Arched backs, flailing arms, projectile vomiting and constant wailing. Welcome to the hell that is parenting a reflux baby. For all the parents who have experienced this misery, you’ll know how heartbreaking it is to see your tiny baby writhing around in pain. Reflux, and its sinister sidekick, “silent reflux”, is exhausting. I should know. I am currently living it for a second time. And it does not get easier.
Here are seven truths mums of reflux babies know all too well:
1. Reflux babies SCREAM
This one has to be top of the list, because it’s one of the first signs that something is wrong. But you will doubt yourself, especially if you’re a first-time mum. People will tell you, “All babies cry”, but reflux babies don’t just cry – they WAIL. They’ve got lungs on steroids. They cry when they feed. They cry after a feed. They cry in your arms. They cry in a sling. They just cry. All. Day. Long. And that ‘Sleep, Feed, Play’ routine that all the baby books recommend will elude you. It’s more like Sleep (cat-nap) Feed. Scream. Feed. Scream. SCREAM. REPEAT!
2. Sleep? BA-HA!
You battle through a feed, hold your baby upright for an hour, rock, pat and pace hoping to coax your baby to sleep. You almost give yourself motion sickness from all the moving you’re doing (but you’re wary of jiggling too much as you don’t want to bring up more acid). Finally you see them yawn. You place them into their raised cot, ever so gently, and you pat them some more just to be sure. Finally, they fall asleep. You tip toe away, and faster than you’ve had time to type, “My baby won’t stop crying” into Google, the blood curdling cry jolts you back to your reflux reality. Reflux babies are cat-nappers. The books claim that babies sleep in 40-min cycles, but you’re surviving (somehow) on 12-minute naps!
So breastfeeding hasn't been going to well for us lately. I don't know if she's on a nipple strike or she's simply too lazy to suck from my boob, but she's showing a clear preference for the bottle. I have been expressing three times a day to give her top up feeds and now virtually every time I try to breastfeed her she screams and pulls off. The afternoon feeds are disastrous and leave us both stressed and upset. The whole thing is very distressing. I want to keep breastfeeding so much so I'm off to a Lactation Consultant for the third time today to try and figure this out. Please cross your fingers for us. 💗🍼
3. It’s not silent
My second-born daughter suffered from reflux, which wasn’t diagnosed until we had endured 15 gruelling weeks. I was a sleep-deprived, vomit-covered, delirious mess! I didn’t think it could ever be that bad again until my fourth daughter began wailing. She has the “silent” variety. Silent reflux is very similar to reflux, but she doesn’t actually vomit, because she’s able to swallow the stomach contents. The problem is that the stomach contents are acidic, so it burns on the way up and back down. And here’s the thing – there is nothing silent about it. It is loud, VERY loud. I nearly choked when her pediatrician asked me how her lungs were working. I’m still trying to work out if he was being ironic.
4. Washing overload
I remember the background hum of my washing machine when I was a first-time mum of one non-refluxer. I thought that SHE created a lot of washing. Ah, the blissful ignorance. When my refluxer came along, I couldn’t actually hear the hum above her blood curdling pitch. The white noise did not drown out her wails, and for the record, reflux babies do not fall asleep next to washing machines! Reflux babies create more washing than a Chinese Laundromat. It’s not just their clothes that cop the spew; it’s their bedding, muslins and sleeping bags. Not to mention the trail of destruction all over your clothes and furniture. You will wear a constant scent of regurgitated milk, and cry over spilt milk. Which is entirely appropriate when it’s breast milk!
5. A new language
While other mums are discussing sleep cycles and when to start gymbaroo, you are learning a new language. Zantac, Losec, ranitidine, and domperidone form your new vernacular. Phrases like “Failure to thrive”, “Slow growth rate” and “Breast refusal” wound you as you become fluent in reflux talk. Mums of reflux babies do not want to be friends with mums of calm, contented babies who can sleep on their backs. It’s just too hard. Online support groups talk our language.
6. Diet changes
At some point you will try an elimination diet. You’ll remove cow’s milk, tomatoes, onions, caffeine, chocolate and carbonated drinks. And this will be hard, but a crying, writhing, wailing baby is worse than the enormous pleasure you get from morning caffeine. Which incidentally is another kick in the guts, as mums of reflux babies really ought to be intravenously fed with a caffeine drip.
7. Love conquers all
Living with a child who suffers from reflux can be extremely stressful. Reflux is relentless, but you love them, and you WILL both survive. You will endure the intense frustration and tears, and when they give you a smile you will cry with relief and overwhelming love. And one day, the horrors will be behind you and you won’t remember how hard it was. But you will.
Michaela Fox is a freelance writer, blogger and mother of four. She muses on the ups and downs of motherhood on her blog Not Another Slippery Dip, and believes in ‘good-enough’ parenting. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.