Nonpharmacological and nonsurgical measures are often recommended for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in infants, despite ambiguous supporting evidence.
To conduct a systematic review of rigorously evaluated nonpharmacological and nonsurgical therapies for GERD in infants.
We searched online bibliographic databases, including MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Cochrane Collaboration and Clinical Trials Database, and alternative medicine databases for the terms gastroesophageal reflux and infants. We selected randomized controlled trials of nonpharmacological and nonsurgical GERD therapies in otherwise healthy infants. Data were extracted from the selected articles regarding reflux, emetic episodes and intraesophageal pH.
We identified 43 relevant studies, of which 10 met the selection criteria. These studies examined positioning, pacifier use, and feeding changes. Positioning at a 60° elevation in an infant seat was found to increase reflux compared with the prone position. No significant difference was shown between the flat and head-elevated prone positions. The impact of pacifier use on reflux frequency was equivocal and dependent on infant position. The protein content of formula was not found to affect reflux. Although no study demonstrated a significant reflux-reducing benefit of thickened infant foods compared with placebo, 1 study detected a significant benefit of formula thickened with carob bean gum compared with rice flour (pH<4 for 5% vs 8% of time). Another study showed that if supplementing with dextrose 5% water or dextrose 10% water, the lower-osmolality fluid was associated with less reflux.
Many conservative measures commonly used to treat GERD in infants have no proven efficacy. Although thickened formulas do not appear to reduce measurable reflux, they may reduce vomiting. Further studies with clinical outcomes are needed to answer questions about efficacy definitively.