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When the Pediatrician Says "GER"

Written by Linda Folden Palmer, DC   
Sunday, 01 June 2008 00:00
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During her pregnancy, Sarina ate all the right things, attended maternity yoga classes, and perused a nice stack of parenting books, but she was unprepared for what lay ahead.

She and Garrett bragged about how peaceful their newborn daughter was but their bubble soon burst. Within weeks their baby was crying inconsolably several times a day, sleeping poorly and waking with screams, spitting up, fussing at the breast, and experiencing occasional watery stools.

Advice came from all directions. Sarina heard about gassy foods and gave up broccoli. They tried some drops for gas, constant carrying, classical music, and even a vibrating chair but nothing brought any relief to their daughter or to their own wired nerves and baggy, bloodshot eyes. The doctor assured them there was nothing wrong with their baby.

In tears herself, Sarina tried telling her story to another pediatrician and was told her baby had GER, or gastroesophageal reflux. They were sent home with drug samples and a prescription and told to elevate the head of the baby’s bed. They were not the kind to rely on drugs, but Garrett worried that their baby might be permanently harmed somehow if they did not provide the medications. At the end of their rope and eager to see some relief for their daughter, they gave the drugs a try, but they saw no improvement. The doctor told them to give the medications some time to work and added a second drug. Sarina and Garrett then thought they might have seen a little improvement in their daughter but it surely wasn’t enough for any of them.

While the names and details have been changed, this story is based on an actual case study.

Whether they believe in natural living or not, more and more parents are hearing the diagnosis of reflux or GER and being sent home, perplexed, with an array of medications and a few odd pieces of advice. Do they help?

It used to be that when a baby displayed excessive crying the diagnosis was colic. What does colic mean? It means the child cries a lot. This vague diagnosis did not lead parents to helpful answers. Today, most of these crying babies are given a diagnosis that has escalated incredibly over the last decade: GER (reflux), or GERD, standing for gastroesophageal reflux disease. Think heartburn. These diagnoses imply that the child is experiencing surges of acid from the stomach up into the throat.

Actually, a weak lower esophageal sphincter that allows some acid to regurgitate is rather normal in young babies, as is spitting up. Studies suggest that 50 to 67% of young infants have gastric reflux symptoms. This can hardly be called a disorder. Still, one should try to address the needs of a baby who is frequently exhibiting distressed crying and other worrisome symptoms. Earlier literature reports 10 to 30% of babies as suffering from colic. This is about the number of babies given a diagnosis of reflux today, based on the same symptoms. Whether either of these diagnoses leads to effective resolution is questionable.