Coping Naturally – Infant Reflux

My little V had acid reflux from the age of two weeks until she was sixteen months.  She cried eight hours straight every day until we figured out that reflux was the problem.  It was a long couple of weeks.  Mr. M and I learned a lot in our search to find ways to help her and I am now passing on that knowledge to other parents in the same situation.  I am no expert, but I did read a lot about how to help V without prescription medication.  Keep in mind that by following these simple rules, V’s crying stopped.  That’s right, stopped.

I’m a firm believer in learning as much about a situation or condition as possible to make the most informed and best decision for my child and family. Not one solution works for everyone and I don’t think people are reminded that as often as they should be. That being said, there are MANY things parents can try to help babies with reflux. It’s important to know that it will be trial and error and that not every option works for everyone, but there are a few general rules of thumb.

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WHY do some babies experience reflux? A nurse friend of mine explained it to me before we ever talked to our pediatrician about it. There is a flap between the esophagus and the stomach that should open downward to let food into the stomach. However, sometimes the digestive system is underdeveloped and the flap occasionally opens upward allowing stomach acid (and sometimes food) to flow into the esophagus and therefore cause heartburn. And there is the “acid reflux.”

1. The good news:  If you are breastfeeding, your diet determines how much acid reflux baby will experience. The bad news:  You’ll need to eliminate all coffee (I know, with all that crying you need that caffeine…but hang in there!), tea, chocolate, citrus, and tomatoes from your diet. That’s the list our pediatrician started us with. If you look into other things, a lot of people will say to eliminate dairy, but the likelihood of a baby being sensitive to dairy is slim to none and it’s really difficult to diagnose simply by eliminating it. Start with that list and you should see improvements within a day.  Changing your diet will PREVENT the worst of the pain because whatever you eat he eats.  If you remove heartburn causing foods, the food itself is no longer causing additional problems.  Even if you decide to treat with a prescription, this rule should be followed.

***It is important to know that reflux babies can deal with breast milk much better than formula. So if adjusting your diet is possible to continue nursing, it will definitely help baby’s tummy.  From everything I’ve read, formula is not the better choice if reflux is the only issue.  Furthermore, we had to supplement with formula as V got older (due to a supply issue on my end) and that simply made things worse.

2. Treat the reflux:  Even if you’re not eating foods that will create heartburn, baby will still experience some. We used gripe water EVERY TIME we fed V and sometimes in between if she was still having major problems. It is a natural dietary supplement and the most effective formula we found included both ginger and fennel. We tried about five brands and these two worked the best: Mommy’s Bliss Gripe Water or Little Tummy’s Gripe Water (cheaper of the two and who doesn’t need to save a few bucks, right?). They can be found at Target (cheapest), drugstores, or Babies R Us. We even found it at our grocery store in the digestive aids section. IT DID MIRACLES for V’s crying. We started by taking the minimum amount of gripe water she was allowed in one day and dividing it by the number of feedings she took. Then we gave it to her at every feeding. If she seemed to have problems later, we could always give her a little more in between and I would note what I ate 4-6 hours before that feeding to try and find the cause of the problem.

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3. Preventing throw up:  Not every reflux baby experiences vomiting, but our daughter literally threw up everything she ate. If she had a 2 oz bottle, 2 oz came back up. When she was taking 4 oz bottles, 4 oz came back up. LET GRAVITY HELP YOU. After baby eats, keep him upright for 30 minutes. Put him in a snuggly, a swing, prop him on a boppy, whatever you can do to keep the food DOWN. Just as importantly, never bounce him. Not while playing, not to soothe him. Never. Any up and down movement will slosh the milk in his stomach and help it come back up.  If possible, prop his crib mattress. He will sleep better because gravity will keep his food down and his stomach acid where it belongs. This was not an option for us for very long because V was incredibly active in her sleep, but while we could do it, it worked very well. You can ask your pediatrician about the safest method for you: propping the mattress with a towel, using a sleep wedge or a sleep positioner.

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4.  The rice cereal debate:  We had no luck with adding rice cereal to bottles of breastmilk. Our daughter just threw it all up. The goal of the rice is to make the milk heavier and harder to come back up. However, it didn’t work for us. If you do add cereal, pay close attention to whether or not it makes a difference for your little one.  If it doesn’t help, why do it?

5.  Contain the throw up:  I highly suggest using old fashioned cloth diapers or old bath towels. We used the diapers, our daughter’s sitter used the bath towels.

6.  It’s going to get worse.  Reflux will peak at 4 months of age. However, at 4 months, he can start eating solids if he’s ready. That is a whole different ball game and was a HUGE struggle for us so in the future I’ll hopefully share information on how to transition. Reflux should phase out by 10 months of age. Our daughter had it until she was 16 months. Until she was 10 months, she could only eat 5 different baby foods. Until she was 16 months, we slowly were able to introduce other things. But again, it was very trial and error.

7.  A vicious cycle:  Crying will upset his stomach which will in turn upset his reflux which will in turn make him cry more. It sucks, I know. Our daughter also had colic (oddly enough…they are saying colic is most likely caused by an underdeveloped digestive system which is why gripe water works for both. Hmm…) so we struggled with that. But we watched a video (Dr. Karp’s Happiest Baby method) that showed us how to calm her naturally. The biggest thing that helped her is white noise. We took the “shushing” in her ear up a notch and used static on the radio to calm her down. We played it loudly until she was calm and gradually turned down the volume. We still used it as she got older when she had a hard time going to sleep. I highly recommend it for times that baby gets hysterical. If he’s just upset, you can do the swaddle, sucking, and shushing steps, but keep him upright.

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So I know that’s a lot of info, but I sincerely hope it helps anyone in need. V’s reflux was fairly severe until we got it under control. She wasn’t “cured” just because we did all of these things, but she was happy and comfortable and we managed her symptoms without a fear of side effects.

As a toddler there is no sign of V’s previous reflux.  She’s happy, healthy, and her digestion is on track.  I love knowing that Mr. M and I did everything we could to let nature work in her favor.