Diagnosing and Dealing With Infant Reflux

diagnosing and dealing with infant reflux

Many infants experience acid reflux due to a weak sphincter muscle in the esophagus. It does not close properly and acid comes back up to the feeding tube.  Infants spit up, burp, refuse to eat, and are hard to feed.  This subsides after 12 to 18 months.  When symptoms continue and worsen GERD disease may be the problem. This is a frightening reality for parents and caregivers of infants and toddlers to face.  

A very low percentage of infants and toddlers develop GERD. Acid reflux is caused by an under developed digestive system and produces symptoms similar to GERD. When a toddler has symptoms after 12 to 18 months a doctor should be consulted.  What are infant GERD symptoms? You should look for symptoms like forceful spitting up or vomiting often after eating, failure to gain weight, arching or straining the body during feeding, coughing, frequent infections, gagging, choking, or disturbed sleep.

Reflux and GERD Disease

Most babies and infants outgrow reflux after one year’s old.  Less than 5% of infants have symptoms longer.  When reflux is diagnosed in infant and toddlers it is manageable with life style changes and diet. They use several tests to determine the acid reflux. The tests are the barium swallow and upper GI series, ph probe, upper Gi endoscopy and gastric emptying study.

Often simple changes will help you change reflux in infants and toddlers. You should elevate the head of the baby or child. Hold the baby 30 minutes upright after a feeding. Thicken bottle feeding with cereal if your doctor recommends this.  Feed your baby more often and smaller amounts of food. Try solid food if it is suggested by your physician.

Treatment for GERD in infants may involve feeding changes, medications, and sometimes surgery. They will only prescribe medications when you have tried other methods and it has not helped. Often they prescribe H2 beta blockers to reduce acid in the stomach.  Proton pump inhibitors are prescribed to reduce the amount of acid in your infant’s stomach and help heal the esphogusal lining. 

Sometimes small infants are fed through the nose, mouth or stomach using an intragastric tube. Only in severe cases will surgery be used in infants and toddlers.

Many young infants and toddlers have symptoms of reflux that do not require treatment. When symptoms continue past 12 to 18 months it might be GERD disease. The good news is there is treatment for reflux and GERD that works effectively for infants and toddlers. 

Written by: Joan Russell