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Infants and Acid Reflux

Infant acid reflux is quite common. People of all ages, especially infants because they consume only liquids or soft foods, suffer from mild heartburn or acidic regurgitation on occasion. As in adult cases, infants experience acid reflux when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is relaxed. The LES acts as a valve between the esophagus and the stomach. It opens up to allow food into the stomach and then closes in order to protect the esophagus and other organs from acidic reflux. Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine if an infant has developed a chronic form of heartburn called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.

In order to determine if an infant has a chronic form of heartburn (GERD) you should consult your pediatrician. Look for clues such as sleeping problems, coughing, weight loss, lack of appetite, spitting up frequently, and apnea. Acid reflux disease can cause respiratory problems including pneumonia, strictures and ulcerations on the esophageal wall, and malnourishment. Infant acid reflux symptoms usually include recurrent coughing, bad breath, spitting up frequently, unusual irritability and crying, chest pain, and sore throat. There are several causes of acid reflux in infants.

Many of the causes are exacerbated by the fact that infants, much more so than adults, consume mostly liquids and spend a great deal of time on their backs or in a supine position. Combined with the backwash potential of liquids, lying down puts pressure on the LES (esophagus valve) and increases the chances for reflux. Other causes could be attributed to the anatomy of a child’s stomach position, poor eating habits, smoking (second hand), being overweight, and food allergies. In addition to GERD, infants can be diagnosed with a functional version of acid reflux. This condition can be improved with simple modifications such as changing eating habits, keeping the child upright after eating, and encouragement. GERD, or the chronic disease, requires medical treatment by a physician, prescription drug therapy, as well as lifestyle changes.


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