How Breastfeeding Helps with Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER)
Breast-milk is known as the “easy in – easy out” food. It’s easier to digest and makes easier-to-pass stools. Whey, the predominant protein in breast-milk, forms an intestine- friendly, soft, easy-to-digest curd, unlike the rubbery, harder-to-digest casein curd formed in the digestion of most formulas. Breastfeeding helps tiny tummies. It’s digested more quickly, and is less likely to come back up. It doesn’t leave permanent stains on clothes either.
While all babies spit-up a bit, some regurgitate excessive amounts of milk, because of a condition called gastroesophageal reflux (GER). Normally, the circular band of muscle where the esophagus joins the stomach acts like a one- way valve, keeping milk, food, and stomach acids from backing up into the esophagus when the stomach contracts. When it doesn’t do its job and these acids enter the esophagus, the result is an irritation that adults would call “heartburn.” In many infants, it takes six months to a year for this muscle to mature enough to prevent this regurgitation, or reflux. GER occurs less often in breastfed infants because breast-milk is emptied twice as fast from the stomach and because breastfed babies tend to eat smaller meals that are more appropriate in size. It’s less likely to be regurgitated than slow-to-digest formula with its tough casein curds.
“At age five months and four pediatricians later, Jacob was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux. I am forever grateful I did not give up! The goal of one of Jacob’s reflux meds was to help digestion, so he would not reflux. What could be better for him than the most easily digested food for babies…mom’s milk! When the specialist first met Jacob, he was shocked to see him looking so happy. He told me that most babies with that degree of reflux failed to thrive and were very sickly. I am convinced that Jacob did not fail to thrive because he was nursed.”