When I gave birth for the third time this past December, I was prepared for the likelihood that this little fella would have reflux just like the two babies before him. And sure enough, I soon found it to be true. Since it wasn't my first rodeo, I walked into his two-week checkup with one hand held out for a prescription to take straight to the pharmacy. But my new doctor suggested I try a probiotic instead. I'm a mama who prefers my remedies to be all natural, but even I was skeptical. Do probiotics really help infant reflux? I decided to do some research to find out.
While my family's pediatrician recommended trying a probiotic before taking the leap to the stronger prescription stuff, saying he'd treated many patients who had benefited from it tremendously, not every medical professional agrees. Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, says he does not suggest it to his own patients because in his opinion, it is unlikely that probiotics help infant reflux. "Probiotics affect the intestines and not the stomach and sphincter, which are the main problems in this case," he explains to Romper in an interview.
Ganjian isn't alone in his assessment. Nancy Hurst, Lactation Consultant and director of Women's Support Services at Texas Children's Pavilion for Women, agrees that taking a probiotic will likely not have an impressive effect on an infant's reflux problem, especially if the baby is breastfed. “Breast milk already has probiotics, so it’s not necessary to provide additional supplements," she tells Romper.
But Dr. Clare Bush, Pediatrician and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center, disagrees. "Starting a baby on a probiotic may help. All babies are different and what might help one baby may not help the next."
Bush explains that infant reflux is due to the fact that the muscle at the top of the stomach, the lower esophageal sphincter, is not fully developed in babies. This muscle’s job is to allow food to pass from the esophagus into the stomach. When not fully developed, she says, it can allow stomach contents to go in the opposite direction, up into the esophagus and out, in the form of spit-up.
Ganjian says that when it comes to remedies, time is really the best healer, noting that between the ages of 6 to 12 months, the sphincter is stronger and reflux usually resolves itself.
But according to one lactation consultant, the term reflux is often inaccurately used to describe the trouble a newborn may be having. "Reflux is a word that is often used incorrectly in babies," Leigh Anne O'Connor, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), tells Romper. "If a baby truly has reflux it needs to be appropriately diagnosed. Some babies exhibit symptoms of reflux, but it can be a reaction to any number of factors including fast let-down or fast bottles, a food sensitivity, a tongue tie, or torticollis. If it is true Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), then medication is warranted."
So what's a desperate parent to do? Trying a probiotic can't hurt, but you might also want to explore other possibilities with a lactation consultant or pediatrician. One thing everyone agrees on is that, in addition to diligent burping, positioning is key to handling the problem. Avoiding laying the baby down flat after a feeding should help — in fact, the medical recommendation is to hold him upright for a full 20 minutes after he eats.
Reflux is usually more of an inconvenience than a true medical problem, but Bush reminds parents that "if your baby’s spit-up is forceful, she looks like she is in pain, you see blood or a dark green color in his spit-up, or she is having difficulty gaining weight, be sure to talk to your pediatrician." Otherwise, it's probably just a matter of losing sleep and adding laundry.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.