My post today is very targeted and long (sorry fashion friends). All you mummas and specifically mums who have dealt with reflux in babies, or think their baby may be struggling with it, this is for you. Firstly, I am not a doctor. You obviously, all know this, but I am stating the obvious. I am not claiming I am an expert in the field.
As a first time Mum I struggled with Aston and found the most help and comfort from reading personal experiences online, chatting with friends and reading blog posts. I first starting writing this post in June last year (yes, yonks ago) but I kept putting it off, going back and forth in my head if I should or not. I don’t want it to come across as a whining post or complain that he was a difficult baby. It’s not his fault. He was in pain and the only way for him to express himself was to cry. I am beyond grateful to have him. He is my special boy, but I think it is important to share my honest story and feelings.
Before having Aston, I had no idea what ‘silent reflux’ or ‘reflux in babies’ was. I thought it was just like the reflux adults get when we eat spicy food. You know the type that causes a little discomfort and then passes? I think back to conversations I had with girlfriends of mine years ago. They struggled with reflux in babies and told me about their friends’ babies having reflux. At the time I remember thinking how horrible that must be, but I had no idea what it actually meant.
Aston was a really fussy baby from day dot. You know how a lot of babies are in that sleepy ‘unawaken’ newborn phase in the hospital and they just sleep a lot? Our boy never went through that stage. It started from that second night in the hospital. Screaming all night long, which continued for months and months. Our baby was the one you could hear in hospital during the night, screaming from the top of his lungs, while Jim and I walked his bassinet around the hospital corridors trying to get him to sleep.
Aston was just one hour old here, and yep I was totally besotted with him. Look at his little smile (melt)
THOSE ZOMBIE WEEKS
The first four weeks with Aston was a blur. I am sure this is no different to how lots of new mums feel. Everything is foreign and you are trying your best to find your way. At the same time, I wanted to enjoy this incredible time with him, but I remember feeling scared, overwhelmed and unsure if I was doing a good job.
Thank god for Jim and my family (especially my mum). They were so supportive and there every step of the way, but Aston would cry non-stop. All day and night. Reflecting as I write this, it’s certainly a lot easier to share now, but in all honesty, it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. The feeling of not understanding exactly what was wrong with my little man. Plus those crazy mum hormones, nipples bleeding and mastitis. I was not in a good place.
I did feel a lot of pressure. As a mum, I think you always feel a lot of responsibility even if you have a huge support system. He was constantly in a lot of pain, it seemed like it was more than just the normal baby fussy cries, but being a first-time mum, who was I to say what was normal or not? I had nothing to compare it to and I felt like if I told people he cried a lot and wouldn’t sleep at all then it was a sign of weakness on my behalf. My Mum and close family also thought he was far more irritable than your average baby. He would scream for hours with a bright red face, clenched tight fists and nothing would settle him. Even when he slept he had a painful looking screwed up face. If he wasn’t sleeping, he was screaming.
Two weeks old here. I remember this day, he wouldn’t take to the boob at all and I was still on antibiotics for mastitis
YOU KNOW YOUR BABY BEST, FOLLOW YOUR GUT
It was strange. When I went to maternal health checkups or the doctors that followed, he was mostly calm in those appointments. Of course, I was happy that he was calm for once, but it was frustrating as they only see your baby for thirty minutes max. They don’t know what they are like for the other twenty-four hours a day, but I felt like maybe I was overreacting as a ‘first-time mum’.
Aston was thriving at all his checkups. He was a big boy, loved his milk, and guzzled it down super fast (I later found out this is a symptom of silent reflux in babies). Aston was growing really well (98th percentile) so when I explained to them what I was experiencing (Aston’s non-stop crying, screwed up face and fists, harsh coughing, extremely fussy on the boob, not sleeping at all) I got the response with a little laugh that motherhood is never easy and babies do cry a lot. They said it was probably colic, and it should get better by the time he was three months. Then I doubted myself and thought I needed to harden up. So I stopped delving into detail about how hard I was finding it. I knew motherhood wasn’t meant to be easy. It was only early days so I thought it would get better. But I knew that something wasn’t quite right with my boy and his screams weren’t your usual baby cries he was screeching in pain.
Breastfeeding was also a nightmare. He was always really uncomfortable when feeding and I thought what I was eating could be upsetting his tummy. He was so restless, latching on and off and also very frantic on the boob. I got mastitis a week after I had him and had to take antibiotics. I thought the antibiotics were still in my system and the reason he was so upset, affecting his sensitive tummy, so cut out all dairy, coffee, sugar, etc and it seemed to make a big difference. It was so hard to maintain the no coffee. Later I found out at the doctors that babies with silent reflux get affected by the protein and dairy in certain foods and it can stir up the reflux (I have detailed below which formula I have used once I stopped breastfeeding that was really gentle on his tum).
I know you shouldn’t look at others, but I would compare Aston to other babies. Friends’ babies weren’t unsettled like him. They didn’t scream with a red face non-stop. They slept in their cots or in their pram. Time passed and if anything, he was getting worse.
THOSE LONG NIGHTS
The nights were long, and I mean really long. It would start at 5 pm. Bath then his feed, but it was impossible to settle him to sleep. Aston would scream in agony. I would try to rock him, put him on the boob again, walk up and around the house, juggling and jiggling him, swaying him down the hallway, singing every song to get him to sleep (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and ‘Aston’ The Snowman. He loved when we swapped Aston for Frosty. It was his favourite). When I finally get him to sleep in my arms, I gently put him in his cot. Thirty minutes later, he would start screaming again and it would be time for his feed. It took so long to settle him, this cycle would go on and on, all night until the morning. It was torture. I was only getting forty minute catnaps night after night.
On the super hard nights when I was just too tired. Jim and I would put him in the car, driving him around the streets until he would finally nod off. There were times when I would just cry. I couldn’t help it and I didn’t even feel sad (which I know sounds ridiculous because I was crying) but I couldn’t stop tears pouring down my cheeks. It was my body dealing with the exhaustion of no sleep and the feeling of helplessness. I didn’t know what to do to help him.
He was the calmest after his morning feed at around 10 am. I loved those special times with him. This was when I thought maybe the motherhood business wasn’t too hard after all, but as the day progressed he would become more and more unsettled. Hell would start again.
I found it really difficult to leave the house because Aston wouldn’t settle in the pram. He couldn’t handle lying flat. Both the pram and his cot became the enemy. In the pram, he would scream so much that I would have to pick him up and walk him upright in my arms. I was worried when visitors came over because if he was awake, he would be screaming.
GETTING HIM ON A ROUTINE
I had read Tizzie Hall’s, Save Our Sleep when I was pregnant from front to back and was adamant I was going to get Aston onto a routine. But trying to get a baby with silent reflux on a routine is not easy. In fact, it’s nearly impossible. I think her book and advice is amazing as it did finally start working when Aston’s reflux got better, but I wish I didn’t put so much pressure on myself to get it perfect. Every baby is different. The drill what works for one baby, won’t necessarily work for the next. The number of times I hear ‘The reason ‘Sue’ has a good baby is because they are really chilled, they are just such amazing parents’. Trust me, ‘being chilled’ has nothing to do with it when you have a baby that is in pain and irritable. It really frustrates me, when people say this to me. I feel it’s their nice way of saying “Maybe you are the reason Aston is irritable”. For the record Jim and I are both very relaxed.
AND THEN A HERO CAME ALONG
After chatting with friends and family, we decided it was time to get a sleep nanny, one night a week. I needed help and was struggling to function. Daani was recommended to me, an incredible lady, honestly she changed my life. Daani doesn’t have a website but you can contact her via text or phone 0466 427 289. She has worked as a midwife nurse for over twenty years at the St Vincents Hospital and has seen it all. Daani now works as a sleep nanny full time. She is so qualified and knowledgeable about babies. Working as a midwife for so long, she taught me so much. Daani stays up with the babies and monitors their behaviour al night long.
As soon as she stayed over, she was certain Aston had severe silent reflux. She could see and hear him struggle with the acid going up and down his tract. Finally, an answer. I googled like crazy and Aston fitted the ‘silent reflux in babies’ description to a tee. I didn’t initially think of reflux because he wasn’t spitting up, but silent reflux in babies is different, they have no spit up. Think of the worst possible heartburn you have ever experienced, but then put it in a newborn babies body #ouch.
The ring of the muscle between the oesophagus and the stomach is not yet mature in babies, so it is unable to hold stomach contents down. With silent reflux, babies then swallow the stomach contents. The problem is that the stomach contents are acidic, so it burns on the way up and back down and is super painful for them. I ended up making a doctor’s appointment and explaining what I thought and he assessed Aston and said he had silent reflux. Daani was incredible at giving me so many tips to combat his silent reflux and she ended up coming over a few times a week for a little period of time to help get him into a routine. And finally sleeping. Woo hoo!
Really frantic to nurse at night, but then would pull off and on, in pain and scream, then be frantic to nurse again and this would repeat. Feeding was really hard.
Hiccups, that would last for long periods and seemed aggressive and continuous
Full on crying and screams. It was always worst from 5 pm onwards and continued all night long
Clenched fists and stiff body and red screwed up face
Only slept for really short 40-minute bursts on and off
Nappies were always a weird consistency and really green
Bad smelling breath
He would feed frantically fast, and would continually drink bottle after bottle or stay on my boob all the timeLots of coughing that was really harsh
Trouble breathing if laid flat
MY TIPS TO HELP REDUCE SILENT REFLUX IN BABIES
Aston started taking Losec, it was prescribed by the doctor. It actually took a long time for Losec to work, around four weeks and only really kicked in when I used it in combination with these other techniques below. Aston had to stay on Losec until he was seven months old. We tried quite a few times to wean him off it as I hated him being on such strong medicine so young, but I hated seeing him in pain too, but when we would try to wean him, he would revert back.
Gaviscon and Mylanta, we worked the Gaviscon into a paste and gave it to Aston before his feeds
We swapped his formula to Goats milk as it is far more gentle on the stomach, he was only taking about one bottle of formula a day until I stopped feeding at six months.
At six months we then moved him to Aptamil Allerpro gold +- which is gentle on babies with a protein allergy, so perfect for babies with silent reflux
I saw the incredible Dr David McRae in Armadale. Yes, he is a chiropractor, which I know can freak people out and I don’t agree with ever working into babies tiny bodies like that (no back cracking!!) but David is amazing, he explained the way they’re growing in our womb can affect their digestive systems so he massaged Aston’s body and taught me techniques to turn his legs in the bicycle motion every time I changed his nappy to get his digestion moving. We saw David a couple of times a week, then once a week for 8 weeks and it seemed to really help with his pain.
Prop the cot up, we used three thick books, so it was on a slight angle, which helped to keep that acid down.
So here I am now and Aston is sixteen months old and thriving. As soon as he turned seven to eight months his silent reflux seemed to disappear (EDIT, I forgot to add this when I first posted, but I think the reason for Aston getting better was also because he was eating a large amount of solid food at every meal time. We introduced solids when Aston was three and half months old to help with his reflux. Solids helps to keep the acid down). So please hang in there it does get better (and I never thought I would say that). And again, this is my own personal experience and we all know that every single baby and person is different in this world but if one person can identify with something in this post that could help them, then I would be more than happy. Remember, never feel apprehensive to consult your doctor, because no one knows your baby better than you do.