Naturally Treating Infant Acid Reflux

WHAT IS ACID-REFLUX?

Acid reflux is a condition in which food comes back up the esophagus.  It can progress to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It is often painful because our esophagus is not protected from acid the way our stomach is. It can happen when the valve between the stomach and esophagus relaxes or when the pressure below the valve increases. Symptoms are reported in 67% of infants aged 4 months. They often resolve by 1 year of age, but they can be severe while they last (1). Reflux in babies may have immediate consequences such as poor appetite, failure to thrive and just an overall miserable feeding experience for parent and child. It may also have long-term effects such as chronic respiratory disease and recurrent pneumonia. (2) It’s no wonder so many parents seek help from doctors!

CONVENTIONAL TREATMENT

Conservative treatment is often recommended first – frequent small meals, holding the baby upright for 30 minutes following a meal, and thickening the formula or breastmilk. If this doesn’t work, drugs may be prescribed. Acid-suppressing drugs (PPIs) haven’t been approved by the FDA for use in infants AND randomized controlled trials have not demonstrated that they work in infants with GERD. Still, the use of these drugs increased 11-fold from 2002 and 2009. Prescriptions were given to 145,000 children nationwide in 2009. (3) And this, despite known side effects such as poor nutrient absorption and increased risk of bone fractures.

So, infant reflux often resolves on its own AND drugs that don’t work come with some pretty serious side effects. Parents need other options.

OUR STORY WITH INFANT ACID REFLUX

Let me share a bit of our story. My son had terrible reflux when he came home from the hospital. He projectile vomited EVERYTHING. We fed him tiny meals of just a few ml and he still vomited. We tried eliminating potential triggers in my diet (soy and dairy) and we even tried acid suppressing medications (gasp!!).   But, he still wasn’t gaining weight and he continued to resist the bottle. The GI doctor suggested a feeding tube as the next step. Lucky for us, our pediatrician recommended one more thing first – avocado!

D green bottle

My son with his (very small bottle of) green milk. He has already put some weight on in this pic!

Here’s what we did. I had already been pumping rather than nursing, and this actually made our next step easier. We turned the pumped milk into an avocado smoothie. For every 100mL of breast milk, we blended in 16g of avocado. We then strained it to make it extra-smooth. We switched to a larger nipple on the bottle (we used Dr. Brown’s level 2) to allow the thicker liquid through. Almost immediately, our son stopped refusing the bottle, started gaining weight and didn’t throw up (as much). We didn’t have to feed him as often and he was more comfortable. This meant he got to sleep more. You can easily adjust the thickness of the smoothie and the nipple you use to make it just right for your baby. Not only did the avocado provide healthy fats for my son’s developing brain, but it thickened the milk, making it less likely to come back up.

A note on the use of avocado – fat has been targeted as a trigger for GERD because it slows the emptying of the stomach, potentially leading to increased pressure and resultant regurgitation. However, while many people control their GERD symptoms with a low-fat diet, many also experience long-lasting relief from low-carbohydrate diets.   So why do people get relief from the low-carb approach? The most likely explanation is that the increased pressure pushing food back up the esophagus is actually caused by an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut. These bacteria ferment the carbs in our diet and produce gas, leading to increased pressure and acid reflux. So, while the conventional advice to avoid fatty foods may help to control acute symptoms, it does nothing to address the underlying causes.

With this in mind, consider adding a probiotic such as Klaire Labs Ther-Biotic Infant Formula to the bottle.

SUMMARY – HOW TO TREAT INFANT REFLUX NATURALLY

My son was an infant over 4 years ago now and, since then, I’ve learned a lot! If I had a baby today suffering from acid-reflux, I would still use the avocado smoothies if needed, but I would try these things too:

  1. Feed small meals and hold baby upright for at least 30 minutes following a meal.
  2. Add a probiotic. If the infant is bottle feeding, add it directly to the bottle. If the infant is exclusively breastfeeding, put some probiotic powder around the nipple before the infant nurses.
  3. Eliminate foods from mom’s diet: dairy, eggs and nightshades, citrus, FODMAPs. The way you do this is up to you. You can eliminate all of them at once, then, if it helps, add them back in one by one to determine the culprit. Or, you can start with the dairy and, if that doesn’t help, move down the list, with FODMAPs being the last elimination.
  4. Once the baby is older and eating solid food, focus on gut health by continuing with pre- and pro-biotics and eating fermented foods, such as real sauerkraut and pickles.

Has anyone else come across an unconventional natural treatment for infant reflux? Let me know in the comments section!

DISCLAIMER: I am a licensed nutritionist, not an MD. I do not diagnose or treat disease. These recommendations are generalized and meant to be used as a guide.  You should always consult a physician before making dietary or supplement changes with your infant.

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