Trouble Digesting Breast Milk? How to Remedy Infant Acid Reflux
If your newborn infant is not properly digesting breast milk, your doctor may suggest that you feed your baby formula. In extreme cases, a doctor will recommend an infant dose of prescription antacids.
Infant acid reflux occurs in about half of all babies during the first three months after birth. As common as infant acid reflux is, it is a condition that tends to resolve itself as the baby grows – usually between 9 and 12 months old.
In some babies, the valve that separates the esophagus from the stomach is weak and still gaining muscular tone. This valve is called the lower esophageal sphincter.
When breast milk enters the stomach, the lower esophageal sphincter contracts. This contraction prevents both food and stomach acid from rising up into the esophagus. When the sphincter fails to fully close, stomach acid and partially digested breast milk reflux back up into the esophagus. This irritates the esophageal lining and causes pain.
For new parents, infant acid reflux can be alarming. A baby may cry more than usual, sometimes for hours at a time. And parents may worry that their baby is not getting all the necessary nutrients.
Formula, which doctors will often recommend, may seem like a suitable alternative to breast milk. Especially when recommend by your pediatrician. However, there are many benefits to breastfeeding your baby that formula does not offer:
- Breast milk encourages the naturally permeable lining of an infant’s gut to heal.
- Breast milk inoculates the baby’s digestive tract with beneficial bacteria.
- Breast milk educates the baby’s immune system.
One way to nourish a baby’s inner ecosystem is to place a few drops of cultured vegetable juice on your baby’s tongue.
The juice from a batch of lacto-fermented veggies is full of beneficial microorganisms that immediately begin to improve digestion. Improving digestion means that your baby is receiving maximum nutrient value.
It is important to find a fermented vegetable or sauerkraut from a source that you trust or to make your own with the Culture Starter. Store-bought brands can be poor in quality.
In India, ghee is revered as a sacred food that cultivates life force. Made from butter, ghee is filtered and clarified. The proteins typically present in butter are removed. This makes ghee uncommonly safe for those who have sensitivity to dairy. In India, ghee is considered an essential digestive tonic.
According to ancient Indian tradition, newborns are immediately given a small pat of ghee to suck on. (1) This practice, which is still carried out today, is said to improve the digestion and assimilation of nutrients. Ghee also promotes healthy elimination. (2)
In addition to strengthening digestion, ghee is full of important fatty acids that sustain energy and fuel the development of brain function. More than 50% of the nutrients in breast milk are in the form of fats. Fat satisfies a baby so that it can sleep soundly through the night.
Sometimes a baby’s inability to feed has to do with a little piece of skin that unites the baby’s tongue to the floor of the mouth.
A tongue-tie, also called anklyoglossia, results in an infant being unable to fully latch onto a mother’s breast.
Signs of a tongue-tie are:
- Acid Reflux or GERD
- Clicking sounds while breastfeeding
- Poor weight gain and failure to thrive
- Irritability during and after breastfeeding
In extreme cases, a tongue-tied infant will be placed on formula, given medications, screened for Crohn’s disease, and even given a barium swallow test – often before a tongue-tie is ever considered.
According to pediatric dentist Lawrence Kotlow, babies that express colic or reflux symptoms should first have an oral exam. If there is a tongue-tie, switching over to formula or putting an infant on prescription medications will do little to correct the problem or improve an infant’s ability to thrive. (3)
This is true for both infants and adults. In a baby, prescription antacids can actually lead to a decline in overall health. (4)(5)
Because antacid medications reduce the highly acid environment of the stomach, this can actually make the body more susceptible to gut infections.
This is bad news for a colicky baby that is put on antacids: an infant’s gut is naturally permeable at birth and can sometimes take several months to fully seal.
Just recently, the FDA announced that prescription antacids could promote infection of Clostridium difficile bacteria. (6) An infection of C. difficile, which causes diarrhea, is especially dangerous for infants because they are sensitive to water loss.
What to Remember Most About This Article:
Conventional methods to remedy infant acid reflux, such as switching to formula or using prescription antacids, do not solve the underlying cause of the symptoms. What can be done?
- You can safely and effectively nourish your baby with small pats of grass-fed ghee.
- Giving your infant a dropper-sized dose of fermented kefir or the liquid from a batch of cultured vegetables encourages a healthy inner ecosystem. This is absolutely necessary in order to fully break down the nutrients in breast milk.
- Check for a tongue-tie. Fussiness during breastfeeding or signs of acid reflux may have to do with a baby’s inability to properly feed.
- Unless you make your own formula at home with nourishing ingredients, infant formula can permanently and negatively influence the microflora of your baby’s intestinal tract.
- Prescription antacids are designed to make the environment of the stomach less acidic. In both adults and babies, this opens the body up to a gut infection since the stomach’s acidity is one of the body’s first lines of defense.
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- Laroia N, Sharma D. The religious and cultural bases for breastfeeding practices among the Hindus. Breastfeed Med. 2006;1:94-98.
- Kathleen M. McKenna, et al. Practice of Prelacteal Feeding to Newborns Among Hindu and Muslim Families: Prelacteal Feeding Among Hindu Families. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2009;54(1):78-81.
- Kotlow, Lawrence. Infant Reflux and Aerophagia Associated with the Maxillary Lip-tie and Ankyloglossia (Tongue-tie). Clinical Lactation. 2011; 2-4; 25 – 29.
- JJ Baudon. [Gastroesophageal reflux in infants: myths and realities]. Arch Pediatr. 2009 May; 16 (5): 468 – 473.
- Y. Vandenplas, et al. The diagnosis and management of gastro-oesophageal reflux in infants. Early Hum Dev. 2005 Dec; 81 (12): 1011 – 1024.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA Drug Safety Communication: Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea can be associated with stomach acid drugs known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm290510.htm