What causes acid reflux in infants?

Acid reflux typically occurs when the stomach contents regurgitate back to the esophagus. This is quite common among infants and typically occurs after a feeding. Even though the exact cause is still unknown, there are various factors that can contribute to acid reflux. By enrolling in a first aid course, you can learn measures to minimize the risk for reflux.

Immature lower esophageal sphincter

The lower esophageal sphincter is described as a ring of muscle at the base of the esophagus that opens to allow food to enter the stomach and close it to keep the contents from escaping. Take note that this muscle is not yet fully mature in infants. Once the lower esophageal sphincter opens, the stomach contents can flow back to the esophagus which causes the infant to vomit or spit up. The continuous regurgitation due to acid reflux can result to damage to the lining of the esophagus.


Acid reflux-infants

If the infant has been feed too much at once, it can cause acid reflux.

There are certain foods that can cause acid reflux, depending on the age of the infant. Tomato products and citrus fruits can increase the production of stomach acid. Foods such as peppermint, chocolate and high-fat foods will keep the lower esophageal sphincter open longer, thus causing the contents of the stomach to reflux.

By changing the foods being eaten by the infant, it can help reduce the risk for acid reflux. In addition, changing the diet can also help reduce acid reflux if the mother is breastfeeding.


If the infant has been feed too much at once, it can cause acid reflux. Even feeding the infant too frequently can also lead to acid reflux. This will add pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter which will cause vomiting. Take note that this pressure is relieved as long as the infant is fed less often.

Shortened or narrow esophagus

The stomach contents has a shorter distance to travel if the esophagus is shorter than average. Irritation can also occur if the esophagus is narrower than normal.

Positioning of the infant

The positioning of the infant during and after feeding is considered as an overlooked cause of acid reflux. When in a horizontal position, it is easier for the stomach contents to reflux to the esophagus. The infant should be positioned in an upright position while feeding and for 20-30 minutes after in order to reduce acid reflux.

When sleeping, it is recommended that babies should sleep on their backs to avoid sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Nevertheless, infants who experience reflux can benefit from sleeping in a slightly elevated position on their left side since this makes it difficult for the stomach contents to reflux.

Hiatal hernia

This is a condition in which part of the stomach sticks through an opening in the diaphragm. A small hernia will not cause issues but a large one can lead to heartburn and acid reflux.

Since it is not easy to determine the exact cause of acid reflux among infants, diet and lifestyle changes can help alleviate some of the potential factors. In case the acid reflux does not go away with these changes, a doctor should be consulted.


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