Over the past few months I have started writing this post a million times. I have always ended up deleting it, never knowing quite what to say. Reflux was such a huge part of mine and my son’s life that no words I can write will ever really illustrate how miserable we both were!
Reflux was such a gradual process that it was so easy to miss, especially as I had never heard of it! I think a lot of Mums haven’t, but for those who have experienced it, it is one of the most awful experiences.
Reflux is the word used to describe what happens when the stomach contents – food (milk) and acid – come back up into the gullet or into the mouth. Most babies have a degree of reflux because the muscular valve at the end of their food pipe hasn’t developed properly yet. It’s only when strong acid from the baby’s stomach comes up into his oesophagus that it can be painful. Around 50% of all babies will experience some reflux during their first three months.
Looking back I think it started early on for Ruaridh. I started off breastfeeding and most of his feeds lasted up to two hours with a half hour gap between each feed. Whilst there was definitely some cluster feeding going on I am also convinced he was using me for comfort. Then for at least one feed of his day he would scream and scream. Nothing we did would help. I called out the health visitor but was told he was probably a windy baby and it could be colic, (a common misdiagnosis of reflux). I love my health visitor and it was an easy mistake to make, Ruaridh was putting on weight and on the whole appeared to be thriving. All his other feeds were fine so off we went, bought some infacol and carried on, hoping that the 3 months would pass and he would grow out of it quickly!
The weeks went on and the three hour screaming fit after the night feed just became part of the daily routine. During this time nothing could be done to comfort Ruaridh so we just used to ride it out as best we could. We cuddled him and helped him as best we could but we soon realised we needed some extra help, so following a recommendation we asked maternity nurse, Caroline Barley for some help.
Caroline immediately put us into a flexible routine to ensure my son got enough to eat and enough sleep. The routine was great and I called Caroline to tell her but also explained that Ruaridh was still crying for three hours every night. He was also starting to cry after some of his other feeds. Caroline observed him during his feeds and this was when I she mentioned he could have ‘silent reflux’. Just like reflux but without the sick, so harder to diagnose.
Each baby with reflux can display symptoms in different ways. For Ruaridh it was screaming through his feeds, feed intake decreasing over the weeks, arching his back during feeds, rubbing his heels together, screaming if you put a bib on him/showed him a bottle/put him in a feeding position, not wanting to be laid on his back, possetting milk hours and hours after feeds, frequent hiccupping, the list goes on….
Now every Mum is programmed with something that makes us want to stuff our babies up like foie gras. I can’t put into words how devastating and miserable it is to see your baby in so much pain that although they’re starving they can’t bear the pain of eating. It becomes a viscious cycle, where getting 3 ounces into your baby takes 3 hours and they become exhausted – they can’t sleep as feeds take so long and they feel in pain.
So much advice is given on how to deal with a reflux baby but some of it really angers me. One doctor told me to feed less but more frequently. This was at the point where Ruaridh was only taking an ounce per feed (at 8 weeks old). He was hating every feed and it was easy to see it was the most miserable time of his day. I tried everything – kept him upright to feed, upright after feeds, settled him on his side, fed small amounts frequently, baby massage, put his nappies on loosely. I laugh at it now but things were so dire I even tried feeding him in the bath. It would have become to easy to lose patience or resent him but I just felt gutted that he was in so much pain, I just wanted to make him better. I dreaded letting anyone else feed him and feeds were so awful that I just wanted to manage everything at home. The only way he could be soothed and eat a little more was with a dummy. Dummies help wash the acid down and I will be forever grateful to the dummy for allowing my son to eat!
Things are better now – thanks to infant gaviscon. We tried it twice, the first time it didn’t work but as he got bigger and could take a sachet per feed it worked wonders. Overnight he went from taking 1 or 2 oz per feed to 7 or 8. I couldn’t believe it! Now when Ruaridh sees his bottle he makes these really excited noises and given our past experiences with feeding I swear I could cry in happiness every time I hear his excited hungry noises.
You can feel completely alone when your baby has reflux. You can feel like it will never end. You can’t have people round and you can’t feed in public. It is an isolating experience. This blog is so small and doesn’t have a big readership but if you stumble across it and you are going through reflux please get in touch! Sometimes just knowing that you are not the only person going through it can help your sanity. And I promise you, it will get better, it might just seem like a million miles away right now.
It is important for me to thank a few people now –
Caroline Barley – without you I don’t know what we would have done. You realised that it was reflux as soon as you saw him eat. You gave me strategies that helped me encourage him to eat. You were on the other end of the phone when he pretty much stopped eating and you helped me get him the treatment he needed.
My Mum – the week I visited you he was at his worst. You helped me deal with it and made me see the dummy was absolutely necessary!
Infant Gaviscon – currently a daily part of my son’s life. You have allowed my son to enjoy his food again. Hopefully our relationship will end soon but thank god you’re there for us when we need you!
For more information on reflux you can visit: http://www.nct.org.uk/parenting/what-reflux
Please note that infant gaviscon have nothing to do with this post and have no idea it has been written!