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Tips on Helping Your Baby Though Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Gastroesophageal reflux disease -- more commonly known as GERD -- can cause your baby pain and lead you to despair. GERD is more severe than gastroesophageal reflux, or infant spitting caused by an immature lower esophageal sphincter, the valve between the stomach and esophagus. While GERD in infants is generally a self-limiting condition, usually resolving by age 12 months, it can make infants and parents alike miserable while it lasts. However, over 80 percent of babies who experience GERD improve with conservative measures, according to Wolters Kluwer Health.

RELATED: GERD: MedlinePlus

Diagnosing GERD

As many as 70 to 85 percent of infants have gastroesophageal reflux and spit up in their first few months, according to a February 2013 article in "Pediatric Drugs." It generally doesn't cause any distressing symptoms beyond stains on clothing and furniture. GERD, however, causes pain and can damage the esophagus over time, as stomach acid makes its way into the esophagus and back of the throat. GERD can cause a baby to choke, gag, arch his back during feedings and refuse to eat. He may fail to gain weight and be diagnosed with failure to thrive.

Positioning Techniques That Help

You can help decrease your baby's discomfort from GERD with simple feeding techniques. If you bottle-feed your baby, hold the bottle on an angle to ensure that no air enters the nipple. If you breastfeed and have copious amounts of milk at letdown, express a little milk before putting the baby on the breast so that he doesn't gulp and swallow air. Keep him upright -- but not in a seated position -- for 20 to 30 minutes after each feeding to allow gravity to help keep milk in his stomach. Avoid jostling or roughhousing for 30 minutes after the feeding.

Feeding Changes

Between 15 to 40 percent of infants with reflux are allergic to cow's milk, according to Wolters Kluwer Health. Switch to a milk-free formula if you're bottle-feeding or eliminate milk from your diet for two to three weeks to see if it helps. Thickening formula with cereal is controversial; talk to your pediatrician before starting solids of any type. Mixing 1 ounce of rice cereal to 1 ounce of formula may help, but it should be used only for full-term infants, the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions. Adding cereal will also add calories to your baby's daily intake. Let your baby decide when he's full.

RELATED: GERD in Infants or Children

Other Measures

Don't allow tobacco smoke around your baby, as it can worsen GERD. If simple measures don't work to improve GERD, medications can help reduce stomach acid pH. This reduces the burning caused by acid entering the esophagus. Several classes of prescription medications, including antacids, histamine-2 receptor antagonists and proton pump inhibitors can be used in infants. Proton pump inhibitors should be given 30 minutes before a feeding. Do not give over-the-counter acid buffers that contain aluminum to infants. They can raise an infant's serum aluminum levels.

Photo via Himerka/iStock/Getty Images

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