Ease Your Child's Heartburn

By Medically reviewed by Dr. Duyen Le

Heartburn is a popular complaint in adults, particularly after eating a hearty or spicy meal. Yet, infants and children can also go through that burning sensation in the chest.

What causes heartburn in infants and children?

Heartburn in infants and young children is often a sign of gastroesophageal reflux (also called GERD or acid reflux). This condition happens once the stomach acid backs up into the esophagus which is the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach. There is a muscle at the bottom of the esophagus known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) that typically keeps acids inside the stomach. But if the LES relaxes too much, the harsh stomach acids can increase and irritate the delicate lining of the esophagus. That causes heartburn and other symptoms.

In young kids, the cause of heartburn is mostly an immature digestive system. In older children, the risk factors consist of being overweight, exposure to secondhand smoking, and certain kinds of foods such as spicy foods. Children with neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy are also at greater risk.

What are the symptoms of heartburn in infants and children?

Heartburn causes a burning sensation in the chest, neck, and throat. If the root of heartburn is GERD, the infant or child may also suffer from other symptoms such as arching of the back during feedings, chest pain, coughing, hoarse voice, fussiness, painful swallowing, vomiting, poor eating, sore throat, and wheezing.

In addition to discomforts, infants with heartburn may have difficulty in gaining weight properly. Sores can form in the esophagus from the constant backing up of acid. If not treated, GERD can result in the narrowing of the esophagus or abnormal cells in the lining of the esophagus, breathing problems, and feeding difficulties are other complications.

Heartburn therapy for children

Treatment options depend on your child’s age and the cause of the heartburn. Even though heartburn usually improves on its own by the first birthday, heartburn in infants can be hard to treat. One study suggests that several common home heartburn relief methods do not work, including putting the infant to sleep in a more upright position (even though this is still suggested), thickening the baby formula, or making use of a pacifier. Burping or keeping infants upright for about 30 minutes after feeding may help, though.
Medications can be effective for heartburn that does not improve by itself, but should not be the first course of treatment. Heartburn drugs may include:
−H2 blockers (Tagamet, Zantac, Pepcid)
−Proton pump inhibitors (such as Dexilant, Nexium, Prevacid, and Prilosec)
Both of these kinds of medications decrease stomach acids. Accordingly, there is less acid to back up into the esophagus.
You can also use these methods to help relieve regular heartburn in children:
−Offer children smaller meals throughout the day rather than three large meals.
−Do not allow children to eat within two or three hours of bedtime.
−Avoid providing children with caffeine, spicy, fried, or acidic foods. Foods to keep out the reach if children have regular heartburn including chocolate, caffeinated soda, peppermint, oranges and other citrus fruits, and tomatoes.
−Increase the head of the bed 15.24 cm to 20.32 cm by putting blocks of wood under the bedposts (Extra pillows will not work).
In rare cases, children may need surgery. The procedure is known as fundoplication, which involves the wrapping of the upper part of the stomach around the lower esophageal sphincter to create a band preventing stomach acids from backing up.


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Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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