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Natural Remedies for Infant Acid Reflux

Posted May 14 2009 4:59pm 1 Comment

wailing baby

Got a restless little sleeper? A baby who just seems uncomfortable most of the time? I’m no doctor but I’m a mom who survived a baby with colic and reflux. Yup, sleepless nights for what seemed like an eternity, feeling helpless looking at my baby girl writhing around in pain/discomfort, teetering on the edge of insanity as I started back to work.

If only someone had told me…

After four months of Emerson being up every 1-2 hours at night, and taking short, restless naps, and not sleeping comfortably anywhere—with me, in a moses basket, in her crib—I was at the end of my rope. Our pediatrician’s “She’s just not a good sleeper” response was not enough for me—clearly something was wrong. She was in pain! I googled “infant restless sleep” and bought every sleep book in existence to find an answer. I finally found it in Dr Sears’s The Baby Sleep Book.

First, let me say that I had discounted the possibility of reflux because Emerson had stopped spitting up at around two and a half months. Then I read Sears’s explanation of reflux…he explains that children don’t have to be constantly spitting up to have reflux.

In fact, babies with reflux who don’t spit up can actually be worse off because stomach acid actually comes up from the stomach and sits in the esophagus burning it, instead of being ejected. Sears continued to say that, often, the reflux pattern is this: it starts at around four weeks with pain and some spitting up; the spitting up peaks at around two months when reflux babies are feeding constantly to push the acid out of their esophagus and sooth the pain.

Of course this is a self-reinforcing downward spiral because, the more the baby eats, the more they spit up because they are over eating and their stomachs are over full. Reflux pain peaks around four months which is when babies are extremely uncomfortable and any progress you’ve made on linking hours of sleep together starts to go backward real fast. Reflux then usually dissipates by around seven or eight months. This is exactly how it went for Emerson.

Sadly, many pediatricians don’t recognize the symptoms of reflux, particularly if your baby doesn’t spit up much (particularly once you are past the 2-month spit up peak and now several months into your journey to insanity). If they do diagnose reflux, they will often prescribe one of several adult medications that have not been thoroughly tested for safety on infants.  I was hellbent on avoiding medication, in keeping with my eco-mommydom, though, it was tempting on more than a few sleepless nights to attempt to fix this problem with a pill. Happily we found some natural remedies that worked!

Here is what we did:

1. We raised Emerson’s head where she slept.

Sears suggests raising the head of the baby’s head, be it on your bed, her crib, or co-sleeper to a 30-40% angle. The first night we raised Emerson’s crib head (by placing the crib wheels on dad’s toolboxes), she slept two, four-hour chunks, followed by a three-hour chunk. It was a bloody miracle! If you don’t want to raise the whole crib head, you can buy a reflux sleeping wedge to place in the crib. If you are co-sleeping in your bed, you can raise your bed head (and perhaps you’ll sleep better too!). If raising the head of a bed/crib/co-sleeper, you can use side sleeping wedges if he/she falls sideways, and, if you have her/him in a co-sleeper or crib side-car arrangement, put pillows along side the crib so that, if they roll out, they have a soft (maybe fun) ramp down to your bed. I have a friend who always keeps her babies’ heads raised (she’s had three) for the first few months because she thinks most babies have some level of reflux (if only she had told me that…).

2. We gave her ColicCalm, a homeopathic remedy that works.

No, I don’t get paid to promote ColicCalm. My circle of mommy friends kept talking about gripe water. I tried one from our pharmacy that Emerson instantly threw up (three times). Then a friend told me to try ColicCalm which is vegetable charcoal based (soaks up the acid) with calming herbs like chamomile and nettle. The stuff seems to work and it’s one of the only homeopathic medications on the market which is regulated by the USDA.

3. I fed her upright and kept her upright after feeding for 30 minutes.

Reflux is caused partly by having a not fully formed esophagal sphincter so, when baby is laying down during or right after a feeding, what goes down comes back up, with some stomach acid mixed in. If you keep baby’s head up, he/she will be much more comfortable and more prone to lay down peacefully after a 30 minute wait.

4. I tried to not let her overfeed.

When you are pretty sure your baby’s fist-sized stomach is full and he/she is just sucking for comfort, find something else for him/her to suck on so that he/she doesn’t get overfull (e.g. a finger, thumb, or pacifier).

We gave her lots of love.

Try to remember when you are at your wit’s end and feeling like no matter what you do, your kid is uncomfortable and crying so you might as well just put her/him down, that your baby needs you. They are truly uncomfortable or in significant pain and need your comfort. Even if they are crying in your arms, they at least know they are loved and being cared for versus being abandoned to deal with the pain by themselves.

In parting, if you found this post as a desperate parent looking for ways to get your sanity back, know that many others have been here before you and that you will, in fact, get your sanity back. I only hope you’ve found this post sooner than I found similar information so that you might get your baby, and you, sleeping sooner than we did!

Image Credit: squiggles at flickr under Creative Commons License

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