As the parent of a baby with acid reflux, you may feel helpless at times to ease your child’s suffering. Babies spend most of their days eating, and eating is what causes their pain. With acid reflux, the food in your child’s stomach surges back up into the esophagus, resulting in a host of uncomfortable symptoms. Speak to your pediatrician about your child’s condition. He may instruct you to thicken your baby’s formula or breast milk with rice cereal to reduce reflux discomfort.
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Why Do Babies Spit Up?
Almost all babies spit up frequently throughout the day, but they usually outgrow the habit between 12 and 14 months. Spitting up occurs because the lower esophageal sphincter, or valve between your baby’s esophagus and stomach, is underdeveloped. It’s not strong enough to prevent stomach contents from regurgitating back up into the esophagus. If your baby is gaining weight on schedule and generally content, it’s not a concern. If, however, your baby vomits, coughs or gags; is irritable during feedings; or refuses to eat and isn’t gaining weight, contact your pediatrician about these symptoms of acid reflux.
Why Rice Cereal?
Babies are less likely to spit up milk or formula that has been thickened. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse recommends that parents thicken their baby’s formula with 1 tablespoon of rice cereal for every 2 ounces of formula. Purchase larger nipple sizes for bottles so that the formula still flows, or cut a small ‘x’ into the nipple. You can also purchase pre-thickened formulas. These formulas are more expensive, but they maintain the nutrient content and avoid the increase in carbohydrate calories that you get from adding rice cereal.
What Else You Can Do
To reduce reflux symptoms, hold your baby upright for 30 minutes after each feeding or place him in a semi-reclined position on his stomach after eating -- unless he’s going to sleep. Babies should always be placed on their backs when sleeping. Feed your baby small, frequent meals, which prevents him from overeating and worsening reflux symptoms. Burp your baby after every 1 to 2 ounces, or after feeding on each breast for breastfed babies, to pace his feedings. If your baby’s symptoms don’t improve, speak with your pediatrician. A small number of infants may need medication to alleviate acid reflux, and ensure proper growth and development.
If your infant is 3 months of age or younger, wait out his spitting-up episodes before introducing rice cereal. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding as your baby’s only nutritional source for the first 6 months. Your baby’s digestive system needs time to mature before it can handle anything but formula or breast milk. If you wait until 6 months, you also protect your child from illness, risk for food allergies, obesity and iron-deficiency anemia.