Prescriptions for acid reflux in young infants and babies have risen significantly over the past decade as physicians are choosing to treat more extreme cases of ‘spitting up’ or acid reflux-induced vomiting with medication. While it is normal for a young baby or infant to regurgitate some amount of food while he or she is learning to digest, excess spit ups or vomiting can lead to weight loss and insufficient nutrition.
Acid reflux in babies is uncomfortable, compromises their health if untreated, and needs to be addressed. However, medication is not the only solution. In a young baby, there are modifications that can be made to ease symptoms and improve digestion.
The first modification to consider is diet. For breastfed babies, the mother will need to eliminate dairy, gluten, spicy foods, and sulphur-containing vegetables (onions, garlic, broccoli, etc.). The compounds and allergens in these foods can transfer in the breast milk, upsetting the baby’s digestion. For bottle-fed babies, or babies with formula supplementation, changing from a cow dairy or whey-based formula to a goat milk-based formula can help significantly. There are two main goat milk-based formulas on the market, Kabrita and Holle. For some babies, simple dietary adjustments will be the main change required to ease reflux issues.
The next modification to consider is posture and feeding positions. Babies who spit up notably after being laid down after a feeding, may need more time in an upright position after eating. A baby may need to be held upright for 30-60 minutes after feedings before being placed in any type of reclined position. A baby that has more reflux when in a reclined position in general may need to be positioned in more upright positions when awake. The “C” body position a car seat creates compromises the shape of the digestive system and lying down for long time periods during the day can exacerbate regurgitation during feedings.
Lastly, gentle herbal remedies can help repair any digestive inflammation exacerbating reflux. Specifically, a very gentle and low allergen herbal remedy called slippery elm is restorative to the digestive system. A very low dose of slippery elm powder (1/8 tsp. or more if needed) can be added to a daily bottle to repair and aid the digestive system. Slippery elm can significantly reduce reflux symptoms. However, always start any herbal or nutritional additive slowly and under the guidance of a qualified practitioner.
While medications can be necessary under extreme conditions, and especially when weight loss and compromised nutrition is significant, it can simply be a tool utilized for health safety while underlying causes are addressed. If medication is required, all of the above can still be applied to reduce long-term reliance on medications.
The concern is that long-term use of acid-reducing medications can create vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The healthiest course of action is to look at food irritants, work on mechanics such as baby’s body positions during and after feedings, and add herbal digestive aids if necessary.
Dr. Sinsheimer is a naturopathic doctor with Optimal Health Center in Palm Desert and can be reached at (760) 568.2598.