Acid reflux in kids is common, and acid reflux in toddlers even more so. This is due to the fact that their esophageal system is still developing and does not function as efficiently as an adult's does. Luckily, some simple changes — both dietary and lifestyle — can reduce acid reflux in children.
Best Foods for Acid Reflux
It's important to make sure your child eats a balanced diet, but this balance does not just relate to balancing food types. The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders notes that it also relates to balancing the amount of acidic food your child eats with the amount of alkaline food she eats.
Achieving this balance can greatly reduce the occurrence of acid reflux, as it reduces the overall acidity in the stomach. However, it is not the easiest thing in the world to provide a child with a perfectly balanced diet. They are notoriously picky eaters, and if the potential of acid reflux is added to this, the scope of food a child may be willing to try is even more narrow.
Luckily, there are more foods available that are safe to eat than you might initially assume. Alkaline foods are a safe option as they work to balance the stomach acid, so they reduce the likelihood of excess acid, which can lead to reflux. Alkaline foods are predominantly made up of fruits, vegetables and drinking lots of water. Exceptions of course apply, for instance lemons and grapefruits are both highly acidic, but cucumbers and avocados are both safe alkaline options.
An October 2017 study published in the_ JAMA Journal of Otolaryngol Head and Neck Surgery_ found that a plant-based diet and alkaline water is actually just as effective in reducing stomach acidity as specifically prescribed medication. Your child's diet can have an enormous impact on how their stomach functions and may effectively reduce the frequency of acid reflux.
If your child is suffering with acid reflux and seems to be eating a very narrow diet, it may be worth considering liquid nutrient supplements. Of course, the best way for a child to get his daily nutrients is through a balanced diet, but sometimes this is hard to achieve.
Worst Foods for Acid Reflux
Instead of immediately adopting a rather beige and uninteresting diet, first consider some of the worst offenders when it comes to acid reflux and remove these foods as necessary.
- Carbonated beverages: Fizzy soda can be bad for children in many ways, but when it comes to acid reflux in kids it is even worse. The bubbles expand in the stomach and cause pressure and strain, which hinders the digestive process and can result in increased acidity.
- Chocolate: Unfortunately, chocolate is one of the worst foods for acid reflux in kids. The combination of cocoa, fat and caffeine provide a trio of negative components that cause acidity.
- Citrus fruits: Oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit are all particularly bad for acidity, so skip them when providing healthy fruits in a child's diet.
- Fried foods: French fries, onion rings and fried chicken should be avoided if possible, as well as other varieties of fried foods. Oven-cooked or roasted are perfectly acceptable alternatives.
- Late night snacking: Children should avoid eating at least two hours before bedtime to lessen digestive issues and increased acidity.
- Tomatoes: The vegetable itself, and foods made with it, such as marinara sauce, tomato soup and ketchup.
All of the above should be considered reflux foods to avoid due to their high acidity and how they may exacerbate the pH balance of your little one's stomach.
Acid Reflux in Toddlers
Creating a diet appropriate for older kids is a challenge in itself, but for younger children, such as toddlers, it can be even more difficult.
Acid reflux in toddlers is rather common because the esophageal sphincter, the gateway between the stomach and the esophagus, is not fully formed in the early stages of life. This means the acid produced in the stomach is not always sufficiently prevented from staying in the stomach, and will flow back up through the esophagus in the form of acid reflux.
- Crankiness: If a baby or toddler seems to cry more or is increasingly distressed following meals, this could be due to stomach pain or cramps from the acidity.
- Regurgitation: Frequent vomiting or regurgitation from acid reflux is a common sign that there is too much acid in the stomach which is passing through the esophageal sphincter.
- Inability to gain weight: A toddler suffering with acid reflux may not be gaining weight properly. This can be due to a lack of willingness to eat because of discomfort, or it may be because the child is not getting the nutrition she needs due to regurgitation.
When it comes to treatment of acid reflux in toddlers, there are a few options you can try. Diet alterations can be challenging, as many toddlers already have a somewhat restricted diet to begin with.
Luckily, it is not just the type of food eaten that can contribute to acid reflux, so there are some lifestyle changes that can be made to alleviate discomfort caused by stomach acidity. These include:
- Meal sizes: Instead of three large meals, opt for more frequent smaller portions. This allows your toddler's stomach to accept the food easier and also means the stomach is not quite as full when eating, so there is less likelihood of overflow leading to acid reflux.
- Positioning: Seat your toddler in an upright position both during and after mealtimes so that gravity can help to keep food in the stomach.
- Sleeping: If your toddler's head is elevated slightly during sleep, the acid reflux can be reduced. To elevate, place blocks under the legs of the bed, but do not add additional pillows
— this can be dangerous for youngsters.
If you have modified your child's diet and have tried adjusting mealtimes and sleeping positions with no success, contact your usual health care professional for advice — there are certain medications that can help.
- Great Ormond Street Hospital: "Gastro-oesophageal Reflux"
- University Hospitals: "The Best and Worst Foods for Acid Reflux"
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Diet Changes for GERD"
- MD Anderson Cancer Center: "The Alkaline Diet"
- JAMA Network: "A Comparison of Alkaline Water and Mediterranean Diet vs Proton Pump Inhibition for Treatment of Laryngopharyngeal Reflux"