Medications are often used to treat infant acid reflux and can have a very important place in the treatment plan. If you are looking for some tips that do not involve medicines you have come to the right spot There are many things that you can do to help lessen your infant’s acid reflux symptoms that don’t involve medications.
Many infants with acid reflux find some relief from their night or nap time symptoms by elevating the head of the bed to a 30 degree angle. It is thought that this is the ideal angle to aid in digestion and help keep the airway and esophagus from feeling the burn. When placed at an angle gravity helps the infant keep their stomach contents in the stomach.
Discuss the proper way to position your infant with your pediatrician. There are many wonderful positioning products on the market but be careful when leaving your child in things like car seats or swings overnight. While it can seem like the best place to keep infants upright to sleep some studies suggest that it may limit the oxygen your child gets by compressing the chest wall (1).
Keeping a refluxer upright and still after meals can also be very important. Laying a child flat or in a bouncer after a feeding only aggravates reflux and can lead to vomiting or even choking episodes. Most reflux babies need to be held upright for at least 30 minutes after a feeding.
Reflux babies are notoriously hard to burp and yet they really need this release of built up gas to help reduce their symptoms. It may seem easier to skip this step when you are dealing with sleep deprivation or a hard to feed baby but it will cost you in the long run. Adequately burping your reflux baby can limit the spits ups and pain later.
If you are bottle feeding it can help to find a nipple that limits the amount of air swallowed. If you notice your child gulping or gasping between swallows you may need to pick a slower flow nipple. If the nipple size is not correct and causes “bobbing” off and on the bottle that can also increase the amount of air swallowed. If you are breastfeeding and have an overactive letdown it can flood your infant. You may want to pump before starting the feeding to prevent them from choking or swallowing too much air. Limiting breastfeeding “playtime” can also help limit air swallowed.
Thickening a feeding can help limit reflux in some children. It is thought that thicker liquid weighs down the stomach contents. Thickening is often done with single grain cereals but can also be done with commercial thickeners like Simply Thick or Thick It. Acid reflux formulas like Enfamil AR thicken as they hit the stomach and also help limit reflux in a similar way.
Ask your pediatrician about some of the formulas mentioned in my last blog and whether those dietary changes can help your baby. Remember some of those formulas can be very expensive so check with your child’s doctor before committing to these types of formulas.
Smaller more frequent feedings may also help reduce reflux episodes. Many infants with acid reflux will need to schedule feedings like this even when their reflux-free counterparts have switched to larger less frequent feedings. Reflux babies may not be able to tolerate the same volume in their stomachs as other infants. Overfeeding a reflux baby can cause lots of vomiting!!
Don’t compare your acid reflux baby to other infants. With a little patience and perseverance most reflux babies will outgrow their symptoms. Many of these tips can help them remain comfortable in the mean time.
Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.