A gastroenterologist treats diseases of the digestive system. Heartburn is a common complaint in adults, especially after eating a hearty or spicy meal. Yet, infants and children also can experience that burning sensation in the chest. According to some estimates, about 2% of children ages 3 to 9, and 5% of children ages 10 to 17, have heartburn.
In infants, GER is much more common than GERD. Caring for a baby or child with chronic acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can be challenging. GERD causes food and stomach acid to reflux or flow up into the esophagus – the muscular tube that connects the mouth and stomach – after your child eats. Understandably, babies and children with GERD can become fussy and irritable.
Part of the evaluation of an infant who may have GER is to rule out pyloric stenosis. Pyloric stenosis is the thickening of the region of the stomach (pyloris) as it transitions into the first section of the small intestine. Studies show that most infants with pyloric stenosis have recurrent symptoms of forceful emesis shortly after a meal.
Always place your baby to sleep on her back unless your pediatrician has told you otherwise. Reflux is common in children up to the age of 1 year, and only those who have difficulty feeding or breathing require treatment.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may produce other symptoms. Treatment for GER and GERD in infants and children include mild elevation of the infant for 15-30 minutes following a feeding, serving smaller but more frequent feedings and thickening of formula or pumped breast milk with rice cereal.
Infants can experience it, too. An infant with GER will spit up frequently or vomit. If your infant has those symptoms plus irritability, feeding difficulties, inadequate weight gain, coughing, choking, or wheezing after feeding, it may be a sign of a more serious condition known as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). GERD is a complication of GER.
Reflux in babies can be very frustrating, and there is rarely one step alone which helps. In addition, every baby is different, and some of these tips may work better than others. Fortunately, reflux often improves as a baby gets older, and for those in which it persists, there are a variety of treatment options. Please remember that if you have any questions about your baby’s health-no matter how seemingly small-itâ€™s always a good idea to consult with your pediatrician.
Some babies with GERD don’t gain weight properly because they aren’t keeping enough food down. Others lose their appetite because all that stomach acid pushing up into the esophagus can hurt the throat and, in severe cases, make it hard to swallow. In many cases something as simple as adjusting your baby’s feeding times, amounts and even the position your child is being held during feeding, can make a huge difference in your child’s reaction to feeding and ultimately the cause of acid reflux or GERD. Premature babies are more likely to be affected by GORD (NICE 2015a, Rosen et al 2018) .
Ways to help your baby
There is good news for all our babies experiencing uncomplicated gastroesophageal reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease – some natural remedies really can help! Always try these things at home before trying acid-suppressing medications.