasn’t until I happened to smell her breath, that I suspected reflux in babies. It was sour…. huge red flag.
I tried all of the natural remedies list above, but Nat Phos was like a miracle worker for my daughter. We stopped all the natural remedies for baby reflux when Paloma was about 4 months old and never looked back. She now has the digestion of an ox and can drink pasteurized milk and any other food with no discomfort. YAY!
How About You?
Have you tried natural remedies for baby reflux? Share it with us in the comments below.