Could food cause acid reflux in your baby?
Could food intolerance or allergy be causing gastric reflux in your baby?
Is there something up with your baby that you just can’t seem to work out, but you know something is not right? Does your baby have trouble feeding, staying asleep for longer than one sleep cycle or wake when put down flat? Do they arch their back, curl up their knees, or just cry a lot more than you’d expect?
Your baby might have reflux. No all babies have all these symptoms and some worse than others. And not all babies with reflux vomit or spit up when they have reflux. Some babies have silent reflux. Reflux or Gastro oesophageal reflux disease (GORD or GERD) is when the acid from the stomach escapes the wrong way up the food pipe and causes a burning sensation as it does so. In silent reflux, the acid might not make it all the way out. So your baby is in pain and generally unhappy, but you can’t be sure why!
This is the experience we had with both our children. Our eldest suffered the longest as we did not know what was wrong for a long time and then when we did know we did not know how to manage it. Eventually we discovered food intolerances were the primary cause.
Without giving you the long drawn out version of events, I wanted to share with you a little of our story as it might just help someone.
As I mentioned, both our children had severe problems feeding and sleeping as a little baby. This story is about our eldest. My mum always said a healthy baby did not refuse to breastfeed, but my babies did. For a long, long time my eldest would not sleep unless he was fed and he would not feed unless he was practically asleep. We now understand that the reflux he was experiencing was made worse by feeding as the stomach is being filled with milk. Over time, the baby learns that feeding is painful and therefore does not want to feed, but it knows it needs the food, so eventually it feeds and then the problem is exacerbated once again.
Nurses initially told us it must be a breastfeeding issue.. too much milk, too often… but none of the strategies to manage such an issue or any other common breast feeding issues worked and despite the fact that I was a first time mum, my gut told me that these were not the cause of the issue. My son would start feeding but pull off after around 20 secs and then I had to burp him and then wait an excessive amount of time, before I could get him to have more. Making him wait 4 hours between feeds did not work as he would not have any more by doing this and was just as uncomfortable as before. He would arch his back and pull away. Despite this though he barely cried. Over time, I figured out that I had to feed him every, one to one and a half hours or I just could not get him to sleep at all. Since he was not losing weight and he did not cry much, I found it really difficult to get help for him.
It was not until he was 6 months old when a Dr noticed his weight starting to drop off that people finally started to consider there was a problem.
We had to carry him in the sling or hold him to sleep for every single sleep and ‘nap’ of the day and night. We tried so hard to get him to sleep in his bed, but he just could not stay laying down. We spent half the night trying to make sure we did not teach him the wrong behaviour by not self-settling, as this was what we were told was the right thing to do, but nothing we did worked. He just was not a happy little boy. Eventually we gave up on this because were exhausted and needed to survive.
How did I find out it was food related?
At 3 months of age, our paed suggested food issues causing gastric reflux and we tried him on Neocate, an elemental formula only available on prescription that has all the proteins broken down already. He happily took it and improved substantially for about 24 hours. However, since the effect did not last, we were told to give up on that and try sleep school. We also failed sleep school. The only way they could get him to sleep was on his tummy and they advised against doing this for SIDS reasons.
We found out much later that the reason for the Neocate not working properly was because of withdrawal effects as well as the fact he had a urinary tract infection at the time.
At around 7 months of age, a Maternal and Child Health Nurse suggested that the problems could be related to an allergy or intolerance. So, I decided put myself on a strict elimination diet and after a few weeks, we finally we started to have some improvement. Unfortunately though, I could not even have the smallest amount of carrot or pumpkin or anything that allowed me to challenge foods for him and so after a stint in hospital for dehydration, we managed to get him back on to the elemental formula Neocate.
It was after he finally started to settle on the formula, that he started to smile regularly. He never screamed, but he was never actually ‘happy’ until he started to feel better. We knew then we were definitely on the right track.
It was still a long journey after this point to find out what foods affected him and it was not until he was around three years old that we finally got to the bottom of what he could and could not eat. At this time we realised that it was not just specific foods, but additives in foods as well as in creams and lotions, that affected him. Every time we made a major discovery with his diet, we had substantial changes in bowel habits, feeding patterns and behaviour.
Where can you get help?
If you suspect reflux in your baby, there are a number of things you can try. The first step would be to:
Seek medical assistance first as well as visit your Maternal and Child Health Nurse – to ensure no significant growth or development issues or illnesses. Seek a referral to an allergist if allergies are strongly suspected.
Once you determine there is no major medical issue – consider how to investigate food as an issue.
Keep a food and symptom diary. Write down everything you eat and any symptoms you notice and time of day you notice them. This is hard with no sleep and an unwell baby, but it is crucial and will speed up the process in helping you determine the cause of the problem.
Research the elimination diet to determine which type of restricted diet you could undertake to investigate the possibility of intolerances. One of the most effective is the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital strict elimination diet or otherwise known as the FAILSAFE diet. Our search filter allows you to search for products that are safe on this diet. We also have filters that allow you to avoid most other allergens and common foods that cause problems for people including Low Fodmap
Talk to a health professional who specialises in food intolerance. These can be tricky to find but think about a Maternal and Child Health Nurse, a dietitian or nutritionist or a medical professional that might have expertise. Ask around for recommendations for a supportive Health Professional.
There are also a number of books that might be useful:
Joy Anderson’s – Food Sensitive Babies
Sue Dengate’s Fed Up - https://allergytrain.com.au/products/sue-dengate-s-fedup-book
Friendly Food by RPAH
Joan Breakey’s – Fussy Babies
There are a number of support groups online through Facebook and other websites including the
Reflux Infant Support Association - https://www.reflux.org.au
Please feel free to contact us if you need extra help getting information or support.
- Jenny Trezise