For those parents whom have administered acid inhibitors to their newborns on the recommendation of health professionals, this next bit of information may be upsetting. If you are one of these parents please remember this as you read; you understandably placed your faith in the hands of your health professional who probably thought they were doing the best they could for you. You have been the best parents possible by accepting a solution that has been advocated. I understand the desperation to find something that works, something that stops the crying, that reinstates some kind of sanity back into life, gifting you the newborn and life you envisioned. You did what any good parent would do, you tried something that might help and it seemed to because it brought calm.
Omeprazole, esomeprazole (a newer form of PPI) and ranitidine (an H2-Receptor) are the common acid suppressors prescribed to newborns and infants for ‘reflux’ – or what I call Digestive Overload the cause of reflux. These highly potent medications either heavily reduce or stop acid being produced in the stomach. Without acid much of a child’s early developing digestion is compromised, as is their immune system. I have encountered far too many babies that were unnecessarily prescribed these acid inhibitors, exhibiting the side effects listed below. Some of the time they have been prescribed higher doses than FDA safety recommendations, sometimes at a younger age than the guidelines state or for longer than stated, with some newborns on an H2 Receptor and a PPI at the same time. Some might say, this is totally unacceptable for our newborns well-being.
Despite FDA safety regulations, the non-inclusion of Gastroesophageual Reflux (GOR/GER) as one of the prescribed uses for these drugs, and the lack of long-term research establishing efficacy of the medication to treat GER from newborn to one year, the prescribing of them has significantly increased in many countries for this age group. In 2015, IMS Health listed Esomeprazole as the fourth selling drug worldwide. ‘Over the past 15 years, many thousands of fussy babies worldwide have been given medicine in the belief that their colic was caused by painful acid reflux, Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER). From 1999-2004 the use of a popular class of liquid antacid (PPI’s) in young children increased 16-fold and from 2000-2003 there was a 400% increase in the number of babies treated with anti-reflux medicine. This rate of increase has continued—or accelerated—from 2003 to the present.’ 2 In 2013 omeprazole was the third most commonly dispensed medicine in New Zealand. Between 2006 and 2010 the number of prescriptions dispensed for newborns increased from 4650 to 8231. The largest occurred in the age zero to three months (111%) and four to six months (80%) cohorts. This increase is despite a lack of evidence to support the prescribing of omeprazole to infants for symptoms such as irritability and regurgitation associated with uncomplicated reflux (BPAC 2011; 2014). 3,4
These facts alone mean we should not be giving these prescription drugs to our newborns. In fact, going from the FDA safety and efficacy guidelines, one could say it is malpractice for a doctor or paediatrician to do so.
Note: Worldwide there are a number of other names these drugs go by, and there is a full list here.
Ranitidine safety and efficacy has been established for the 1 month to 16 year age-group for the treatment of GORD/GERD only, and should not be taken any longer than 2 weeks. The common side effects of Ranitidine are actually what many parents are trying to heal for their baby too.
Common – passing wind, constipation, diarrhoea, stomach upset including nausea, abominable pain, headaches and skin rashes.
Other – chest pain, muscle weakness and blood in the urine.
Serious – irregular heartbeat, difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, fever or chills, swelling of the mouth, face, lips or tongue. Hives, rashes, yellowing of the skin or eye and itching can occur as can, mental confusion, sore throats, persistent headaches and hallucinations. You may see a darkening of urine or a change in the amount of urine produced. Stomach pains, unusual bruising or bleeding can result, as can pneumonia.
Nursing Mothers – Ranitidine is secreted in breast milk but the clinical significance of this has not been fully evaluated.
Use in Children – Experience with ranitidine preparations in children is limited and such use has not been fully evaluated in clinical studies. It has been used successfully in children aged eight to eighteen in doses up to 150mg twice daily. Its safety and efficacy for newborns has not been established.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety and efficacy guidelines for omeprazole are for the treatment of GORD/GERD (not GOR/GER–reflux or silent reflux) for the duration of eight weeks, and are established for ages 2 to 16 years only. Esomeprazole's safety guidelines state that prescription is only for ages 1 to 17 years or for the short-term use of six weeks for GORD/GERD only. Like Ranitidine the common side effects of Omeprazole and Esomeprazole include those that the parents are often trying to heal when steered toward administering these medications by their GP or Paediatrician.
Common - severe diarrhoea (may be caused by infection in intestines), nausea with or without vomiting, gas pain, constipation and/or undigested food in stools, abdominal pain and dizziness or lightheadedness. In addition, drowsiness, sleep problems, nervousness, headaches, dry mouth and skin rash can develop. Dietary wise there may be food allergies and iron deficiency.
Pregnant Mothers - Omeprazole belongs to FDA pregnancy category C. This means that omeprazole may harm an unborn baby if used during pregnancy.
Nursing Mothers - Omeprazole is excreted in breast milk and can potentially cause adverse effects in an infant. There have been no studies carried out for the effect of the esomeprazole (the new version of omeprazole) when breastfeeding.
Other - muscle weakness, chest pain, itching and blood in urine
Serious - rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, loss of consciousness, seizures, convulsions or hallucinations and fever. You may also see some swelling of the face or neck, difficulty in swallowing, shakiness or tremors, skin problems such as itching, peeling or hives and redness. Agitation or confusion may be apparent and tingling in the fingers or toes and/or pain in the calves that spreads to the heels while witnessing swelling of the calves/lower legs. Other serious side effects include chronic inflammation of the stomach lining and low magnesium levels.
My research into acid inhibiting medication (Proton Pump Inhibitors PPI’s and H2-Recptors) started in 2011 after liaising with two well-respected New Zealand doctors who insisted the real facts needed to be known by parents. The doctors, like a growing number world-wide, are strongly opposed to the distribution of these pharmaceuticals for newborns. They are mortified that these prescription drugs are being pushed as a treatment for GOR/GER and often without formal investigation.1 They have asked to remain anonymous but say, ‘they are interested in effecting change and prefer to see alternatives prescribed before doctors and paediatricians jump to prescribe PPIs.’ One of the doctors has a complete understanding of a parents’ predicament when dealing with the behaviour of reflux, silent reflux or inconsolable crying. Her daughter posseted copious amounts of milk, screamed for hours on end and would finally sleep from exhaustion, only to start the cycle again the next day. During this horrendous, heart-wrenching time, this doctor still refused to place her baby on acid-suppressing drugs. Her factual reasons were as follows…
The hydrochloric acid (HCL) plays a vital role in immunity by providing an acidic environment (typical pH of 1-2) that makes it hard for any invading bacteria or virus to survive. It is a highly necessary component of protection for your baby’s health, preventing unwanted bacterial growth in the stomach and upper intestine and helping them break down the nutrients in their food/milk appropriately. Without it, their bodies stop functioning in a healthy manner.