Acid reflux is a condition wherein the stomach acid and contents leak back to the esophagus, throat, and mouth. Though it may be left unnoticed by most children, this condition can cause a burning sensation in your child’s chest and throat, a symptom that may affect your child’s nutrition and quality of sleep. Does your baby or older child experience acid reflux? Here’s what you need to know about acid reflux along with some remedies to help alleviate its symptoms.
What is Acid Reflux?
Under normal circumstances, the food that we eat goes down through the esophagus, a tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. In between this tube and the stomach is a valve called the lower esophageal sphincter. This valve relaxes or opens as the food passes through and immediately closes right after preventing the stomach contents from spilling back. Hence, the lower esophageal sphincter plays an important role in keeping the stomach acid and its contents to their rightful place. If this valve malfunctions, it will allow the passage of acid and the food we eat back to the esophagus and up to our mouth.
This is exactly what happens with acid reflux. Acid reflux is more appropriately termed as Gastroesophageal Reflux or GER. GER happens anytime that can affect babies and young children. If GER becomes recurrent and more serious, your doctor may diagnose it as GERD or Gartroesphageal Reflux Disease.
What causes acid reflux in babies and children?
In babies, the most common cause of acid reflux is immature esophageal sphincter. Because their body is still adjusting to their milk and food intake, the valve may still be weak, or it may close at a much later time, resulting to the reflux of stomach acid up towards the esophagus. Most babies will outgrow this one as they reach their first birthday.
Older children who frequently experience acid reflux during their infancy are at an increased risk of GERD when they grow up. Occasional reflux may be experienced due to any reason that affects or forces the lower esophageal sphincter to relax such as:
- Pressure in the lower abdomen
- Caffeinated drinks
- Spicy or oily foods
- Certain medications like antihistamines
What are the symptoms of acid reflux?
Acid reflux can be more difficult to spot on babies and younger children because they can’t effectively verbalize how they feel. Additionally, the symptoms often mimic those of other illnesses. You may suspect that your child has acid reflux if he shows the following symptoms:
- Spitting out milk or food after eating
- Refusing to feed or eat
- Complaints of burning sensation in their chest and sour taste in their mouth
- Abdominal pain
- Gassy stomach
- Frequent cough
Remedies for acid reflux in babies and children
Occasional acid reflux may be harmless and may resolve on its own. However, since it may cause heartburn that can be pretty uncomfortable for your child, you might find these remedies helpful to help keep your child appeased after eating or while sleeping.
Keep your baby upright after feeding or eating.
Staying in an upright position will help settle down the stomach contents after a feed or a meal with the help of gravity. This position is recommended for at least 30 minutes after feeding or eating.
Burp your baby.
Burping will remove the excess gas that your baby has swallowed while feeding. This excess gas can cause abdominal pain and increase the pressure inside the stomach, thus may force the esophageal sphincter to relax and cause acid reflux. Though older children can naturally burp on their own, babies need help in burping during their first few weeks.
Adjust your child’s mealtime to 2 to 3 hours before naptime and bedtime.
This will give enough time for your child to effectively digest the food that they’ve consumed. It is also during mealtime that the level of stomach acid peaks, so giving at least 2 hours for his tummy to settle down may minimize the occurrence of acid reflux at night or during naptime.
Avoid food triggers.
Spicy and oily foods, carbonated drinks, citrus fruits, and caffeinated food and drinks like chocolate can irritate your child’s bowel and may contribute to acid reflux. It is best to limit these food and drinks in your child’s diet, especially when the reflux becomes recurrent.
Try small, frequent meals.
Smaller portions of food and drinks are easier to digest and giving them in more frequent intervals may help neutralize the stomach acid all throughout the day. So instead of three large and heavy meals, try dividing your child’s meals to three lighter meals and 3 snacks.
Elevate the head of the bed.
Elevation of around 6 to 8 inches may help prevent acid reflux while your child is sleeping. It can be beneficial to use something solid under the bed posts, rather than using pillows to elevate the head part of your child’s bed more effectively.
Let your child sleep on their left side.
Due to the anatomical structure of the stomach, it is better to sleep on the left side to minimize the tendency of acid reflux while sleeping. Lying on the left side also helps the food travel down the colon faster.
You may also try this technique for older babies who have acid reflux. But if you have a newborn or a baby who still can’t effectively turn from his stomach to back, sleeping in a side lying position isn’t recommended. For babies this age, it is still best to let them lie on their back to decrease the risk of SIDS.
When to seek help for your child’s acid reflux
If the reflux isn’t resolved and becomes more frequent, you will need to mention it to your pediatrician. It may already be an indication of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease that needs medication and sometimes, surgical procedure to be corrected.
Also, if your baby is not gaining the recommended weight for his or her age, seems very irritable, and poorly sleeps, consulting your doctor would be a wise decision. Be it due to acid reflux or triggered by some other causes, your baby’s wellbeing should be closely monitored, especially during their first few months.
Occasional acid reflux may be harmless and can resolve on its own as you baby or child grows. However, if it seems to bother him a lot, you may try out the relief measures mentioned above. Recurrent acid reflux may be indicative of a condition called GERD, so if your child frequently experiences heartburn, then seeking consultation from a doctor will be best.
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or licensed medical professional before making any medical decisions.