Infant Reflux: Our Experience with GERD

Every baby spits up; this is an undeniable and messy truth.  Reflux, or GER, is a normal condition associated with infancy and is caused by an underdeveloped esophageal sphincter (the valve that holds food in baby’s tummy).  Most babies are “happy spitters,” they spit up without any pain or discomfort and continue going about their business.  If you are the parent of a happy spitter, consider yourself lucky.  Then again, if you are the parent of a happy spitter, you are most likely not reading this post.

Unlike GER, GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is NOT normal.  Babies with GERD, more commonly known as acid reflux, experience painful symptoms associated with feeding.  Stomach acid irritates the esophagus and throat, leaving them in a constant state of discomfort.  A is one of those babies.  A couple of weeks ago we noticed that A had become extremely congested.  He had a lot of mucus in his nose, throat, and stomach, making feedings difficult.  He also had a persistent cough and sneezing.  As new parents, my husband and I assumed he had a cold.  A’s symptoms worsened as the days went on.  My normally happy baby became increasing fussy, often screaming for an hour or more at a time.  He was uncomfortable on his back and unhappy unless he was being held.  Concerned, I called our medical group’s hotline.  The nurse practitioner explained to me that babies as young as A (6 weeks at the time) do not get colds.  She mentioned that his symptoms were consistent with reflux and advised us to make an appointment with our pediatrician.

After hanging up the phone I did a quick Google search.  According to WebMD the most common symptoms of GERD are:

  • Frequent and recurrent spit up or vomiting
  • Persistent coughing or wheezing
  • Refusal to eat or difficulty eating (choking and sputtering, spitting, arching of the back)
  • Heartburn, gas, and colicky behavior
  • Sour taste (and smell!) in the mouth

Other symptoms include:

  • Sore throat and/or raspy cry
  • Congestion
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Increased fussiness (especially after eating and when placed on back

Looking at this list was like looking at a description of my baby.  A visit with the pediatrician confirmed that A does, in fact, have acid reflux.  While that diagnosis was hard to hear, it was also comforting.  It confirmed that there was something physically wrong with my child.  He was not colicky and I was not a bad mother.  With diagnosis comes treatment and a plan of attack.  A was prescribed Ranitidine, a generic form of Zantac, to treat the pain associated with his reflux.  After two days of Ranitidine we have seen a big improvement.  Other actions that we are taking include:

  • Smaller and more frequent feedings.  Prior to his diagnosis, A was gulping down 5oz of formula every 3 hours.  This was his attempt to soothe the burning in his throat.  We now feed him 3oz every 2 to 2.5 hours.  While he still spits up, the amount and frequency have been greatly reduced.
  • Keeping him upright for 20-30 minutes after meals.  I try to keep A as quiet and still as possible during this time (not always easy with an active baby!).  His bouncer and swing have been lifesavers.
  • Sleeping on an incline.  A is still small enough that he can sleep in this Fisher Price Rock N Play.  We’ve purchased a crib wedge to use after transitioning to his crib.
  • Anti colic bottles.  We use these ones by Dr. Brown.  The vent system helps minimize the air that gets into A’s tummy, reducing spit up, burping, and gas.
  • Thickened formula.  Our pediatrician suggested Enfamil A.R. with rice starch.  The added starch helps the formula stay down, reducing spit up.  A has struggled with constipation in the past, so we use this product in conjunction with Enfamil Gentlease.
  • Probiotics.  There is some evidence that infant reflux is caused by maternal antibiotic use during pregnancy and delivery.  Antibiotics disrupt gut flora, resulting in a myriad of tummy troubles.  Probiotics help restore balance to the gut.  I purchased a bottle at our local health store, but you can also order them online.  I have seen positive reviews for BioGaia.

While we are still in the infancy of A’s reflux, I am confident that we can manage it and keep him comfortable.  Most infants outgrow their reflux as their digestive system matures and develops.  In a few months (hopefully!) A will be free of symptoms and cares.  If your child has reflux know that you are not aloneyou are a good parent, and that this too shall pass.  Appreciate the child that God has given  you, and enjoy even the messiest of moments.  They aren’t little for long.

Have experience with reflux?  Leave a comment so we can chat!

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