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Infants Acid Reflux

What is acid reflux, and how is it caused?

Mom holding babyAcid reflux is what happens when the contents of the stomach comes back up into the oesophagus. The oesophagus is a tube that connects the mouth to the stomach, and carries any food you eat to your stomach. Where the oesophagus connects to the stomach, there is a ring of muscle, called the lower oesophageal sphincter. This muscle normally opens when you swallow, to allow food to pass into the stomach. If the lower oesophageal sphincter isn’t closing properly, it will allow any stomach contents and digestive juices to flow back up into the oesophagus. This is known as acid reflux.

Can acid reflux affect infants?

Infants are very prone to acid reflux, as their lower oesophageal sphincter is often weak or underdeveloped, meaning it struggles to close properly and prevent stomach contents from flowing back up into the oesophagus. It is estimated that at least half of all infants will experience some sort of acid reflux. This condition is usually at its peak when infants are at 4 months of age, and tends to go away on its own between 12 and 18 months of age. It is unusual for symptoms of acid reflux to continue past 24 months of age. If they do, your child may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is more severe than acid reflux.

How can I recognize if my baby has acid reflux?

There are 10 common signs that your infant may show if they are dealing with acid reflux or GERD. There are:

1. Spitting up and vomiting – it is normal for infants to spit up, however if they are spitting up forcefully it may be a symptom of acid reflux. If you child is over 12 months old and is still spitting up forcefully after meals, this is even more likely to be a symptom of acid reflux or GERD. Spitting up in infants is usually painless, if their spitting up seems to be causing them pain, it is likely a symptom of acid reflux. If they are spitting up blood, or green or yellow fluid, this can also be a symptom of GERD.

2. Refusing to eat, difficulty eating or swallowing – if your infant is suffering from acid reflux, they may refuse to eat, due to the pain and irritation that is caused from feeding.

3. Irritability during feeding – if your baby is screaming and crying during feeding, this may be due to abdominal discomfort they are feeling, and this could be due to acid reflux.

4. Wet burps or wet hiccups – a wet burp or hiccup is when a baby spits up liquid when the burp or hiccup, and this can be a symptom of acid reflux.

5. Failing to gain weight or weight loss – if your baby is suffering from acid reflux or GERD this can lead to excessive vomiting and poor feeding, which in turn can lead to a failure to gain weight or even weight loss in more serious cases.

6. Abnormal arching – when stomach contents flow back up into the oesophagus it can cause a painful burning sensation, and this can cause your baby to arch their body during or after feeding. This usually happens along with spitting up and/or a refusal to eat. Abnormal arching can also be due to a neurologic problem, so it is important to get your baby checked out if they are doing this, to figure out the reason they are abnormally arching.

7. Frequent coughing or recurrent pneumonia – if your baby is coughing regularly it may be due to food or stomach acid flowing back up into their oesophagus and into the back of their throat. This regurgitated food can also be inhaled into the lungs, which can lead to pneumonia. GERD can also lead to other respiratory problems, such as asthma.

8. Gagging or choking – if your baby’s stomach contents are flowing back into their oesophagus, it can cause them to gag or choke. The position that your baby is in can have an effect on this happening, as gravity helps to keep stomach contents down. It is best to keep your baby upright for least 30 minutes after feeing to prevent food from coming back up and causing them to gag or choke.

9. Chest pain or heartburn – this can be hard to recognise in infants, but if they appear agitated or in pain, it may be due to chest pain that is often caused by acid reflux.

10. Disturbed sleep – your baby may struggle to sleep through the night if they are suffering from acid reflux. Try not to feed your baby directly before bed, so that the food in their stomach has the chance to settle, and minimise the chance of it flowing back up into their oesophagus and disturbing their sleep.

How can chiropractic help with acid reflux in infants?

The nerve system is protected by the spine, and when areas of the spine become misaligned and stop moving properly, this can cause stress on the nervous system. Your nervous system is how your brain and body communicate, and if there is interference to this system, your body is not going to be functioning at its best.

This also goes for your gastro-oesophageal system. It needs correct nerve connectivity to be able to function at its best, and interference to the nerve system can lead to issues, such as acid reflux. If the nerves that attach to the lower oesophageal sphincter aren’t functioning correctly, this is going to allow weakness and dysfunction of the lower oesophageal sphincter to happen, and will slow down the development of this muscle. This can contribute to making acid reflux worse in your baby, and may prolong the amount of time that your baby suffers from acid reflux.

Chiropractors are able to locate the areas of the spine that are misaligned and causing nerve interference, and adjust them, in order to get the spine and nervous system functioning at their best. This improves the connection between your brain and lower oesophageal sphincter, and will help to strengthen this muscle up, which will in turn help to decrease or even stop the amount of acid reflux your baby may be dealing with.

You need to have a well functioning nervous system for the rest of your body to function at its best. This is true in all people, including infants. However, when chiropractors adjust babies, it is very different to how adults are adjusted. The techniques used on babies are extremely gentle, and use about as much pressure as you would use to take a pulse. There is no ‘cracking’ of joints when it comes to babies. Chiropractic care for babies is extremely gentle, safe, and effective, and is something you should try if your baby is suffering from acid reflux.