Heartburn in toddlers and children is not thought to be as common as heartburn in adults. This may be due to the strength of the young LES – the ring of muscle that controls the flow of swallowed food and water from the esophagus into the stomach.
Heartburn in toddlers and children is, nonetheless, a real concern. It may be simple heartburn or acid reflux – or it could be a symptom of a more serious underlying medical concern. Repeated episodes of acid reflux or heartburn in toddlers and children should trigger an appointment with your pediatrician.
Preventing Heartburn in Toddlers and Children
If your pediatrician finds no underlying reasons for heartburn in your child, you will want to take steps to prevent it. Prevention will differ from one child to the next. What works for one may not work for another. Try these 7 steps and see which works best for your child.
1. Be sure the child's clothing is not tight at the waist during and immediately after meals. Tight clothing can put pressure on the stomach, which in turn pressures the LES and produces heartburn.
2. Give the child something quiet to do immediately after meals. Returning to active play can pressure the stomach before it has digested the food and prompt heartburn. Children should be instructed not to bend at the waist for 15 to 30 minutes after eating.
3. Heartburn in toddlers and children can often be a matter of excess weight, especially at the waist. Ask your pediatrician what your child's weight should be. If he or she is overweight, work with the doctor to get them to a healthy weight to prevent heartburn.
4. Serve smaller meals. Overeating will result in a stomach that is too full to do its work properly. The churning motion a too-full stomach can, like the churning motion of an overfilled blender, causing the "lid" to pop open. When that lid is the sphincter ring of muscle, heartburn can result.
5. Serve small snacks between meals. This will allow the child to get enough nourishment, and not be as eager to overeat at meals.
6. Withhold junk food that is high in fat and sugar. Heartburn in toddlers and children can be caused by a diet that is unbalanced, and lacking in nutritious food.
7. Eliminate beverages that contain carbon dioxide (bubbles). Too much gas in the stomach can caused the sphincter to open at the wrong time. Heartburn in toddlers and children is often prevented quickly by disallowing soda pop with the meal.
If you try all of these without gaining relief, you may want to begin a food diary, writing down everything your child eats each day. When heartburn occurs, log it in immediately to see if a specific food has been eaten before each episode. When you visit the pediatrician, show him or her the food diary.
Heartburn in toddlers and children can occur at night. The child may awaken crying and complaining of pain in the upper abdomen or lower chest. Perhaps the heartburn occurs in the evening before going to bed. This type of heartburn can often be avoided by not allowing the child to eat right before going to bed.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is for educational purposes only. Parents who suspect heartburn in toddlers and children should seek advice from the child's pediatrician.