My son is now five years old; he sleeps well, and he’s a relaxed, if slightly manic, little boy. But barely two weeks into his life, it was all very different.
He was a reflux baby, and so his early days were far from calm and sleep-filled.
He struggled to nap, and when he did go down he was unsettled and would wake up again, so I fed him. It felt like he was constantly on the boob, and I was alternately feeding him, trying to stop his distress, or trying to get him to sleep. There was no let up.
In the end we read. I am a librarian and an analyst by training. Books are my refuge. The internet is my advice centre. I went to wherever I could to get information on what was going on with my little bundle. We diagnosed him ourselves as having reflux. his symptoms literally screamed it to us:
- Wailing in pain after feeds,
- Being desperate to suck; whether it was on me, on my finger, on a dummy, anything to ease his pain,
- Thrashing about and arching his back, even though he was only a few weeks old,
- Refusing to sleep, even when he had just been breastfeed,
- Instantly waking up when we put him down to sleep,
- Preference of sleeping on his tummy. This was something which I wasn’t happy doing because we all know the advice about cot death and lying our babies on their tummies. He seemed much happier sleeping in a car seat, or in his bouncy chair,
- Grunting like an old man in the corner of the pub when we did manage to get him to sleep, a bit like he was trying to get comfortable,
- Projectile vomiting pretty much after every feed we gave him.
Reflux is a sort of acid indigestion; the acid comes back up from a babies immature tummy after food and burns them – put very crudely. It is not pleasant for them and hurts like hell.
We managed on a couple of hours sleep a night for what felt like an eternity. For some reason the last feed of the night was generally OK for a couple of hours; I never worked out why this was, but I was grateful for those small mercies.
He would wake up for a feed in the night and that’s when the trouble started. Anytime 9-10pm was his cue. From then on, I was constantly trying to comfort him. Holding him upright on my chest, his tummy against my shoulder.
At first we tried bouncing him up and down on the birthing ball we had. Something his sister had loved when she was little. Looking back it was THE worst thing to do, but we just didn’t know. It made him worse, and I still feel terrible for trying it even now. Now I know what he had, and I realise that the acid was probably pushed higher up by my bouncing, by my attempts to comfort, I shudder. We were just trying to help him…
Typically, I would wake up, having found out he had fallen asleep, upright, on my chest, as we were both so tired. I would try not to do it, but I simply couldn’t help it, and neither could he. It felt like the only way he would ever get to sleep and stop screaming.
This round robin lasted for five weeks…..
….Then I snapped.
Don’t be afraid to push the doctor about reflux – I did and it worked
I don’t know whether it was the sleepless nights, the realisation that he was in pain, or pig-headedness, but whatever it was, I went against the advice of my health visitor who said he was just being a baby. She said that he was perfectly normal, he was gaining weight, and so it couldn’t be reflux. Reflux babies didn’t gain weight, they lost it. However, I knew how much I was feeding him; to comfort him. I realised that with that amount of feeding, he would put on weight no matter what he was losing with his phenomenal cosmic vomiting powers!
I ignored the health visitor and took him to the GP.
The GP told me it was probably nothing and would pass; he was colicky and so would go away soon. He was the professional, I was just a book-loving internet geek. So….I went away with my tail between my legs.
Lucky for me, I had another child.
Over the next few days, I looked at her; she was only 20 months then, not the seven she is now.
It was recent enough to remember what she was like; and she wasn’t like this.
She was a newborn yes, and she cried, but she didn’t seem to be in constant pain. And most importantly, her vomit couldn’t have felled a deer at 2 metres. There was something not quite right with Stuntboy; sick shouldn’t be able to take out animals.
I went back to the GP, and deliberately asked for the senior practise partner whom I had a feeling might listen. I was right. He did. Within an hour my husband had come home to get my daughter, and I was in paediatric A&E as they thought it might be pyloric stenosis. This is a narrowing of the opening from the stomach to the small intestine and it causes prolific vomiting.
The doctor gets it in the neck; the projectile vomit naturally…
We waited a while, I fed him twice there as he was either hungry or in pain, I was never quite sure which, and the paediatrics doctor eventually came to see us. He took him from my arms, laid him down to examine him…
He projectile vomited all over him right on cue.
That’s the first and only time my kids have performed for the doctors. Usually if there is something wrong with them, or they see someone in a green uniform or at a GP surgery; we are miraculously cured. Not this time.
“Is there usually this much?”
Was the rather stunned response from the doctor. Oh yes, there most definitely is….
So we were packed off with some advice, some Infant Gaviscon, and told to go back to the GP if things didn’t improve.
Combating reflux in babies….
And oh my god, what a difference that little bottle of Infant Gaviscon made. It was a bit of a mission, but to combat the reflux we were to:
- Sterilise a syringe
- Give him his medication after every, single breastfeed. At eight weeks old, he was still feeding day a night, a fair bit
- Hold him upright for at least 30 minutes after every feed, including the night ones
- NEVER change a nappy immediately after a feed, even in the night. The only times I ignored this because I was too sleep deprived to think straight, we got new wallpaper…
- Raise his cot and his change table off the ground
- Allow him to suck for comfort; we tried a dummy and that didn’t work, so we helped him find his thumb. That worked a treat, though it’s not quite as easy to stop thumb sucking as it is if they have a dummy of course…
- Put him to sleep on his tummy; this wasn’t the advice of the doctor’s – this was us trying to stay sane. I know it won’t be for everyone. We did get a monitor with a sensor though that worked brilliantly. However, this combined with the raising of his cot did give us a bit of a problem one night, but that’s for another post…
Just a little medicine and a syringe, but it changed our lives. And most importantly, our little boy wasn’t in pain anymore.
He was only 8 weeks old, so I am one of the lucky ones. I know many other mothers, often first time mums, who have suffered with their babies longer because some professionals find it so hard to trust a new mums instinct. Particularly in the case of silent reflux where vomiting is absent, or where the Infant Gaviscon just doesn’t agree with their little ones, or the reflux needs stronger medication.
In the next few weeks I am going to be hosting a series of blog posts about reflux in babies. I hope that it will give other new mums, or even some old ones like me, the ammunition needed when talking to health visitors about it. I know some health visitors are happy to listen, but there are others that dismiss it as the ramblings of over-protective, neurotic new mothers. Some other mothers who have experienced the problems reflux can cause will be coming over here to share their experiences too.
So if you have a post on reflux in babies, do add it to the Linky below. Lets make this a resource for people that need a little guidance and help with what can be a terrible experience, and often a very lonely one in the early days, for both mother and baby.