Over the years a very clear picture has developed in my clinic connecting infant reflux with a host of future health issues from ongoing infections (usually ear) with multiple antibiotic prescriptions, adenoid/grommet/tonsil operations, subsequent appendix operations, behaviour and learning issues, food intolerances and more. Many of these issues can be completely avoided if the initial treatment were different (appropriate). So for any family suffering with this issue, properly treating infant reflux will essentially mean the future complications described above will be avoided.
I see many children who fit the above picture, and while this article is aimed at the right treatment for infant reflux, there is still much that can be done for older children in this boat. I recommend the guidance of a qualified child health practitioner with a nutritional focus to restore health with the right kind of diet. Nutrition can be driving force for healing as well as harming and getting in the right foods while removing the offenders is vital. The kind of picture represented above of a child who has been through all of this and probably more is one that can be completely turned around, I see this occur regularly so don’t delay in seeking support.
Nobody wants to see a baby in discomfort. Infant reflux is sadly not an uncommon condition and many families are faced with this very situation. One thing to understand is that babies are born with immature digestive systems which require delicate care (and time) to develop optimally, this is a process that takes the best part of 2 years to complete. As part of that delicate care concept, we need to consider the foods we as mothers are consuming during breastfeeding, the formula the baby is being fed if that is the case, and the intervention that will complicate the issue if we go down that path. Reflux is a symptom of a deeper issue that requires exploration, not a disease that needs treatment or suppressing in and of itself. Any of the following can indicate infant reflux:
- Poor sleep habits typically start with arching their necks and back during or after feeding
- Excessive posseting or vomiting
- Irritability and pain, sometimes screaming suddenly when asleep. Constant or sudden crying or colic-like symptoms. Babies can be inconsolable especially when laid down flat.
- Excessive dribbling or running nose
- Frequent burping or hiccups
- Swallowing problems, gagging and choking
- Frequent ear infections or sinus congestion
- Babies are often very gassy and extremely difficult to “burp” after feeds
- Night time coughing, extreme cases of acid reflux can cause apnea and respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia if stomach contents are inhaled.
- Rancid/acid smelling diapers with loose stool. Bowel movements can be very frequent or babies can be constipated.
- Bad breath – smelling acidic
- Refusing feeds or frequent feeds for comfort
- EGID – immune dysfunction
In the very vast majority of cases of infant reflux that I have seen, natural measures with no other intervention have resolved the issue in a short space of time allowing for the optimal growth and development of the child. This may include some or all of the following (WARNING, dietary intervention needs to undertaken carefully as dramatic changes can impact breast milk supply and may require professional guidance):
- ensure the child is upright after feeding and perhaps even for much of the day, wearing the infant can be very useful in chronic cases, and even inclining the bed slightly can alleviate some night time discomfort (in days gone by infants were placed on their tummies for sleep when they were deemed capable but this is now considered an inappropriate course of action by health authorities, consider the most soothing position for your child, many experts agree that even small infants have a sleeping preference that we should honour)
- if breast feeding, consider the foods you are consuming, there are many that may pose an issue for your baby during this delicate phase; foods to include are (organic where possible) bone broth, quality fats and plenty of them, abundant vegetables (all of them with a focus on carbohydrate rich sweet potatoes, pumpkin, beetroot etc), minimal fruit, gluten free grains properly prepared (these need not be overly consumed if at all), fermented foods; foods to remove include pasteurised dairy (fermented dairy may be ok), gluten, packaged and processed foods, coffee and if this does not improve the situation then further elimination may be required to include cruciferous veg, certain food chemicals such as salicylates and possibly more (seek the guidance of a pracitioner to support your journey and ensure you are consuming the right foods for your own and your baby’s optimal health) – this process may well actually help you to determine some food intolerances that are preventing you from experiencing your own optimal health picture so embrace the change
- creating routines – there is a great deal of comfort for an infant when there are daily routines in place
- living a quiet life, there seems to be a connection between stress and reflux even in infants and a quiet, non-social life can often be part of the solution
- probiotics to support optimal gut health and development as well as immune health leading to fewer infections- only buy quality dairy free probiotics, I recommend Klaire Labs, Maxam Labs and Pure encapsulations
It has become increasingly “normal” for infants to be treated with some kind of antacid which I don’t recommend. Let me state right here, using an antacid to treat infant reflux is an inappropriate measure (usually also ineffective) as is the prescribing of antibiotics to treat infections that may arise in these children. Unfortunately this is a very common picture as there is a significant link between infant reflux and ear/URTI infections. We now know that treating our babies and in fact children under 3 with antibiotics can have devastating consequences and may well alter genetic expression. It can be the beginnings of chronic health issues. We must keep in mind the foundation health treatment concept of “first do no harm”! Well these treatment measure DO harm and alternatives are the only solution.
Dr. Eric Hassall, staff pediatric gastroenterologist at Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation in San Francisco has found that the use of proton pump inhibitors (antacids), a group of drugs meant to reduce gastric acid production, grew exponentially for babies less than a year old over the past decade. One study that analysed data of more than 1 million babies found a sevenfold increase in the amount of acid reflux medication prescribed to infants between 1999 and 2004. Many infants studied in the research received the medication within the first year of their lives, and a number of those babies received the drugs before they were 4 months old. There is NO authority in the world that has even approved these drugs for children under a year old because no studies have found them effective in that population, so even being prescribed them is complete guess work.
This is a huge risk to take, particularly in the face of reliable natural measures as described above and the vast array of natural remedies readily available. Homotoxicology (there are many homeopathics available at a retail level that may be of assistance such as the Brauer range) can be useful and I have always seen excellent results with a German product called Iberogast, an herbal that is very tonifying for digestive issues. I do recommend using remedies as recommended by an experienced practitioner who can take the guess work out of the situation and be aware of contraindications.
The infections that seem to go hand in hand with reflux also can be treated in ways that support the baby’s health and contribute to growth and development, rather than harm. Ongoing infections are a sign of failing gut and immune health and require addressing. Antibiotics in these ongoing cases are not the solution, the right nutrition intervention and supportive strategies to enhance the baby’s resilience need to be employed.
The cost of the wrong intervention in these early years can be your child’s future health. Taking measures to address infant reflux and infections at their root cause naturally is really the only option if we hope for long term health and happiness for our kids.