They say that about one-third to two-thirds (expert opinions vary) of all babies experience GOR (gastrooesophageal reflex), but like Influenza it is one of those rather overly-diagnosed conditions. Just like the comment “I had a bad flu last week” when actually it was a simple cold, so often I’ve heard parents say “He’s had reflux” when actually he just had some bad wind.
But regardless GOR still affects a huge proportion of infants! So what the heck is it really??
In medical terms reflux simply means a backflow of liquid against its normal direction of movement, in this case we are talking about a reflux of liquid from the gastric organ (stomach), back up the oesophagus (the gullet muscular tube that extends from the pharynx to the stomach).
GOR, also known as acid reflux and acid indigestion, is the baby equivalent of heartburn. The immature lower oesophageal sphincter valve (also known as the cardiac sphincter) at the top of the baby’s stomach is unreliable. This allows acidic fluid from the stomach to regurgitate back into the oesophagus causing heartburn, and other potential problems.
GOR symptoms usually emerge at 2-4 weeks of age, then often peak at four months, and typically start to subside from 7 months onwards (though it can continue into childhood and even adulthood).
GOR of course, gets misdiagnosed as Colic which is a disorder that affects roughly 20-25% babies, with about 10% of those babies having severe colic with 3-4 hours daily of continuous intense shrill crying, usually around the same time each day. (The verdict is still out on the definitive causes and cures of colic.)
GOR also gets confused with CMPA (Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy), and Lactose-Intolerance – but they each have individual symptoms:
CMPA is the commonest allergy amongst children and is more aptly described as an ‘oversensitive intolerance’ to the proteins commonly found in milk, and most infants outgrow it by their first birthday. Symptoms can include a rash, eczema, dermatitis, diarrhea/constipation, wheezy congested sniffles, abdominal cramps or vomiting.
Lactose-Intolerance (rare in Caucasian and European children) is sensitivity to the carbohydrates found in milk (deficient lactase enzyme to break down the milk lactose). Symptoms include watery frothy diarrhea, swollen bloated abdomen, excessive farting, abdominal cramps and rumbling tummy. It does not cause vomiting.
GOR does cause vomiting (can be projectile), as well as erratic feeding (refusing feeds or constantly feeding), fussing after eating, excessive drooling, wet hiccups or wet burps, throaty noises, sour breath, constant swallowing, and poor weight gain.
When GOR symptoms are severe and interfere with the baby’s growth development, causes respiration problems, or oesophageal ulceration, then the condition is treated seriously and redefined as GORD (Gastrooesophageal Reflux Disease).
GORD can also cause other gastrointestinal and respiratory disease from stomach acid entering the back of the throat or lungs, such as choking-gagging, wheezing-coughing, respiratory infections and sleep apnoea (temporary cessation of breathing).
A very real side-affect of GOR and GORD is the spirit-breaking burden of sleep-deprivation, which wrecks the immune system, plays havoc on brain function, trashes memory and leaves you in a jet-lag fog.
Apart from assisting the baby to sleep by elevating the head-end of the cot and using a sleep-wrap or attached sleep-bag to stop the infant sliding down the mattress, it is also vitally important parents be proactive to prevent against the insidious side-effects of their own sleep-deprivation!
The body’s short-term response to stress is producing adrenaline to help ‘keep you going’, after which the long-term stress response of cortisol kicks in. Then the brain’s circadian biorhythms are no longer synchronizing the body’s 24-hour cycles including the pineal gland’s sleep hormone melatonin. Poor sleep directly impacts on the body’s production of the neuro-transmitter serotonin, making it virtually impossible to experience the emotions of true contentment and happiness. You can’t think straight, you’re unable to concentrate, you feel despondent – you can even be an unsafe driver! Chemically, you’re all up the wazoo!
Parenting a severely reflux infant can be extremely depressing. A particularly helpful healthshop/chemist ingredient in sleep-aid products, is 5-HTP [5-Hydroxytryptophan]. 5-HTP is a 5-molecule amino acid (protein) which is the precursor (intermediate metabolite) to serotonin. So, if the body is low in serotonin, it will convert the 5-HTP – and you can feel a whole lot happier the next day!
The critical rule for all parents, but especially parents of high-needs babies (such as reflux, colic), is to make the investment in their own well-being a major priority too!
Love & Light