Are you frantic about your baby’s screaming and constant spit-up? Worried that your baby might be suffering from infant acid reflux and hoping to find some natural home remedies to help soothe your baby without meds?
Acid reflux is fairly common in babies, particularly in preemies. However, it’s heartbreaking having to watch your baby in discomfort and pain. You just want to be able to do all that you can to make her feel better and help her keep her meals down.
So, what can you do at home to help treat your baby’s reflux?
In this post, we’ll talk about what infant acid reflux is, what causes it, and signs that your baby may have it. We’ll also cover why medication is not advised and give you natural remedies to help soothe your baby’s acid reflux.
What Is Infant Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux, also commonly known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER), occurs when the esphogal sphincter, a muscular valve, doesn’t fully close and allows food, and acid, to flow from your stomach, back up to into your esophagus.
Think of this valve as a “trap door” to your baby’s stomach and their reflux is happening because it has a glitch.
This causes a burning sensation in your baby’s esophagus, chest, and throat and creates great discomfort and pain.
Sometimes this regurgitation comes out of your baby’s mouth as spit up or projectile vomit, while other times it’s not clearly visible and your baby re-swallows their spit-up. This is referred to as silent reflux.
There’s also GERD, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, which is a much more severe form of acid reflux. GERD interferes with your baby’s ability to grow and thrive and causes breathing problems, dismissal to eat, and a poor immune system.
You’ll want to speak with your baby’s doctor right away if you’re suspecting GERD.
What Causes Acid Reflux in Babies?
Despite its name, acid reflux is not a disease of having too much acid in the stomach. Rather, it’s the act of acid coming out of the stomach (where it’s supposed to be) up into the chest and throat (where it should NOT be).
This is what’s causing your baby’s irritability and uncomfortableness and could be derived from a number of reasons:
- Immature digestive system: Most often baby acid reflux is the simple result of a weak and immature digestive system. This is why acid reflux is much more common in preemies. As their digestive systems mature, they’ll start to show less and less signs of acid reflux.
- Oral ties: Lip and tongue ties are also common culprits for symptoms of infant acid reflux. It’s best to have your baby checked for these by an international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC). Here’s a great article for understanding the relation of oral ties to acid reflux.
- Oversupply: Too much breast milk may sound like a good thing, but it can actually cause a wide range of issues for you and your baby. Too much breast milk can cause your baby to overeat, increasing the odds of stomach content making its way back up.
- Overactive letdown: A strong letdown can make it difficult for your baby to nurse without choking/gagging and keeping things down.
- Food intolerance: Your baby may be intolerant to something you’re eating or an ingredient in the formula you’re feeding her. This often causes an uncomfortable stomach, sending signals to expel what doesn’t belong.
- Helicobacter pylori infection: Many physicians believe that high amounts of H. pylori bacteria in the stomach is often responsible for causing symptoms of acid reflux (source). This causes an imbalance in the stomach, allowing more acid to move upward into the esophagus.
- Hiatal hernia: In severe cases, a hiatal hernia should be considered as a possibility. A hiatal hernia occurs when a portion of your stomach protrudes through an opening in the diaphragm and could be the result of a birth defect or injury/trauma. Hiatal hernias are very rare in babies, but could be very dangerous if ignored (source).
How Do I Know If My Baby Has Acid Reflux?
The severity of acid reflux in babies can range from mild to severe. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Frequent regurgitation
- Projectile vomiting
- Irritability and arching back in pain (particularly during and after feedings)
- Foul/sour smelling breath
- Difficulty eating (choking and gagging during feedings)
- Refusal to eat
- Persistent wheezing, coughing, and noisy breathing
- Poor weight gain
Why Medication Is Not Advised
Many physicians still prescribe rice cereal, Zantac, and other proton pump inhibitors for infant acid reflux. Unfortunately, this is outdated, and potentially even dangerous, information.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) came out with a statement just last year that advises against the use of these medications. This statement quotes “There is a lack of evidence that medication provides relief from GER and emerging evidence shows that the pharmacologic treatment options may even be harmful.” They suggest that medication for GER should be used sparingly, if at all (source).
Zantac and other proton pump inhibitors come with a wide range of side effects, including headaches, nausea/vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and severe constipation. Not to mention, these can often make the condition even worse.
As for the rice cereal, it’s actually quite dangerous to put this in your baby’s bottle. First of all, it’s a choking hazard, and secondly, if your baby is under 6 months of age, then her digestive system will not be mature enough to process solid foods properly (source). Plus, most rice cereal contains gluten, which could be a potential allergen for your newborn.
All in all, it’s best to avoid meds (and rice cereal) and stick with natural remedies to help treat your baby’s reflux.
Natural Remedies for Your Baby's Acid Reflux
Most babies outgrow their acid reflux as their digestive systems mature.
However, you need to keep your baby comfortable in the meantime, and there are some effective tools to help speed up the healing process.
Listed below are 11 all-natural home remedies for your baby’s acid reflux.
Please note, even though these are at-home remedies, it’s always best to consult with your baby’s provider before proceeding forward.
1. Adjust Feeding Positions
When you’re nursing or feeding your baby a bottle, try to keep her upright at a 40 degree angle. This will help discourage food and acid from coming back up.
You’ll also want to lean back while nursing if you think you have an overactive letdown. This will help slow the flow down and make feeding more comfortable for your baby. This was a big help for my baby and I.
2. Keep Upright After Feedings
Along with keeping your baby upright during feedings, you’ll also want to keep her upright following feedings.
Try to prop her up at at least a 45 degree angle for 20-30 minutes after each feeding. Consider placing your baby in the carrier, setting her in a bouncy chair, or propping her up in a Boppy Lounger.
Just remember to supervise your baby while using these devices.
3. Elevate While Sleeping
Most infants with acid reflux have trouble sleeping. Lying flat on their back allows food and acid to move upwards into the esophagus more easily, causing discomfort for your baby.
Try elevating your baby in a more up-right position while she’s sleeping. But, please be smart about this.
Bouncers and swings are great for naps, as long as you’re keeping an eye on your baby. A baby carrier also works great for nap time.
For bedtime, it’s best to use a thin crib wedge or roll a towel or two UNDER your baby’s mattress to help elevate her head. Do NOT place blankets and towels in with your baby, as this increases the risk for SIDS.
4. Stick with Shorter, More Frequent Feedings
Changing your baby’s feeding regimen to smaller, more frequent meals will help her stomach to digest breast milk/formula more efficiently.
It will also help regulate the production of digestion enzymes, reducing the amount of reflux.
5. Try a Different Formula
If you’re formula feeding, then you may want to talk to your pediatrician about switching your baby to either a pre-thickened or hypoallergenic formula.
Pre-thickened formula is not the same as rice cereal and requires no measurement experiments on your part. Many moms have had success with Similac for Spit Up and Enfamil A+ Thickened (same as Enfamil AR). Do keep in mind that these are still cow milk-based.
But, there’s also a wonderful organic option from the European company, HiPP. Their formula is free of GMOs, gluten, maltodextrin, corn syrup and added sugars. And, the company uses milk comes from grass-fed cows raised on Demeter farms.
The only trouble with this brand is that it’s not FDA approved for sale within the US. But, you can certainly order it and have it shipped from Germany here.
6. Do an Elimination Diet
If you’re breastfeeding, I highly recommend cutting out dairy. This was a HUGE help with my little one.
Keep in mind that it may take a whole month of being dairy-free before seeing results.
If cutting out dairy alone doesn’t seem to do the trick, then you may also want to consider eliminating the following foods from your diet on top of that:
- Carbonated beverages
- Anything citrusy
- Spicy foods
- Artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives
7. Add in Probiotics
Healing your baby’s gut with daily probiotics will help restore balance in her delicate tummy.
It will help soothe the stomach and vamp up function of the digestive system.
If you’re breastfeeding, you could take the probiotics yourself or add fermented foods into your diet.
You could also give the probiotics directly to your baby, as there are several formulas specifically made for little ones now.
I know many moms, including myself, who used and loved BioGaia Probiotic Drops. These contain 100 million live L. reuteri, which naturally occurs in breast milk. They also contain Vitamin D, which helps rid the body of disease and infection and is now recommended as a supplement for infants by most pediatricians.
Probiotics may be all it takes before you have a much happier baby on your hands.
8. Try Infant Massage
Another effective tool for baby acid reflux is massage therapy.
We did this every night with our reflux baby, and she loved it. It also seemed to reduce her symptoms quite a bit.
When you massage your baby’s tummy, you’ll be stimulating the vagus nerve, which controls the digestive and respiratory systems.
Grab some fractionated coconut oil or olive oil and rub your baby’s belly in downward strokes to help prevent regurgitation into their esophagus.
Massaging in circular, clockwise, motions and doing bicycle legs with your baby will also help keep things down. Be sure you’re going clockwise though, because that is the way the digestive tract runs. Going counter-clockwise could worsen your baby’s systems.
9. Get Ties Clipped
If your baby is diagnosed with a tongue/lip tie, then getting it clipped may be an immediate answer to your baby’s acid reflux.
Again, it’s best to consult with an IBCLC to check for ties, and then get referred to a pediatric dentist or ENT to discuss the procedure.
Getting your baby’s tie(s) clipped will help give their tongue and lips full mobility, which will help control the amount of milk they’re taking in, reduce the amount of air being swallowed, and stimulate the nerve that connects the brain to their digestive system.
10. Doses of Ginger and Chamomile
Chamomile and Ginger are great natural alternatives to synthetic drugs.
Ginger is well known for it’s digestive properties. It protects the stomach by blocking acid and suppressing bad bacteria.
The sedative and antispasmodic properties of chamomile aid in the digestive process and reduce symptoms of acid reflux.
You can give your baby both of these remedies in one dose of Colic Calm Gripe Water. This homeopathic medicine works wonders for settling reflux discomforts.
11. Consider Chiropractic Care
Many reflux moms swear by chiropractic care.
Getting adjustments can help remove interference in the nervous system and allow your baby’s body to function at it’s fullest.
And while chiropractic care won’t cure your baby’s reflux, it could certainly help diminish several symptoms.
Try consulting a pediatric chiropractor in your area for your baby’s next adjustment.
To Sum It Up...
Acid reflux is uncomfortable, and even downright painful, for your baby. The frequent regurgitation causes a burning sensation in her throat and chest, making it hard for her to eat, difficult to gain weight, and just plain fussy.
Luckily, most reflux is caused by an immature digestive system and will typically go away as your baby gets older. Many babies also have hidden tongue or lip ties, in which a simple clipping could provide an immediate answer to your baby’s reflux.
In the meantime, help settle your baby and help her keep her meals down by keeping her upright during and after feedings, sticking with shorter, more frequent meals, and eliminating dairy or switching to a hypoallergenic formula. You could also try adding in probiotics, giving doses of chamomile and ginger, or even taking your baby to a chiropractor to get an adjustment.
Did You Find This Post Helpful?
Did any of these natural remedies help soothe your baby? Share your best acid reflux tips in the comments below and be sure to share this post with other new mamas.