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10 Natural Remedies for Infant Reflux
When I was a new mama to my first son, Aidan, I found another mother in my mama’s group with whom I connected. We were both vaguely ‘attachment’ parents, both nurse-on-demand, used-to-be career mamas who were devoting ourselves full time to this new and incredible project -- and both liked shoe-shopping at Nordstroms. Back in those days, that’s pretty much all we needed to become fast friends. When our children were about four months old and she had to go in for a colonoscopy, it seemed natural that I would babysit for her. This was a memorable moment in that it was the first time I had ever undertaken to babysit someone else’s baby besides my own. I was terrified.
I remember the differences between her daughter and my son distinctly, even now. She seemed so fragile and delicate relative to Aidan -- and spat up constantly. I specialized in women’s health at the time. I really didn’t know the first thing about babies. The only conclusion I came to after four hours of holding her (and calling in a few other mama reinforcements for a ‘playdate’), was that mothers of twins have an entirely different lot in life than mine, and that spit-up is gross.
A few stomach flus later and I’m over it (cleaning up vomit trumps spit-up any day), and that delicate little infant has since become a lovely, precocious, American Girl-crazy eight year old with blond hair and 2 big grown-up teeth in the middle of her smile. No harm done, I guess. She still has significant food sensitivities and a quick-to-rebel digestive system that may have started displaying itself even as early as infancy with her constant reflux. This isn’t something I could have necessarily fixed in one playdate, but I do wish, in retrospect, that I had known some way to ease her discomfort.
Infant reflux does not always herald the beginning of digestive troubles later on down the line. Not at all. Usually, all it tells us is that, in this moment, our baby’s cardiac sphincter (the smooth round muscle separating the stomach and it’s contents from the esophagus) isn’t fully functional yet. This isn’t terribly uncommon. In Chinese Medicine, it is generally recognized that children and infants have weak Spleen Qi as we call it -- in other words, the digestive system isn’t fully mature. The degree of immaturity varies, but the undeveloped flora and fauna of the intestines, the production of enzymes, the permeability of the intestinal walls are all still evolving for many years outside of the womb. As practitioners we expect this, and its my theory that this is why most children crave simpler foods than we do as adults -- they are often easier to break down and absorb than the complicated food and spice combinations we later crave. (Does this explain why all I wanted as a child was sauce-less noodles?)
When your infant has acid reflux, it is often just an uncomfortable byproduct of this digestive immaturity. That said, it is painful. It can cause colic and night waking. It is also a good idea to rule out oversupply of milk and food sensitivities with your health practitioner ( and see our blog on colic for the amazing dispositional transformation my newest little guy underwent when i cut white rice and onions...). Once you have ruled out any aggravating or more complicated conditions, what then can you do to ease your little one’s acid reflux?
Here are some easy solutions and natural remedies you can try to ease the pain of your infant’s acid reflux. These may or may not eliminate the problem, but hopefully they’ll make it tolerable until your baby outgrows it -- they will outgrow it, at which point, you’ll be able to wear your favorite clothes again.
10 Natural Remedies for Infant Reflux
1. Feed your Baby in an Upright Position. Position is key when dealing with infant reflux -- especially during eating. Feeding and carrying your baby in a good position is, in fact, really the number one natural remedy you can employ for a baby with reflux tendencies. Try feeding your baby while he or she sits upright, or enlist the help of a feeding wedge, that keeps your baby positioned at a 30 degree angle or more (Pollywog makes a good one. http://www.pollywogbaby.com/item--Pollywog-Nursing-Positioner--nursing_p...).
2. Keep your baby calm and upright after feedings, with pressure off of baby’s tummy. After feeding is another important moment to watch your baby’s position. Instead of lying your baby down for a nap, putting him in the bouncy seat, or doing something active like tummy time, try holding your baby in an upright sling for at least 30 minutes. (Remember how mama always said wait 30 minutes before going back in the pool? This is a variation on that...) Baby can fall asleep in a more upright carrying position as well, in fact, if it alleviates their reflux, they’ll prefer it. The moby wrap and the Baby K’tan can both accomodate upright positions; so can many others. Just make sure they’re not in a seated position that scrunches up their little tummy.
3. Give, smaller, more frequent feedings -- and If you’re bottle-feeding, use a smaller nipple size. Sometimes having your baby process less food at one time will allow their sensitive tummies to digest and process more effectively.
4. Burp your baby frequently. Getting excess gas out of your baby’s tummy can ease their discomfort dramatically.
5. Breastfeed if possible -- and empty one breast before switching to the other. Breastmilk is a topic unto itself, but suffice it to say for now that it is formulated perfectly by nature for optimal baby digestability -- something for which formulas very much strive, but haven’t completely succeeded. The evidence appears in the difference between the intestinal flora of a breastfed baby and that of a formula-fed one. (Check out Marsha Walker’s well-researched info on this on Dr. Jay Gordon’s website -- , it provides quantitative research into the differences in internal flora between breastmilk-fed and formula-fed babies ). Even with breastmilk-fed infants, however, too much foremilk without hindmilk can cause gas. Make sure if baby is nursing that they empty one breast completely before moving on to the other. Formula-feeding with no possibility of breastmilk? Talk with your trusted healthcare provider about whether your baby may have a potential sensitivity to the formula’s base (generally dairy or soy), and consider trying an alternative.
6. Eliminate Possible Trigger Foods. We discuss food elimination at greater length in both our colic blog and DVD 3 of the Mommy’s ER Series, but in a nutshell, eliminating foods to which your infant is sensitive can make your breastmilk easier to digest. The four most appropriately maligned food groups: dairy, wheat, soy and eggs. I eliminated all of these at once and then reincorporated slowly, one-at-a-time after 10 days, watching carefully for response from baby. Give it 7-10 days to really remove the food from your system and give your baby the chance to respond.
7. Use infant-appropriate probiotics. Probiotics are helpful in cases of acid reflux. By addressing digestive issues, rebalancing gut flora (some theories hold that negative bacteria such as H Pylori can cause reflux and other GI upsets), and aiding gut immune function, probiotics address the issue at the level of many possible roots. Lactobacillus Reuteri, in particular, has been shown in studies to reduce colic in infants, much of which may be caused by reflux. For more information on this and colic in general, check out our colic blog. It’s chock full of other suggestions that may assist in instances of reflux as well.
8. Administer Slippery Elm Bark. Slippery elm bark is a mucilage, meaning that it takes on a gummy, jello-y consistency in the presence of liquid (or our liquid-y internal systems). It also is anti-inflammatory, soothing and coating the stomach and digestive tract. It’s very safe -- just watch for unusually runny or prolific poop, a possible byproduct of slippery elm’s -de-constipating nature.
9. Try Gripe Water or make your own. Tea with fennel and ginger, drunk by nursing mama can provide digestive support through your milk supply. Or give to baby directly in the form of GripeWater. I like Mommy’s Bliss, or other kinds that do not include essential oils (too harsh, to my mind, for an infant’s internal system).
10. Give your baby a small amount of aloe vera juice. Aloe vera is another mucilage, helping to coat the digestive system and possibly aid the digestive process. Dosage varies according to your baby’s weight and condition, so ask your health care practitioner or trusted herbal pharmacy. In general, no more than 1/2 tsp should be needed to provide nice healing relief.
BONUS 11. Give yourself sanity breaks. All right, I’ve snuck in a #11. I had to. If your baby has reflux, they are probably crying. Maybe a lot. Or maybe you just want to wear your favorite black dress. Do it. Just for an hour even. Have a trusted caregiver wear baby upright in a sling and allow yourself to decompress. Babies feel their mama’s energy, their little systems are even wired to match it. A mama who is breathing gently, has a low pulse rate, and is feeling the physiological effects of mental, emotional calm does wonders for reflux, and most maladies. Taking a break every now and then is good for baby, and good for you.
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