How to help children with reflux

By naturopath Margaret Jasinska

Acid reflux is an extremely common digestive problem in both adults and children. In children, it can significantly disrupt sleep, mood and nutrient absorption. Untreated reflux can cause health problems, but so can the medication most commonly given by doctors. Fortunately, in most cases there are a number of safe and effective natural solutions.

A leading paediatric gastroenterologist is worried about the harmful effects of stomach acid blocking drugs in young children and babies. Dr Eric Hassall has found that use of proton pump inhibitors grew exponentially for babies less than a year old in the past decade. Proton pump inhibitors are powerful drugs that block the ability of the stomach to produce acid. They are commonly given to adults who suffer with heartburn, acid reflux and regurgitation. Common examples include Nexium, Losec and Somac. Dr Hassall blames advertising by pharmaceutical companies for the rise in use, as well as incorrect diagnoses.

He stated that the majority of these babies don’t actually have acid reflux. One study that examined data from more than 1 million babies found a seven-fold rise in the amount of acid reflux medication prescribed to infants between the years 1999 and 2004. The FDA has never approved the use of proton pump inhibitors in infants under one year of age because no studies have ever been conducted to confirm their effectiveness or safety. It is well known that the use of these drugs in adults is highly risky because there are several potentially serious side effects.

Stomach acid is good for you . It is necessary for adequate digestion as well as inhibiting the growth of harmful microbes in the gastrointestinal tract. Adults who take proton pump inhibitors are at increased risk of kidney disease, dementia, osteoporosis and severe bowel infections. These drugs cause several nutrient deficiencies, particularly magnesium and B vitamins. It is not ideal to prescribe them to young infants.

Digestive problems in infants are usually the result of food intolerance or allergy. Changing the diet (or changing mum’s diet if she is breast feeding) is usually an effective strategy for reducing symptoms. Glutamine can be very healing and soothing to the lining of the digestive tract. It is found in bone broth, raw cabbage juice and it can be taken as a supplement.

The stomach produces a lot of hydrochloric acid during eating and for good reason, because without it, you cannot digest protein efficiently and you will not absorb calcium, magnesium and other minerals from foods. There is a circular muscle around the lower oesophagus, which divides it from the stomach, and  this  normally remains contracted to prevent backflow of stomach acid.  During swallowing, this muscle normally relaxes, allowing food to pass from the oesophagus into the stomach, after which it should remain contracted. If this circular muscle becomes weakened or too relaxed, reflux can occur after meals.

Natural therapies that may help reflux

Food intolerance is sometimes the sole cause of reflux in children. The following foods are the most common culprits: cow’s milk, wheat, gluten, soy, corn, eggs and nuts. It is worth removing those foods from your child’s diet for a month to see if there is an improvement in symptoms.

  • Meal sizes should be small to moderate in size, as large meals increase pressure inside the stomach.
  • Don’t give your child too much fluid to drink with meals, as this can dilute digestive secretions. Fluids can be consumed between meals.
  • The evening meal should be at least 3 hours before retiring to bed.
  • If your child is constipated, reflux and bloating may be worse. If a healthy diet and excluding food allergens isn’t enough to help them go to the toilet, the natural fibre in Fibretone powder may help.
  • Removing sugar from the diet can usually reduce symptoms of heartburn and reflux.
  • Sometimes a low FODMAP diet is necessary to get reflux under control. FODMAPs are fermentable carbohydrates that can increase gas production in the digestive tract.


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