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How to Treat Acid Reflux in Babies Without Drugs


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Revolution Health Radio podcast, Chris Kresser

In conventional medicine, they start with the symptoms. So for example, if a baby has acid reflux, they prescribe a drug that just suppresses that symptom, without doing any investigation into why the reflux is occurring in the first place. There are so many problems with that approach. One of the main ones is that drugs don’t just have intended effects, they also have unintended effects. If a drug suppresses acid production, what else is it doing that may not be beneficial? What are the effects of acid that are beneficial?

Note: The Prescript-Assist supplements discussed in this article are no longer available. Please click here to learn more about a substitute, the Daily Synbiotic from Seed.

In this episode, we cover:

9:43  The causes of reflux
13:17  Four risk factors for reflux in infants
19:16  Why acid-suppressing drugs (PPIs) may not be the best treatment
29:06  How to prevent reflux and GERD in babies
32:24  How to address acid reflux and GERD

Links We Discuss

Steve Wright: Hey, everyone. Welcome to another episode of the Revolution Health Radio show. This show is brought to you by ChrisKresser.com. I’m your podcast host Steve Wright from SCDlifestyle.com. With me is integrative medical practitioner, New York Times bestseller, healthy skeptic, Chris Kresser. Chris, how are you doing?

Chris Kresser: Hey. I’m doing well, Steve. It looks like you’re in a different location there. I see a guitar on the wall, a beautiful picture. What’s happening?

Steve Wright: I just came out to visit our producer Jordan Reasoner, my business partner and great friend. I’m out here in Bozeman, Montana in his crib.

Chris Kresser: Nice. What are you guys going to get up to?

Steve Wright: We are going to just hang out with his kids and do some brainstorming together. Then we’re headed out into the woods this weekend to go elk hunting, four days, three nights. We’re going to backpack it way back into the Montana Mountains. We’ll just do some man stuff.

Chris Kresser: Awesome. You guys are doing the whole hunter-gatherer thing to the hilt?

Steve Wright: Yeah, we’re really both trying to get more in touch with the food chain.

Chris Kresser: Nice.

Steve Wright: Personally, my mission this year is to get an elk back in Colorado, and really honor the animals—from their habitat all the way to my plate.

Chris Kresser: It sounds awesome. Have fun.

Steve Wright: Thank you. What have you been up to?

Chris Kresser: A lot. 14Four, the new diet and lifestyle change program, is coming along really well. It looks like it’s going to be an October 14 or October 21 launch. We’ll talk about that more soon. I’m really excited about it. I’m also taking a lot of steps forward with the clinician training program, which I’m super excited about. It looks like we’re targeting a spring launch for the first module in the program, but there will be other modules that come after that. The more I do this kind of work, the more I see the need for that. I get e-mails from people almost every day, asking about clinician training and what kind of opportunities there are to learn a Paleo-oriented approach to functional medicine. There just aren’t many right now. So I figured, why not make one? I’m really looking forward to teaching people how to do this work. There’s such a huge need for it, as you know, Steve, and there’s not a lot of options out there. So look for that, if you’re one of those people who are interested, keep an eye out on the blog and e-mail list. We’ll keep you posted as that unfolds.

Steve Wright: Yeah, that’s really awesome. I know that people have been requesting that from you for many years now. There’s a huge gap there, and a lot of training needs to be developed. I’m very excited for this.

Chris Kresser: We have a great question today that I think a lot of parents are going to appreciate, in particular. Let’s give that a listen.

Lila: Hi. I was wondering if you could weigh in on the prevalence of acid blockers being prescribed to infants for GERD. This is commonly done in the pediatric practice that I work in as a nurse, and I kind of find it concerning. In addition to that, if you have any alternative theories on what the diagnoses and treatment should be for the GERD, that would be helpful. For instance, I don’t know if it’s possible for infants to develop SIBO or if it’s just gut dysbiosis, or what it is. But I have a hard time believing that we have an epidemic of GERD in newborn babies. Thanks.

Chris Kresser: This is a really good question, as I said. It’s one that I think a lot of parents will be interested in, as well as a lot of healthcare providers who work in pediatrics, work with kids. I definitely agree that we’re not seeing an epidemic of PPI deficiency in babies all of a sudden, after several thousand generations of getting along just fine without PPI. It’s pretty safe to say that we haven’t developed a PPI deficiency in young babies.

Steve Wright: What did we do before PPIs? I don’t know.

Chris Kresser: Well, it’s probably true that babies have had colic for a very long time. But to me, this question really gets at the deficiencies of conventional medicine. It’s funny that we were just talking about clinician training for functional medicine. This is really kind of a prime example of why we desperately need training for functional medicine, and we need to change our healthcare system. That’s because in the conventional model, all too often, they work from the outside in. What I mean by that is, in a functional medicine perspective, we look at the core underlying causes of problems—we can call these mechanisms. Then as we move out from a mechanism like blood sugar dysregulation or a gut issue like SIBO or leaky gut, that then leads to certain disease patterns like maybe diabetes or hypothyroidism or IBS—you know, all the diseases that we hear about. Then from there, we go out to symptoms, like gas and bloating in the case of IBS; agitation and mood swings with diabetes and blood sugar issues; or high blood pressure. In functional medicine, we start at the core. We address the underlying mechanisms and the environmental triggers that cause those mechanisms to happen, and that’s how we deal with the symptoms.

In conventional medicine, it often goes the other way around—they start with the symptoms. So for example, if a baby has acid reflux, they prescribe a drug that just suppresses that symptom, without doing any investigation into why the reflux is occurring in the first place. There are so many problems with that approach. One of the main ones is that number one, drugs don’t just have intended effects, they also have unintended effects. If a drug suppresses acid production, what else is it doing that may not be beneficial? Or even, what are the effects of acid that are beneficial? You know, there’s very little in our body that’s just there for the heck of it. It’s not like the only reason we have stomach acid is to make us suffer when we have reflux or GERD. There’s a reason we have stomach acid. So what happens when you prescribe a drug that reduces stomach acid production? It might alleviate the symptoms of reflux, but what else is it doing? We’re going to find out what it’s doing, and it’s not good.

The other problem with this conventional approach is if you take a drug that suppresses a symptom without ever investigating what causes that symptom, then that underlying cause is just going to persist and probably even worsen over time, which can then lead to other symptoms. Then you end up taking a drug for that other symptom. That drug causes a side effect, and wouldn’t you know, there’s a drug for that too. So you’re playing Whack-a-Mole, taking drugs for all these different side effects and then by the time the average person is 65 years old, they’re on four or five different medications. Some people are on up to 12, 13 different medications at that point in their life. This is the system that we’ve created, and it’s completely broken. This is why there’s such a desperate need for functional medicine and new practitioners that are practicing this style of medicine, and also, current practitioners in the conventional system that are starting to integrate some of these principles into their practice. So that’s a little tangent as to why I’m so excited about the functional medicine training. This is actually a really good example of how that is needed.

Steve Wright: Oh, it really is. Your enthusiasm is well-appreciated and I think that what we’re diving into today is going to be hitting home for a lot of people. Because I know even the people that have kids around me right now, some of them, I’ve watched their kids go through this exact scenario. And now they’re dealing with—you know, all of a sudden, they’re five, and now they have to put tubes in their ears. They have really crazy febrile seizures that seem like it’s just a kid who’s super sensitive. But when you back up and go right back to infant stage, already, right now, there’s kids presenting with a, “Hey, everything’s not okay yet.” So yeah, this is really important for young kids, all the way to old people.

Chris Kresser: Let’s first talk about the causes of reflux. Then we’ll talk about risk factors for reflux in infants. Then we’ll talk about why PPIs, acid-suppressing drugs, might not be the best choice. We’ll talk about what might be a better choice.

The Causes of Reflux

I have a whole eBook on GERD and heartburn on my website. It’s available for free. If you haven’t read this, I really encourage you to do that. Go to ChrisKresser.com. Go to “LEARN” at the bottom of the page. There’s a drop-down menu there that says “eBooks.” Click on that, and you’ll find the heartburn eBook. I go into a lot of detail there about what the real causes of heartburn are, so we’re not going to spend too much time on that now.

Essentially, what you need to know is that heartburn is rarely caused by excess stomach acid production. Heartburn is caused by a dysfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is what separates the esophagus from the stomach. Normally, that sphincter is supposed to stay closed. It opens when food goes down, when we eat food and swallow it, so that the food goes into the stomach. Then it’s supposed to shut, so that acid and bile don’t reflux back up into the esophagus. But what happens with reflux and GERD is that the competence of the lower esophageal sphincter is impaired. So it starts to open at inappropriate times, and acid reflux is up into the esophagus. That’s why acid-suppressing drugs can still work, even though the cause of heartburn is rarely excess stomach acid production. The PPI suppress acid production almost to nothing, in some cases, if the dose is high enough. So if you don’t have any acid at all in your stomach and your sphincter is still opening inappropriately, you’re not going to experience heartburn and reflux, because there is no acid left to reflux into the esophagus. I just want to clarify that, because sometimes people say, “Well, if heartburn is not caused by too much stomach acid, how come taking an acid-suppressing drug works?” That’s basically the answer.

The next obvious question is, what causes this dysfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter? Again, there are a lot of different answers that I cover in the full eBook. But one of the main ones is actually SIBO—small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. This leads to an overproduction of gases in the small intestine and the stomach, which can then put pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter and make it open inappropriately. Any kind of dysbiosis anywhere in the gut can contribute to this as well.

Another potential cause could be food intolerances. So if the infant is young enough and they’re being exclusively breastfed, this would be things that they might be exposed to like gluten in mother’s milk, if the mom is eating that and the baby is sensitive to it, or possibly dairy proteins, other food antigens. It’s less clear what gets into the mother’s milk or what doesn’t, but as I know, many mothers listening to this program can attest, the maternal diet does influence the baby in many ways. If a mother eats spicy food, for example, they might notice that their baby is really colicky or has digestive upset after that. Certainly, looking at the mom’s diet is a potential issue for infants that aren’t eating solid food. Then of course, for infants that are starting to eat food, we want to look at what they’re eating. Those are the basic underlying causes of reflux in infants. Again, there may be others, but these are the ones we’re going to focus on today. So what are the risk factors for reflux in infants?

Four Risk Factors for Reflux in Infants

One of the biggest ones is maternal antibiotic use during pregnancy. This can happen for a number of reasons: to deal with group B streptococcus (GBS), other infections that a mother might get, or even maternal antibiotic use prior to pregnancy. What we know now is that the mother’s gut flora profoundly influences the baby’s gut flora. Researchers used to think that the baby’s gut was completely sterile until they are born essentially, until they moved down the birth canal, where their first exposure to bacteria is in the vaginal canal—the baby gets exposed to both the vaginal microbiota and feces, and that was the initial colonization, and that totally determines the kind of imprint of gut flora that the baby gets. But there’s actually some recent research that suggests colonization of the baby’s gut actually happens in utero, or it begins in utero. So the status of the mother’s gut health, both prior to pregnancy and during pregnancy, is providing that initial imprint of the baby’s gut flora. So for people who are planning to conceive, women who are planning to conceive, it’s really crucial to do everything that they can to optimize their own gut microbiota prior to conceiving. That’s in an ideal world. Of course, not everyone knows this or has the opportunity to do this, so we always have to just start from where we can. But it’s never too late to pay attention to this.

The second thing would be the method of birth. We know from many, many studies now that Caesarean birth, that kids born via C-section, have different gut flora and less optimal gut flora than kids who are born vaginally. The reason for that is what I just mentioned. Whether or not colonization of the gut begins in utero, we know without a doubt that a major aspect of how the gut flora develops in the baby is from that exposure in the birth canal. And in a C-section birth, that obviously doesn’t happen. The baby is removed surgically and the first exposure that that baby is going to get is to basically ambient bacteria in the hospital environment, which is very different than the bacteria they’d be exposed to in the birth canal. They’ve done lots of studies, and found that babies that are born via C-section are more likely to develop obesity, diabetes, and other problems later in life. Of course, many women don’t go into the birth process saying, “Gee, I want to have a C-section.” C-sections happen. They’re lifesaving, in some circumstances, for both the mother and the baby. I’m not condemning emergency C-sections at all, but I am suggesting that elective C-sections are not a good idea, which are on the rise. You know, women choose to have C-sections because of the convenience of knowing exactly when their delivery date will be. And I am suggesting that there may be ways, by optimizing nutrition—like we talk about in The Healthy Baby Code—to minimize the risk of C-sections, by making sure that the birth process happens as naturally and optimally as possible.

Another risk factor would be how the baby is fed initially, so whether it’s breastfed or formula. Breast milk is the optimal prebiotic, probiotic food for infants, and that evolution over hundreds of thousands of generations has taken care of that. There’s not really any way that we can improve on breast milk. Breast milk, for example, contains galactooligosaccharides, which are prebiotic molecules that selectively stimulate the growth of bifidobacteria, which is one of the most important species of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Some formula producers are starting to get wise to this, and they’re adding some prebiotics to formula. But it’s never quite the same when you create a synthetic version. So far, I don’t think you can get the same outcome with formula that you can get from breastfeeding. Once again, there are a lot of women out there who want to breastfeed but can’t, for any number of reasons. This is not something to feel guilty about. There’s still a lot you can do to make sure that your baby’s getting what he or she needs. I’m more, again, addressing when we have a choice, when there’s a choice to breastfeed or feed formula. The research is abundantly clear, even in the conventional medical world now. Thankfully, they’ve gone back from the craziness of the ‘60s and ‘70s, where formula was the recommendation. They now pretty much universally recommend breastfeeding across the board. The World Health Organization (WHO), in fact, recommends six months of exclusive breastfeeding with no other food, and 22 months of complementary breastfeeding, which means continuing to breastfeed, at least in some level, for almost two years. Unfortunately, very few women do breastfeed for that long. But that’s what’s been determined to be optimal, even by groups like the World Health Organization.

The last risk factor we already talked about a little bit, and that’s food intolerances. Those food intolerances are typically related to these other risk factors that we’ve already talked about, like poor maternal gut flora, poor infant gut flora, and then being born via C-section and being formula fed. Those kids that fit into those categories are more likely to develop food intolerances in the first place. Okay, so now that we’ve talked about the causes, the risk factors, let’s talk about treatment and why PPIs may not be such a good idea.

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Why Acid-Suppressing Drugs (PPIs) May Not Be the Best Treatment

As I’m sure almost everyone knows, who’s listening to the show, PPIs work by inhibiting stomach acid secretion. What some people may not know is that stomach acid, as I said before, is actually there for a reason. It plays some really important roles that don’t just involve making us double over in pain if it refluxes into the esophagus. Stomach acid initiates the process of digestion, when we eat protein in particular. All other foods get mixed around with stomach acid, and they become a substance called chyme, which is kind of a sludge-like substance, in a consistency that can then pass through into the small intestine, where the nutrients start to get pulled out even more. But nutrient absorption actually begins in the stomach. And there are numerous studies that show that acid-blocking drugs impair the absorption of all kinds of different vitamins and minerals. That’s not surprising when you know that stomach acid is required to absorb those nutrients in the first place. These include things like vitamin C, iron, magnesium, B12, folate, and other B vitamins. These nutrients are important for adults, but they’re even more important for developing babies. So folate and B12 in particular are needed to form new red blood cells, and they play an important role in methylation, which silences and activates gene expression, which, in turn, regulates just about anything in the body. Vitamin C is important for collagen development and the structural development of the body, in addition to immune function. Iron is also involved in red blood cell function. Without enough iron, babies will become anemic and not develop properly. Magnesium plays a role in over 300 different enzymatic reactions in the body, it’s one of the most important nutrients that we need. And all of the other B vitamins—B6; B5, which is pantothenic acid; B1, which is thamine; B2, which is riboflavin; B3, which is niacin—are all essential. Again, they’re all there for a reason. We need them. They’re all essential nutrients. And PPIs inhibit their absorption. We could potentially see an increase in things like neurological issues from B12 deficiency; problems with development, like I said, of the structural tissue in the body from vitamin C deficiency; behavioral disorders like ADHD, autism, et cetera because of folate and B12 deficiency. These things are on the rise in kids. There may not be enough kids now taking PPIs that this is making a significant contribution, but this could certainly happen if we continue with our current course.

Another important role of stomach acid is to prevent infection. We’re exposed to bacteria, viruses, and fungi all the time. They’re all around us in the environment. But a lot of times, if we get exposed to them through food or water that we swallow, the stomach acid just takes care of that. Many of these organisms cannot survive in a really low pH, acidic environment like the stomach. The stomach acid is our first line of defense against these organisms entering through our mouth and when we swallow. As you might suspect, PPI use has been associated with an increased risk of infections of all types, but particularly gut infections and something like Clostridium difficile, which is a potentially fatal gut infection. Very serious. It’s a cause of concern. It’s been shown that there’s an increased risk of community-acquired pneumonia in people using PPIs. Back to the nutrient absorption issue, PPIs have been associated with decreased bone mineral density, because calcium absorption is impaired, and also maybe the fat-soluble vitamins—like vitamin D, which plays a role in calcium metabolism, and K2.

Yeah, I know. It’s kind of ridiculous. It’s like one of those commercials, where at the end of the commercial, they say, “This drug is…” It goes on for like 30 seconds with the elevator music playing in the background. It’s like, I can’t believe anyone would buy this drug after hearing this. PPIs have been shown to increase the risk of SIBO. So that’s pretty ironic, right? SIBO is one of the underlying causes of reflux in the first place, and PPIs have been shown to increase the risk of SIBO. Then SIBO is also associated with everything from skin issues like eczema, to cognitive and behavioral issues, to malabsorption. A lot of things that show up in kids, right? A lot of kids have eczema. It’s one of the most common problems. In my work with young children, I found that eczema is almost always related to gut issues. And when we address the gut stuff, the eczema goes away. Perhaps most ironically, as I said, SIBO is associated with GERD and reflux. There’s even a paper in the scientific literature—I nearly spit on my coffee when I came across it—that was called Evidence That Proton Pump Inhibitor Therapy Induces the Symptoms It Is Used to Treat. I mean, that’s a paper you don’t even need to read, really, right? That’s such a great title. It pretty much says it all. But of course, I did read it. They talk about some other interesting mechanisms by which PPIs can actually induce acid reflux.

PPIs increase gastric pH, which means they make it less acidic and more alkaline. This, in turn, substantially increases the concentration of something called gastrin. Then gastrin promotes the release of histamine, which, in turn, provokes increased acid secretion. This will lead to a rebound effect after stopping PPIs, where more acid is produced. The gastrin actually causes a growth in the tissue that produces stomach acid. So when you stop the PPIs, you’re producing more acid than you were before you started taking them. This rebound effect has been documented, and it’s been shown to last for at least four weeks, possibly longer, because they ended the follow-up period after four weeks, and many of the patients were still experiencing symptoms at that point. We could go on, but I’ll just mention a couple other things, and then we’ll talk a little bit about alternatives.

PPIs are also associated with weight gain over the long term, in adults at least. One study in adults showed an average increase of about 10 lbs in weight in about 70% of patients that were taking PPIs over a two-year period, whereas only 9% of patients in the control group gained weight over that period. That’s pretty significant and alarming, especially given childhood obesity rates on the rise. I mean, even the FDA cautions against the long-term use of PPIs. It’s a real problem. They were never approved for long-term use. That’s an interesting little historical note about PPIs, is they were initially only approved for short-term use. They were never intended to be taken for years and years. I just got an e-mail this morning from someone who has been on Nexium for 30 years, 35 years I think he said. He’s wondering how to get off of it. That’s just a complete, huge mistake, an oversight by the FDA and other regulatory agencies, and just another problem with the way that our system is constructed. You know, doctors made those prescriptions, and people just kept taking them for years and years, with no approval for that kind of activity.

Steve Wright: Last time I checked, eight weeks was the length.

Chris Kresser: Yeah. Eight weeks maximum.

Steve Wright: Yeah, maximum.

Chris Kresser: Let’s talk a little bit about what else to do. Because one thing I want to say here is thankfully, Sylvie didn’t really ever deal with reflux or GERD. But like you, Steve, we’ve been around some friends and parents who have a baby that’s suffering from GERD, and it is not easy. It is extremely difficult to see anyone who has a kid, even just seeing a kid have a bad cold or something—it’s really hard to watch your child suffer. And it’s hard on the parents if it’s interrupting their kids’ sleep. I completely understand the desire, and the willingness, even, of parents to give their children PPIs if it will help relieve the pain and restore some sense of normalcy in the house. I’m not condemning parents for this at all. There’s just very little discussion of alternatives or the real causes in the community, which, of course, gets back to the whole thing about the need for functional medicine training. Okay. Let’s talk about how to prevent reflux and GERD for mothers who haven’t given birth yet or people who are still in the family planning stages. Then we’ll talk about how to address it if it’s already there.

How to Prevent Reflux and GERD in Babies

Not surprisingly, how to prevent it is just sort of the reverse of the triggers and how to get it, which means optimize your gut flora. There’s a study that I just read called Can Nutritional Modulation of Maternal Intestinal Microbiota Influence the Development of the Infant Gastrointestinal Tract? Translation—can what a mom eat improve the gut flora of her baby? The short answer was a resounding yes. They went through all these different mechanisms for how a mom changing her diet actually directly impacts the gut flora of her baby. So that’s number one, is making sure that mom is doing everything that she can to optimize her gut health. I talk a lot about that in my book, Your Personal Paleo Code (published in paperback as The Paleo Cure in December 2014) which is going to be relaunched in paperback as The Paleo Cure at the end of this year. There’s another free eBook on my website that’s all about gut health. You can get some tips there if you’re new.

Another thing is probiotics and prebiotics can be helpful for improving mom’s gut flora. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need to take those. But let’s face it—we don’t live in that world, we live in a world that is hostile to gut health in so many different ways. And many of us took a lot of antibiotics when we were young. We might have been born by C-section. We might have been fed formula, especially if you’re in my generation that was raised in the ‘60s and ‘70s, where breastfeeding was kind of out. So some probiotics, prebiotics: things like Prescript-Assist, which I sell in my store, I have a lot of success with, and is a great choice; Prebiogen is a great prebiotic; resistant starch, which we talked about a lot, like potato starch; fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, beet kvass. All this stuff can be really good for restoring good maternal gut health.

Another thing would be vaginal birth whenever possible. Of course, there are situations where a C-section becomes necessary, but you want to do everything you can to have a natural birth. You want to breastfeed and you want to breastfeed exclusively for six months and in a complementary way for 22 months optimally, if you can. I realize that’s hard for some women who have full-time jobs outside of the home. You know, there’s always the ideal and the actual. But those are the guidelines, that’s the recommendation. Even if you can’t breastfeed, there is an increasing number of donor milk banks available, where you can actually purchase milk from women who have a surplus of milk. This is the preferred, what I would suggest investigating first, if for whatever reason, you can’t breastfeed and you can’t pump your own milk.

Then, of course, mom needs to avoid any of her own food intolerances. If you’re gluten intolerant, you obviously don’t want to be eating gluten. If you’re dairy intolerant, you don’t want to be eating that. Then you would obviously want to remove those foods from your diet, to prevent any problems from occurring with the baby.

How to Address Acid Reflux and GERD

So let’s say you’re here, you have a baby, your baby has GERD, and you want to know what to do about it. Obviously, you would do everything that I just mentioned for prevention, it’s still a good idea to do all of those things. But in terms of treatment, there are a few different options.

Number one is there are several studies that have shown that probiotics can ease colic and reflux. One of these studies shows that babies who consumed probiotics during their first three months of life were significantly less likely to have colic in the first place. There have been other studies that have shown that probiotics have actually reduced colic, even after it exists. So some studies have found that it doesn’t, some studies have found that it does. Overall, the review papers suggest that probiotics are beneficial. One of the ones that I’ve recommended before on the show is Ther-Biotic Infant, which is Bifidobacterium infantis. It’s a probiotic that’s appropriate for kids under two years of age. Another probiotic that’s been studied quite a bit in infants is called Lactobacillus reuteri, R-E-U-T-E-R-I. That’s been shown to be effective for colic in some studies.

Another thing to consider is putting a little galactooligosaccharide in the baby’s diet. If you’re just breastfeeding, there are a few different options to get these things into your baby. You can lightly dust the nipple with Ther-Biotic Infant powder and also galactooligosaccharides. One product is called Galactomune, from Klaire Laboratories. It has galactooligosaccharides and beta-glucans. Galactooligosaccharides are in breast milk, but additional galactooligosaccharides may be helpful for increasing beneficial gut bacteria in babies that are having trouble. So you can lightly dust the nipple, or you can take some out of the container and put it on your finger, and just put your finger in the baby’s mouth. They taste neutral and fairly pleasant, like a mildly sweet taste almost, babies actually like them.

If the baby is eating solid food, you of course want to stick with a hypoallergenic, anti-inflammatory, Paleo type of approach. You want to probably try removing some of the foods that may cause problems, even if they’re healthy foods. Eggs is a big potential offender for really young babies. Even Sylvie, when she was six months old, egg yolks were one of the first foods that we introduced. She had a projectile vomiting episode after she ate her first soft-boiled egg yolk, which was pretty horrifying for us. Then we just waited. We said, “Okay, that doesn’t work.” We went on to liver, which she loved. Then we went back to egg yolks about a month later, and she had no problem then, and still has no problem with them. So sometimes kids are sensitive to foods initially. Things like eggs, dairy—all of the ones that we look for as adults are also likely to aggravate kids, in some cases. You want to do some experimentation there. Obviously, removing gluten, gluten-containing grains, grains in general, processed and refined flour, legumes, things that can aggravate poor digestion should be removed. That can often make a big difference as well. That’s where to start. Fortunately, babies and young kids in general tend to respond really well to dietary interventions and probiotics and prebiotics. They haven’t had as many years to become damaged as we have as adults. They’re easy to work with in a certain way, because they respond so quickly. They’re hard to work with in that they can’t tell you exactly how they’re feeling and what the response is, but they tell you one way or another. Anyone who’s been around a baby with GERD, they’re telling you if they have it.

Steve Wright: So what happens, Chris, if the probiotics, the prebiotics, and the dietary changes don’t work? What’s the next best step, for a parent out there listening to this?

Chris Kresser: Well, there’s not really a clear alternative to acid-suppressing drugs for the acid suppression itself. In adults, as you know very well, we do things like give hydrochloric acid (HCl) in pills. You obviously can’t do that with infants. Infants are not going to be able to swallow HCl capsules. And you certainly can’t open an HCl capsule and put it in the infant’s throat. Please do not do that. That’s corrosive. The acid will damage the esophagus. So there’s no easy way to get things into the baby that can replace stomach acid.

Steve Wright: Is there any bitters that might work?

Chris Kresser: Swedish bitters may be an option. Apple cider vinegar may be an option too. I would probably explore that before I considered PPIs. But to be honest, Steve, I’ve yet to have a baby that didn’t respond to diet intervention and probiotics and prebiotics, and also changes in mom’s food intake, probiotic, and prebiotic status.

Steve Wright: Just one last thing in this. So it’s happening right now, you can’t change the diet right now, the baby is going nuts. I know in adults, we can give baking soda, to help with the acid suppression. Is that something that might be used in a pinch for a baby? Or is that another one of the adult things that we do not use in infants?

Chris Kresser: Well, I don’t actually know the answer to that. I’ve never done that, and I would have to look into it before giving a clear answer. I don’t want to mislead anybody. But maybe we can come back to that. We can talk about that on a future show. I think ultimately, if you have to do a PPI for a period of time just to get some relief for everybody involved, you just want to minimize that as much as possible, because of the potential for rebound reflux that we talked about earlier, and because of the other issues with PPI use over the long term. And you want to make sure that they baby’s nutrient intake is adequate during that period or above adequate, because of the way that PPIs can interfere with nutrient absorption. I hope that helps. It does require a bit of trial and error in the whole process, but it’s worth it to avoid being on a long-term, acid-suppressing drug. Thanks again for your question. We’ll see you next week.

Steve Wright: Thanks, Chris. I can tell you’re pretty passionate about this subject, and it was a very informative show. Thank you, everyone, for continuing to send us your questions. In-between episodes, if you haven’t already, make sure you’re on Chris’ e-mail list. That’s where he’s going to be sending out his latest articles. If you haven’t gotten things like his heartburn book or his gut health book, you’ll want to be on the e-mail list for updates regarding that kind of thing. Then you can also just Google Chris Kresser and gut health, or Chris Kresser and heartburn, and you’ll pull up those eBooks that we referenced in the show. They’ll also be in the show notes. Lastly, if you’re not following Chris yet on Facebook, go to Facebook.com/ChrisKresserLAc and Twitter.com/ChrisKresser, if you want to be up to date on these new studies that he’s always reading and staying up to date with. That’s where to go to get the latest research. In the meantime, thanks for listening.

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Join the conversation

  1. Hi. My daughter Caoimhe is 12 weeks old. She was prescribed zantec (ranitidine) at 2 weeks old when she was in hospital with a stomach bug she picked up at home. She was told to stay on it because she had the symptoms of acid reflux. I was very reluctant to put her on this medication but kept her on it for a couple of weeks before attempting to take her off it. She was very bad for 2 weeks so put her back on it again. She was throwing up more than ever when I put her back on it and was asked to up the dose and did improve after a few days. Since then I have a read up about PPIs and your articles have been very educational. If I had known about this drug at the time I would never have put her on it. I am feeling very frustrated. Can you please give me some advice as to what to do now. I started her on the BioGaia Protectis Probiotic drops about 5 days ago. I have excluded dairy, wheat and eggs along with some citrus fruits from my diet over the last 3 weeks. She started getting what looked like eczema but this cleared up after excluding some foods from my diet. I tried to reduce down the zantec over the last 3 days by only giving her 2 doses instead of 3. She spent all of yesterday crying and she seemed to be in alot of pain. I put her back on it again this morning and don’t know what to do.

  2. I had a very healthy diet whilst I was pregnant – I took prebiotics every day as well as vitamins, I had a natural birth with no drugs or antibiotics, and my baby has probiotics and feeds only from my breast –
    SO – where have I gone wrong ?
    My only option was to put her on PPI’ –
    I wish I didn’t have to but she was in just so so much pain

  3. Where can you purchase any of the recommended infant probiotic supplements? The manufacturers said they don’t distribute online, and they won’t put me in contact with any doctors that sell their product. I am at a total loss of how to find it… Thanks!

  4. Hello,
    Do i give my baby pre and pro biotic at the same time? And do give them before or after a feed?

  5. Hi Chris,

    Acid reflux is more common in people with cystic fibrosis. My son is 2 and has cystic fibrosis. He suffered from acid reflux as an infant and into toddlerhood and his care team prescribed omeprazole. I recently tried stopping his omperazole and was able to wean him off of it. He has also been on oral antibiotics at least 12-15 times since he was born due to persistent bacterial lung infections. I’m really concerned about getting his gut flora in better balance to help strengthen his immune system and support his digestion. I breast feed and feed him a healthy diet high in veggies, healhty fats and probioitics. Can you think of anything else I can do to restore a healthy gut flora for my little one?

  6. Hi all, I am a mom of two bright kids and the little one is breastfed 11 months old. When he was 2 months old, he get caught by silent reflux. Used to cry while nursing and this was killing me. I tried different remedies but the final thing which made the real difference was a natural herbal tea babies magic tea. I love the product and will keep in my kitchen drawers for my third one.