Reflux: Normal, or cause for concern?

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Spitting up, also known as gastroesophageal reflux, is common in babies. It's so common that in many cases, it's considered to be normal.

When babies swallow, their sphincters, which keeps foods in their stomachs, are not as effective as they are in adults. This can cause some formula or food to come back up from the stomach to the feeding pipe, causing the baby to spit up.

Most babies outgrow the problem by the time they are about 12 months old, but some babies have more long-term problems with reflux.

If your child frequently spits up, several things can be done at home to help your baby. If the reflux is mild, you can add antacids to the bottle or give your child his or her formula thickened. Placing your baby in a car seat or swing after eating may make the reflux worse, since your child can slide down, putting pressure on the abdomen. Instead, try to hold your baby upright for at least 30 minutes after he or she eats. If your baby's reflux is more severe, he or she may need medicine to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach.

Complications from reflux can result in heartburn, failure to gain weight and breathing problems. Infants with reflux may have poor growth because they don't eat enough due to discomfort from reflux, or vomit too much of their formula. They also may have weight problems because they haven't been given enough formula by parents in a well-intended attempt to decrease vomiting. Babies with reflux also may get food in their lungs when they spit up or swallow, causing wheezing (or in rare cases, pneumonia).

Although most babies with reflux do not require treatment, if your child has any of the complications mentioned above (heartburn, trouble gaining weight or breathing problems), you should consult your family doctor. Your doctor will design a treatment to relieve the symptoms that are causing the most problems, whether it's irritability from heartburn, poor growth or breathing difficulties. Remember that even if your child has a reflux problem that needs professional help, it is very likely that it will go away as he or she gets older.

Nutrition tips to relieve reflux

Gastroesophageal reflux not only affects infants, it also affects older children and adults. Treatment varies depending on the type and severity of the symptoms. Here are some nutritional tips that may help relieve the symptoms of reflux.

For infants, doctors may suggest that parents feed children a thickened formula or breast milk mixed with rice cereal.

Older children and adults can find relief by avoiding foods that cause reflux symptoms.

These include:

  • citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruits, limes, etc.)
  • chocolate
  • caffeine
  • fatty and fried foods
  • garlic and onions
  • spicy foods
  • tomato-based sauces
  • peppermint
  • carbonated drinks
  • mustard
  • vinegar

Foods that cause gastroesophageal reflux symptoms may vary from person to person, so it is recommended that individuals with reflux avoid only those foods that tend to cause them problems. Those who have reflux symptoms should also eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day and avoid eating 2 to 3 hours before going to bed.

Other tips to prevent symptoms include sleeping on a wedge-shaped pillow to slightly raise the upper body and wearing looser-fitting clothing (especially around the abdomen).

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Each month, Pediatric HealthSource shares the latest treatment and research advancements from Nationwide Children's Hospital. This column is part of an ongoing community education project brought to you by: Discount Drug Mart.