I mentioned in Parenting Choices and 0-3 Month Must Haves that Baby R has suffered with reflux. It dawned on me while writing those posts that until Baby R was diagnosed and treated I had heard very little about reflux. There's not a lot of support for this kind of thing, or at least not in my area. I found it very difficult to cope with, to get a diagnosis and to get the treatment my son needed. Part of the reason I struggled so much with getting a diagnosis was the assumption of healthcare professionals, that as I was a first time mum I was probably also just being over protective and worrying too much. I'm sharing my experience to empower parents to believe and to trust that they really do know their child better than anyone.
Baby R was born in May 2014, his birth was a whole other story of me being ignored that resulted in a stressful, scary and traumatic labour & delivery for both of us. I didn't get to hold my son for almost 2 hours after he was born which wasn't what I planned or imagined while I was pregnant. I always had this image of him being passed to me as soon as he was born and me cuddling him. I didn't get that and it's still a bit raw thinking back. But I digress!
When I was pregnant I had decided I was going to breastfeed my baby. I had done many hours of research and discussed it all with my husband. I knew that as I would be going back to work we would have to eventually transition to bottle fed but while I was home I wanted to at least attempt to breastfeed. For the first few weeks this was a brilliant bonding experience. It was very unglamorous at times of course. Loosing used nursing pads down my parents sofa wasn't the highlight of my life that's for sure! Thanks Mum for finding them before poor Dad did! *BLUSH* But on the whole, it was an experience I enjoyed and would recommend any mother tries.
Baby R was (still is) a fantastic baby. He fed every three hours for about half hour except for night times when he would go 5 hours, which started day 1 in the hospital. He increased his evening sleep to 7 hours, 9 hours and then 12 hours by the time he was 6/7weeks. I'd hit the baby jackpot and knew exactly how lucky I was. Even the midwife commented that he seemed to have read the baby books and knew exactly what to do and when.
Sometimes he was a little sick after a feed, but nothing out of the norm. I put it down to eyes bigger than his belly, a bit of wind or posseting which is common in babies hence the muslin clothes we drape over our shoulders. But around 6/7 weeks it felt like Baby R took a giant step backwards. He started wanting feeds every two hours and then every hour and a half. Instead of feeding for half an hour, he was feeding for 45 minutes to an hour. I was getting half hour inbetween feeds in basic English, and it was horrific. In addition to this the little bit of sick/spit up became a lot more than that. He was being really sick. It didn't matter how much or how little he fed. Whether I winded him during or after the feed. Didn't even matter if I kept him sat up in between feeds and didn't let him lie down. Within a few minutes he'd start being sick and continue to be sick for hours on end. Only stopping at bed time. I gave up on bibs. Sick just soaks through them, drips off them, or even avoids them entirely and lands on mum instead. My hair, shoulder, leg & shoes were constantly used for target practice and while it started off as a little joke, it very quickly became not very funny at all.
The worst part was absolutely the fact that my son was being sick. It was horrible to watch. It was heartbreaking to see him arch his back in pain/discomfort, to cry and scream when there was no more wind and nothing else for him to be sick with, and soon it started to take it's toll on me too.
It was awful that he'd start his hungry cry and I resented him. That I had to feed him again? Then I felt guilty. He was a baby and I was being so mean in my head towards this perfect baby boy that I loved so much. My life went from this amazing three hour cycle to, Me all day everyday sat in a chair with him feeding off me or being sick on me. I hated leaving the house. Breastfeeding in public is daunting and offputting at the best of times. Add one child with reflux and it was... horrific. I'd walk in a shop and know I wouldn't buy anything because I'd have to find a cafe to feed him before I even reached the till. In the cafe I'd get flustered trying to feed him and mop up sick, this made him fussy which made feeding a nightmare. I went out if I had to. I tried to keep it to peoples houses, and tried not to show I didn't want to be there. The washing machine was constantly on. If it wasn't washing bibs, muslin clothes, tea towels, burp clothes or baby clothes then it was washing my clothes, bed clothes... you get the picture. I was starting to feel quite depressed about it all. I resented my son for being constantly hungry, I resented myself for feeling that way, I resented my husband, for no reason other than he got to go to work and have a break from the sick. I resented anyone who told me it was normal. This wasn't normal. Babies didn't arch their backs and scream after feeds, they didn't regurgitate an entire feed and demand another one. In what way was this Normal?
He'd see the health visitor and they insisted this was normal. He was gaining weight and was fine "Keep doing what you're doing". So I did. I kept going. I forgot to eat, I forgot to drink and I sat in a chair feeding him. I wiped up the sick and then I kept going, kept doing what I was doing. Autopilot kicked in. More appointments, he was still fine, still gaining weight. I wasn't fine but I felt guilty so I stopped asking if there was anything that could be done and kept doing what I was doing.
When he was around 8/9 weeks old I couldn't cope anymore. I made up some bottles and sent him out with his Dad. I cleaned the house, I ate and I drank. I hated him being out but I felt human and a small part of me waited smugly for Dad & Baby R to come back flustered. Only they didn't. They came back all smiles. He had gone four hours between feeds, and had only been 'a little bit sick'. I was pleased Baby R had felt better today but I was utterly confused and took it very personally.
The next day we resumed breastfeeding and straight away he was sick sick sick and a lot more sick. Something clicked in my head. I'd read somewhere about reflux. The arching of the back, the constant tears, the random little cough he had developed. It all made sense. Powdered milk was a bit thicker maybe that's why he was keeping it down? So once again I addressed my concerns with the professionals but once again I was told I was wrong, he was gaining weight so he was fine. I decided it must be me. I couldn't get anyone to listen to me after all.
At 12/13 weeks old I eventually gave up on breastfeeding entirely. I couldn't keep feeding him every hour. At least if he went on the bottle other people could help me out and the physical demand on my body wasn't so high. It wasn't a decision I took lightly but I felt for my own sanity I had to go to bottle feeds. I knew this would make the health visitor sit up and listen too. I rang her and waiting for the telling off, for the 101 reasons why breast is best and I was a horrible mother. But instead she listened and said "if you've stopped breast feeding then I know there is an issue. Keep a diary of his feeds, how often he's sick etc. I will come see you in 3 days and we will go from there." Three days & 8 sides of A4 later she sat down read my notes and said what I had suspected for a few weeks. Reflux... His stomach muscles weren't properly developed yet so milk and stomach acid was leaving his stomach and coming back up his esophagus. The acid was painful, hence the back arch. The acid was burning his throat causing the cough. The amount of sick was basically an entire feed and hence why he kept wanting to feed. It was at this point she told me he was still gaining weight but it wasn't the amount he should have been and he'd gone from the 50th percentile to the 25th percentile and wasn't far off the 9th percentile line. I was livid. My pleas for help had been ignored while his growth chart had shown there was a problem for weeks!!
We were sent to see the Dr who immediately prescribed gaviscon. This doesn't work for a lot of babies, but for my son it did. He stopped being sick, his feeds grew further apart. His cough is still there but it's nowhere near as bad. He doesn't arch his back and he's clearly not in pain anymore. I'm told that by the time he's 12months he should have grown out of it and his stomach muscles will have strengthened enough to keep his food down. Along with the change from liquid to solid foods the outlook is good.
This blog post has been my experience with reflux in babies. Let me know below if you would like a more factual post of reflux, what I've learnt from the Doctor since his diagnosis. Also let me know if you've had an experience with reflux. How did you cope? What led you to the diagnosis and what was your godsend. Ours was gaviscon!
I've forgiven myself for feeling worn out, stressed, tired and even resentful. I've forgiven myself for being human and feeling what any mum who knows something is wrong but can't get help would feel! If you're in the same situation stay strong, your baby needs you and it's easier said than done, but us Mums have a way of eventually getting the help that's needed!
As always thanks for reading and don't be shy to say hello! xoxo