Infant Acid Reflux Is More Common Than You May Think
Most infants experience some form of acid reflux, normally within the first few months of life, as the gastrointestinal tract adapts to its new role. But in some infants, the condition can become chronic, and a doctor’s help is needed. Knowing the signs that may indicated chronic acid reflux can help you determine when it’s time to call in the physician.
When acid reflux occurs regularly, causing pain in the lower esophagus, babies may begin to associate feeding with pain and discomfort. In infants who suffer from acid reflux that is untreated, this may result in an unwillingness to eat, and infants may react by crying, fussing, or screaming at mealtimes. Over time, chronic acid reflux can result in soreness and irritation in the infant’s tender esophagus, which may flare up during swallowing. This can also cause the infant to become reluctant to eat, and to react with fussiness when given formula or other food. Infants in discomfort may also arch their backs wile feeding, or draw his arms and legs toward the center of the body.
Some babies may consistently have so-called “wet” burps, when a small amount of food and stomach acid is burped up after meals. Although common in very young babies, if left untreated over time, these wet burps can also cause irritation and even erosion of the esophagus.
Wakeful sleeping patterns can also be another signal that your baby is suffering from chronic acid reflux. Babies are usually placed on their backs when sleeping, which can result in stomach acid leaking upward, causing burning, pain, and coughing.
If your infant has frequent bouts of reflux, keeping track of his or her eating habits can be an important tool for your pediatrician to determine whether or not treatment is needed. While acid reflux can be diagnosed in most infants through a regular exam, and based on eating records, other infants may require additional, more extensive tests and lab work to rule out other conditions.
Most often, an endoscopy will be ordered. In this procedure, a thin, flexible tube is placed in the infant’s esophagus, and the physicians can view the inside of the esophagus to determine any damage or other irritation.
In some infants, the endoscopy may not reveal the cause of the reflux, yet the reflux still occurs. In these cases, the physician may decide to measure the pH levels of the baby’s esophagus. Basically, the pH level is the measurement of acidity that’s present. This procedure is similar to the endoscopy procedure, but instead of allowing the esophagus to be viewed, this time the thin, flexible tube has a sensor on the end which can measure pH levels. Your baby will be monitored to determine the acidity of the stomach acid, and to determine how often the acid is refluxed and how quickly it is cleared from the esophagus.
Once acid reflux is determined, your physician will decide on a course of action. In some cases, only a few simple lifestyle changes will be advised, while in other cases, he or she may prescribe medication to reduce the amount of acid produced, or to help neutralize the stomach acid, making it less corrosive.
Lifestyle changes may include having the infant sleep with his or her head elevated slightly, to prevent acid from flowing upward during sleep; propping an infant upright in a car seat to avoid slumping which may cause reflux; keeping the infant in an upright position during feeding and for 30 to 60 minutes afterward; offering smaller, more frequent feedings; and adding a small amount of rice cereal to the infant’s formula or pumped breast milk. Because acid reflux is more likely to happen when an infant burps on a full stomach, burping the infant several times during feeding can also help prevent the occurrence.
Mothers who breastfeed may also be advised to avoid certain foods that can cause acid reflux in adults, such as onions, garlic, coffee and other caffeinated beverages, and chocolate, as these can pass through breast milk and cause acid reflux in an infant.