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Reflux in Babies

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Babies often bring up milk during or shortly after their feeds - this is known as reflux. 

Reflux differs from vomiting, where your baby's muscles forcefully contract, and is an effortless spit up of whatever they have just swallowed. Whilst it is normal to worry something is wrong with your baby, reflux is incredibly common and will normally pass by the time your baby is a year old.

Some signs of reflux include:

- Spitting up milk during or after feeds - this may occur several times a day

- Feeding difficulties such as refusing feeds, gagging or choking

- Persistent hiccups or coughing

- Excessive crying, or crying while feeding

- Frequent ear infections

One of our team, Victoria, has dealt with silent reflux (where the symptoms are occuring but are not always as obvious) with both of her children and shares her story below:

"When I was pregnant with my first son I didn’t read any books on pregnancy. Looking back I probably should have read one or two but there are so many out there it’s hard to know where to start and what not to waste your money on. So I didn’t read any. I did actually have a few that came in handy after he was born but I fully admit I was clueless as to what to do with a new-born - naively I thought I’d learn as I went along.

I didn’t really know how to sterilise a bottle properly or even how to make a bottle – I was going to breastfeed wasn’t I? So why did I need to know about any of that…. or so I thought.

Me and my husband did a 3 day course a month before my son arrived which, in hindsight, taught us nothing. So, I dutifully went out and bought all the things I thought I needed for a new-born – 60% of which I probably didn’t use – and waited for my baby to arrive.

My son, Lucas, arrived in May 2015 and he was wonderful. That blissful first week where all they seem to do is sleep turned into the inevitable sleepless nights and I thought I coped pretty well. Then he turned 5 weeks.

It’s all a bit of a blur now exactly what happened and when but suddenly something seemed wrong. I couldn’t put him down and he seemed constantly, uncomfortable and in pain.

I spoke to other Mums and couldn’t understand how they seemed to be coping as well as they were. I remember asking one Mum how she was able to get ready in the morning and she said she just put her baby on the bed and got dressed. I can still remember looking at her confused as I just couldn’t do that with Lucas. She said she just let her baby cry as it wouldn’t do her any harm for those few minutes. Lucas didn’t just cry – he screamed and screamed, gulping in air all the time.

Neither me or Lucas cracked breastfeeding and it seemed like he was constantly hungry and I was constantly feeding him. I was miserable and started to dread going out as breastfeeding was so bad. I joked that he was like a Great White Shark whenever I tried to breastfeed him...angry, vicious, constantly wanting to be fed but constantly pulling away crying. I didn’t know who to turn to as no one else seemed to be struggling like I was. A breastfeeding consultant came round to help me once and she got tearful watching me cry while I tried to feed him. I ended up stopping breastfeeding completely at 4 months.

I went to a few baby groups including baby massage as I’d heard it would help. It didn’t. I remember being upset as it was the first group I’d had time to find and book myself without any recommendations from other mums and he hated it as, for the majority of the class, he had to be on his back. I was beginning to feel like such a failure.

Then when he was about 6 weeks old he screamed all through one horrible night. Every time I attempted to put him down he screamed in pain. I couldn’t seem to do anything to soothe him except hold him upright. Me and my husband were exhausted, confused and snapping at each other. And then I did the one thing I was told not to do – I turned to the internet for help.

In the middle of the night I put his symptoms into Google and found this site. It described what was happening to me and Lucas perfectly. The next morning I was on the phone to the Doctor and he had been diagnosed with silent reflux and put on Gaviscon and subsequently Ranitidene.

The Ranitidine seemed to ease the worst of his symptoms but he still couldn’t be put flat on his back. I was constantly covered in baby sick. I remember people telling me I had sick on me. I didn’t even need to look. I already knew. I laughed it off saying “Yes I know” but it reality I was struggling. Every surface that he went on was raised – either with pillows or a towel if I was with him or with a wedge in his crib. My husband worked nights so trying to get Lucas to sleep in the house during the day was awful as he cried and screamed so much. I spent most of my day walking round and round with him, whatever the weather, not daring to stop in case he woke up and screamed. I probably walked at least 6 hours a day most days.

At night “dream feeds”, that I’d heard so much about, were an impossibility – a feed meant that I had to keep him upright for 40 mins to an hour and even after all that time he sometimes still squirmed in pain when I put him down or the milk that I’d fed him hours before came pouring out of his mouth. Letting him cry if he woke up in the night was also impossible – if he woke up crying it meant that he could be struggling to bring his wind up or choking on milk so we had to run into his room to lift him up.

On the advice of a Doctor I actually started weaning him at 4 months as we all hoped the less milk he had the more likely it was that his reflux would go. In the end it took until he was about 10 months old before it eased off and about 18 months for the symptoms to finally go.

There are many websites online dedicated to helping parents with reflux children but I never had time to look at them. Months went by when all it seemed that I was able to do was hold him upright or go for long walks.

I find Social Media hard. It seems to be full of people with an online persona where they seem to have it all or find parenthood a breeze. I made a pact with myself that I’ll never pretend online that having a child is easy. Luckily I had a couple of lovely friends who confided in me that they were struggling in their own ways with being mums and it was a relief to be honest and open with them. 

I’d never heard of reflux or silent reflux before becoming a parent – it wasn’t something that was covered in the course I did, no one had ever mentioned it to me and the books I’ve looked at since having children only seem to briefly touch on it. It was as though everyone had heard of and talked about colic but not reflux. For me it came out of nowhere and I struggled for a long time.

As I type this I can see my youngest son asleep next to me also displaying the signs of reflux while my shoulder is covered in baby sick from picking him up a few minutes ago. Luckily I’m now able to cope with it a little bit better and I know that he will, eventually, grow out of it.

I wanted to write this in case there was another parent out there that was struggling with the same problem but didn’t understand why. I felt isolated from a lot of other parents as no one else I knew was going through the same problem and some couldn’t help themselves but look slightly disgusted as my child struggled and brought milk up.

If you think your child might have reflux, where they won’t settle, they scream when they are laid down, they struggle to bring wind up or they seem to be bringing milk up all the time you might want to speak to your Doctor. If you know a parent that has a child with reflux – be kind to them."

Victoria Duffin

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