Hidden Triggers: Reflux and Heartburn in Children

Six happy children wearing multiple colors raising their arms with their hands painted

While we have written elsewhere about digestive discomfort generally, this is a little snippet focussing on an unusual symptom in children. While gastro-oesphogeal reflux (or ‘acid reflux’) is common in babies and in adults, it is not a common experience for children, and yet many practitioners are reporting seeing an increasing number of kids with reflux.

Children will report a burning feeling or a sick feeling, and the sensation will be in the mid-upper chest area and throat. Recurrent sore throats should also be investigated for possible reflux.

Babies have a strong gag reflex and a weak sphincter separating the stomach from the oesophagus, and so are more vulnerable to reflux. Even babies with strong reflux symptoms will usually ‘grow out of it’ as their digestive system matures.

Many of the more common triggers for adults, such as what people ingest (coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, spicy foods), or the way they do this (eating in front of computers, in the car, on the run) are not applicable to children.

Click here to read more about indigestion, reflux and heartburn in babies and adults, as well as how to address it.

So, what are the possible triggers specific to children, and what can be done about it?

  • Fizzy Drinks: Any fizz, even just carbonated water, can build up gas in the stomach and create pressure that opens up the ‘gate’ between the stomach and oesophagus, creating the possibility of reflux or burning. Fizz drunk fast while playing in the playground is probably the worst culprit!
  • Vitamin C: Yes, Vitamin C is definitely good for kids! Great for preventing and treating infection, supporting immune function and tissue healing. All good. But there are many, many, many forms of Vitamin C, and some may be just too acidic for some tummies. Ascorbic acid is highly bioavailable and is useful for using short-term to treat colds, but is highly acidic, and may not suit some children. Using a bufffered form of Vitamin C such as Calcium Ascorbate or Magnesium Ascorbate is preferable for daily use, especially in children with sensitive tummies. (Also, if using a chewable Vitamin C, make sure children rinse or brush their teeth to remove any acids from the mouth that may damage teeth.)
  • Eating while playing, running, jumping! Always encourage children to sit and eat, if not at the kai table, at least on their bottoms, to support good digestion and enough time for digestion to take place.
  • Weak digestion: Improving the tone and strength of the stomach and the gastroesophageal sphincter can be done with patience and perseverance. Eating the right foods, avoiding reactive foods, ensuring adequate nutrient levels and actually strengthening digestion with the right combination of gentle herbal bitters is something your naturopath or medical herbalist can support you with.

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