Many parents describe their preschool-aged kids as "picky eaters," but you can tell your child's issues are more than her unwillingness to try new food. Discomfort or pain isn't normal for any child, after eating an appropriately-sized meal. Gastroesophogeal reflux disease, or GERD, is common among infants, but the disease can also affect young children. However, as with many medical conditions, the symptoms of GERD in your 4 year old often present differently than they would in an 8 month old baby with the same condition.
Heartburn occurs when stomach acid, which is supposed to stay in your child's stomach, flows back up into her esophagus. The sensation can occur anytime from immediately after she finishes eating up to two hours after a meal. She might describe the sensation as a burning or sour feeling in her chest or upper stomach. According to the National Digestive Diseases Clearinghouse, eating certain foods, including dairy, fried foods, chocolate, acidic fruits and fruit juices, like orange juice, can be especially painful for children with this disorder.
Reguritation and Vomiting
Regurgitating her food, almost as though she were spitting up, can be another symptom of GERD in young children. This can also appear as though your child is "burping up" small amounts of half-digested food. While spit-up-like regurgitation typically occurs within minutes of eating, severe heartburn caused by GERD can also cause cause her to vomit up to two hours after finishing her meal.
Even when your little one is clearly very hungry, having GERD can often cause her to take several ravenous bites only to announce that she's no longer hungry. Although extreme cases of GERD can cause vomiting or severe heartburn after eating, she may also experience moderate, but persistent heartburn. That is, not enough discomfort to leave her writhing in pain, but enough so that she no longer wants to continue eating the food she needs for nourishment.
In severe or prolonged cases, your child's stomach acid can burn her airway and in some cases, her nasal passages, making breathing difficult, reports the Nemours Foundation. These breathing difficulties, as caused by GERD, can range from wheezing and asthma, to coughing and sputtering. Your child may experience these attacks as early as a few minutes within eating, when her stomach begins producing more acid to aid digestion. This ultimately brings stomach acid to her respiratory tract, causing her to wheeze or cough.