Sadly, infant reflux is a growing problem. Because it causes baby a lot of discomfort, it can take away a lot of the joy that comes with having a new baby, causing more than just physical problems but emotional ones as well. Mom and baby are both tired and worn and the doctor just hands mom a prescription for medication.
Medication, I might add, that will only cause the baby to have increasing health problems both now and in the future. Many parents who have tried naturally-remedying the problem AFTER using medication find it is much more difficult to treat the problem then if they had started without turning to meds. (I explain why below.)
That, combined with the frequency of emails I receive on this topic, is why I am writing this post. It is my hope that all parents who struggle with this issue will have the truth and the answers they need to help both their baby and themselves get out of it!
First off, we need to address causes of infant reflux so that we can work to prevent it.
By far the most common cause of infant reflux and one that is extremely overlooked is the use of antibiotics during pregnancy and/or labor.
There is currently not a lot of research on this but whenever a parent presents a case of infant reflux to me, I ask if the mom was on antibiotics either during pregnancy or during labor, (or in some cases if a baby was in the NICU then if baby had them). The answer is “yes” 99% of the time. Some may say that this is coincidence due to the high rate of antibiotic use, but stay with me.
As many of us know, antibiotics wipe out both the bad and good gut bacteria, allowing the bad bacteria to proliferate. This proliferation of pathogenic bacteria can cause inflammation in both the mom’s and baby’s gut and consequently food allergies for baby. I am not sure why, but the food allergy that prenatal/labor antibiotics usually seem to cause is dairy allergy. Thus, a breastfeeding mom’s consumption of dairy subsequent to the use of antibiotics will often cause continuous reflux problems in baby.
Some moms are given antibiotics during labor and don’t even know it! Antibiotics have sadly become standard protocol in some hospital labor and delivery units.
Another thing that causes problems in baby’s gut is being born via cesarean section. In a vaginal birth, a baby’s sterile gut will be colonized by beneficial (good) bacteria in mom’s birth canal, provided her birth canal has a supply of beneficial bacteria. When a baby does not have the benefit of this birth pathway, their sterile gut remains open to various pathogens.
In her research on autism, Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride, creator of the GAPS diet, discovered that babies born via c-section have a higher rate of autism due to this lack of protection from the birth canal bacteria. This leaves babies more vulnerable to various pathogenic bacteria which can cause inflammation in the gut, allergies, and digestive problems.
If you are reading this and your baby has reflux from one or both of these things, keep reading–there is a way to fix this!
*Even apart from c-section and prenatal antibiotic use, if mom’s gut is damaged/imbalanced from things like antibiotic use in the past, previous birth control use, sugar, chlorinated water, gluten sensitivity, and a whole list of other things that damage the gut, a baby born vaginally from a mother who does not have good gut bacteria will also likely have the same problems. That is why it’s good to ensure a healthy gut before getting pregnant! This is one reason why I strive to provide Conception/Prenatal Nutrition Counseling to women so we can help ensure a healthy baby from the very beginning! For more information on my prenatal nutrition counseling services, click here.
Apart from antibiotic use and c-sections, babies can also develop food allergies that result in reflux symptoms from things in mom’s prenatal diet. Genetically-modified corn, for instance, is powerful at causing corn allergies. Tortilla chips, cheese puffs, cornflakes, products with corn oil, and many more products pose a risk of allergy to an unborn baby. Unfortunately, once the body develops an allergy from GMO corn, even organic corn cannot be consumed.
My 5th child developed an allergy to corn as a baby. He would scream in pain after nursing, spit up frequently (including projectile vomiting once or twice), and would have repeated eczema rashes on his diaper area. When I finally eliminated corn from my diet (including baking powder which contains cornstarch and canned products with white vinegar which is made from corn), his symptoms completely disappeared.
For other babies, the culprit may be eggs, soy, wheat, or other common allergens.
(Read below for information on dairy allergy resulting from antibiotics.)
I would also like to address the over-feeding that is causing many babies to spit up. This is more common of course with formula-fed babies. I once observed a new mom constantly have an endless supply of prepared formula bottles for baby every day all day long. This baby was constantly spitting up. In this case, it was not a case of reflux (GERD) but was rather just from overfeeding. Needless to say, this child is now unfortunately obese at age 4.
Premature introduction of solids can be very damaging to baby’s intestinal system. Babies do not develop adequate stomach acid production to help them handle food until at least 4 months old and do not possess the enzyme needed to propeorly digest grains until AT LEAST their first birthday! This results in a toxic and rotting gut which can cause reflux and other health problems.
(*Please note that white rice infant cereal should NEVER be given to babies, especially not to thicken milk in the case of reflux. Read more here: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/12/20/get-the-white-out-of-babys-first-foods.aspx )
Additionally, store-bought baby foods are often very acidic which contributes to acid reflux. Read more here: http://www.inhabitots.com/acid-added-to-baby-food-jars-contributes-to-infant-acid-reflux-issues/
One of the symptoms of lip tie in babies is reflux. Of course this cause of reflux is basically indistinguishable from other causes as it is accompanied by many other symptoms. A full list of those symptoms and more information on lip ties can be found here: http://feedthebabyllc.com/tongue-and-lip-tie-2/
Of course there are other causes and things to consider. This article, however, is only going to address the most common causes that I see and that are overlooked which are those listed above. Now let’s get into the solutions!
In addition to preventing this situation from occurring by striving for vaginal birth and avoidance of prenatal antibiotics (yes, there are alternatives to antibiotic use), there are solutions to help remedy symptoms and health problems associated with infant reflux.
Prescription reflux medications (proton-pump inhibitors, aka PPI’s) are a horrible thing for a doctor to prescribe to anyone, especially to infants. In fact, the FDA has not even approved these drugs for children under a year old because no studies have found them effective in that population.
Nonetheless, there has been a sevenfold increase in the amount of acid reflux medication prescribed to infants between 1999 and 2004.
PPI’s work by decreasing the amount of stomach acid that is produced in an attempt to prevent acid from coming up the esophagus. The problem with that is that stomach acid is very necessary for preventing harmful infections in our stomach. Inadequate stomach acid leaves a stomach open and vulnerable to pathogenic bacteria, increasing baby’s risk of gastroenteritis and other digestive problems.
Furthermore, since at least 70% of our immune system resides in our gut, PPI’s weaken the immune system. That is one reason why PPI use has been found to increase a baby’s risk of pneumonia.
An unhealthy gastrointestinal system is also linked to brain and learning problems and also increases a child’s risk of autism spectrum disorders.
So a case of reflux often escalates into a childhood of immune, digestive, and behavior problems with the use of PPI’s rather than addressing the cause.
Once a child (or adult) is taken off of PPI’s, this deficiency of stomach acid can cause tremendous discomfort, creating dependence on the product. Increasing the stomach’s acid production after acid reducer medications is a difficult process (although it CAN be done), so the decision to use of any over-the-counter or prescription stomach acid reducers should be weighed very carefully. (I personally never recommend their use. There is an abundance of natural remedies.)
Step 1: Probiotics
The first and most important natural line of defense and healing step is a good dairy-free infant probiotic.
I have worked long and hard to find a good dairy-free infant probiotic product for my clients. When I finally did find one that I liked, I discovered that it was not available to consumers but only available to healthcare practitioners for resale to their patients/clients. Consequently, I am now able to directly offer a really great dairy-free infant probiotic to not only my clients but all of my viewers/fans as well!
Healthy Families for God’s BabyBiotic Infant Formula is a high-potency, hypoallergenic blend of 5 Lactobacillus species and 5 Bifidobacterium species and is designed to safely meet the metabolic and intestinal support needs of infants up to the age of 2 years. Each species in BabyBiotic Infant Formula has been selected based on the scientific literature documenting its safety and crucial importance to the normal development of an infant’s gastrointestinal and immune systems. BabyBiotic Infant Formula is specifically designed to support a normal infant microflora that can be easily disrupted by cesarean section delivery, formula feedings, antibiotics, toxin exposures, and a maternal diet lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables.
HFFG’s BabyBiotic Infant Formula is available in a high potency powder providing 10+ billion CFUs per 1/4 teaspoon. It can be mixed with expressed room-temperature breast milk or formula. (High temperatures can destroy beneficial bacteria.)
For cases of reflux, it should be given 2 times daily until symptoms improve and then once daily afterwards. Most people find the easiest way to give it to baby is to mix it with a small amount of breastmilk/formula and use a dropper. It can also be mixed with breastmilk/formula in a bottle.
Step 2: Eliminating the trigger(s)
The second step is for breastfeeding moms to eliminate the food allergen/trigger. There are a couple of ways to go about this. Mom can either start a food log and watch for which foods are causing baby’s problems or she can start by eliminating one.
**I almost always recommend that if antibiotics were used during pregnancy or labor to start by eliminating dairy. This includes everything from butter to milk, cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, etc. That is why I recommend also using a dairy-free probiotic like the one I described above.
For my post on how to choose a healthier, dairy-free milk option, read my post here.
In the case of formula-fed babies, this gets a little more tricky. Soy formula is NOT a healthy dairy-free alternative for many reasons, including the fact that toxicologists estimate that an infant exclusively fed soy formula receives the estrogenic equivalent of at least five birth control pills per day!
Additional information on the problems with soy formula are discussed in this article: http://www.foodrenegade.com/soy-infant-formula-formula-for-disaster/
I personally and professionally cannot recommend any store-bought formula, as even the organic ones contain harmful and inflammatory vegetable oils. In the article from Food Renegade above, there is a link to a homemade meat-based infant formula that is dairy-free.
Other triggers for infant reflux can include gluten, corn (as described above), soy, caffeine, chocolate, etc. Keep in mind that when it comes to gluten, even the tiniest consumption of it can cause problems days or weeks later as triggering gluten proteins take longer to leave the body.
Once probiotics begin healing baby’s gut and the food trigger is removed, parents should see a marked improvement in baby’s symptoms. Additional treatment measures include:
- Chiropractic care–The power of chiropractic care for treating things like ear infections, reflux, constipation, and more should not be underestimated! Ask anyone who has used a chiropractor for these things and they will swear by it!
- Nursing baby upright and/or Feeding baby from only one breast–Sometimes, babies spit up as a result of drinking too much milk.
- Babywearing is also a great way for baby to be positioned upright, in addition to receiving closeness with mom which helps keep them calm and content. For even more benefit, skin-to-skin babywearing will help strengthen the baby’s immune system.
One final note: While not all cases of spitting up are caused by reflux, I would like to note that repeatedly spitting up is not normal for babies and indicates an underlying problem.
Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT normal for babies to spit up frequently.
If you have to constantly have a burp cloth under baby’s mouth, this is a sign that something is not totally right. It is common, yes, but NOT normal/healthy.
As a mom to six children, I can say that when factors are eliminated, a baby will not spit up on a regular basis. My sixth baby who was born at home, for whom I did not have antibiotics during pregnancy/labor, who did not receive vaccinations and is exclusively breastfed with mom’s whole-foods healthy diet, spit up only a few times in a matter of months and those were a result of me nursing him for comfort where he got too full. We did not have to worry about him spitting up on other people when they held him like many parents do.
In addition to the things described above,other things that can damage baby’s gut and result in spitting up include:
In any case, a good probiotics supplement is still the best line of treatment to help repair any damage done to baby’s gut.
For all you parents out there dealing with a colicky baby, I know what you are going through. I hope and pray that this information helps your baby to heal and helps you to experience the joy of a precious baby!
Blessings of good health,