Reflux. This is something I had heard very little about before Heidi was born. I knew babies spit up, but I never expected it to get as bad as it did. Heidi was about a week old when we realised something wasn’t normal. She had been spitting up, a lot. And it was gradually getting worse and worse. But babies spit up right? So at first we didn’t think too much of it. She had been sleeping soundly in her basket, on her back for the first few days and suddenly, everytime we put her down, she became very very restless, arms shooting up in the air. She would eventually become so restless that in no time she was awake.
Getting any sleep at night was a total no go. I can’t even describe the tiredness we were experiencing. We were lucky if she slept for half an hour. And when she was asleep, we were scared to sleep because we could hear her spitting up and we were so scared she could choke. At this point, I was expressing into a bottle so we were taking it in turns getting up with her. Then during the day, we were giving each other opportunities to take naps. But when Gerard had to go back to work, it got so much harder. He did still help me at times during the night, but I felt bad that he had to go work in the morning so I insisted on taking most of the shifts myself. Of course then during the day, I had no one to help me. My family live an hour away, they came down as often as they could but with everyone having jobs/kids of their own, it was difficult to see them regularly. I had no offers of help during the weekdays. Everyone loves telling you to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’. Yeah, sure, I just won’t eat, I won’t go to the toilet, I won’t wash my face or change my underwear, or sit down for 10 minutes with a warm cup of tea! Heidis reflux was getting worse, so when i did find an opportunity to nap, of course, she wakened. It was no longer just little spit ups, it was being really sick. Sometimes she brought up entire feeds.
I got online to do some research. I found loads of tips on how to handle it such as, feeding her in a more upright position, holding her upright for at least 20 minutes after each feed and elevating her crib/mattress at one end. I tried all of these things and sometimes they helped, sometimes they didn’t. Day or night, everytime we put her down to sleep, I would have tears in my eyes, silently begging her to stay asleep. Getting a solid hour was a milestone in itself!!
I was ecstatic seeing Gerard coming through the door each day. He could take over for a while and let me nap. I loved my baby so much, but the tiredness had me so miserable and I remember looking at her sometimes feeling scared that I didn’t love her enough, as much as she deserved! I didn’t know if it was tiredness or if I was on the verge of post natal depression.
I started to notice that Heidi slept like a log when she was upright on my chest. So in desperation, I ‘slept’ like this for a couple of hours one night. I sat upright supported by pillows, and aware she was there, was too scared to drift into a deep sleep but it was just so nice to have a couple of hours where I could lightly doze and be undisturbed. There wasn’t a peep out of her the whole time. So for 3 or 4 nights in a row, when I got really desperate, I resorted to this, each time afterwards feeling so guilty for taking such a risk! It is drummed into you from the moment you get pregnant not to fall asleep with your baby but oh, my, God. When you are that desperate and exhausted, its hard not to feel the temptation pull you in. The guilt was too much however and I vowed not to do it again no matter how bad it got.
We purchased a bedside crib so that I could keep a closer eye on her. We elevated one end and for a night or 2 she actually slept pretty good and i thought it was really helping. But before long we were back to square one. I remember when I had had enough. One night Heidi had been sick so much, I had changed her babygrow and vest 4 times in an hour. I just couldn’t cope with this anymore. The wee pet was falling asleep, exhausted herself, but the moment I put her down she was sick. I was standing at her changing table, changing her again, crying my eyes out. This had been going on for 3-4 weeks. I was completely at my wits end. Why was nothing helping her? It didnt seem to be causing her pain like I had read some babies experienced. Being sick didn’t seem to annoy her too much but I felt so bad for her having to go through this and not getting peace to sleep herself. Gerard came in to take over and ushered me off to bed. I cried myself to sleep. Not that it took long.
In the morning, I rang my health visitor. It went to voicemail, so I left a message asking her to call me back and gave a brief reason for the call. Before I could even finish what I wanted to say I burst into tears. I was so embarassed and all I could think was, she is going to think I can’t cope and take my baby away!
I rang my GP and told the receptionist what was going on. A few twitter mums I had chatted to had mentioned medications that had helped their babies. I was hoping to avoid that path if possible but I had reached breaking point and I am sure Heidi had too. The receptionist sounded very sympathetic and assured me she would speak with the doctor as soon as he was free. She called me back an hour later and told me he had prescribed carobel. I didn’t even ask what it was I just thanked her a million times before hanging up. My mother in law picked it up for me and when I saw what it was and read the packet my heart sank. It was a powder to thicken the milk to make it harder for it to be brought up. That meant mixing it in a bottle. For anyone who hasn’t read my breastfeeding story, this was another big hurdle for us and I had been so happy with how things were going. I really didn’t want to go back to expressing for every feed. My health visitor called me back, asking if I was ok as I had sounded upset etc and assured me I had done the right thing phoning the GP. I felt stupid for not doing it sooner. Looking back now, why hadn’t I done it sooner? I hadn’t even thought to tell the GP receptionist I was breastfeeding and the doctor just assumed I was giving her formula. The health visitor helped me devise a pumping plan as she assured me the carobel was good. She also said Heidi might spread her feeds out a little since it would take longer to digest the milk. If it meant me getting a few decent nights sleep I was willing to try.
She found it strange at first going back to the bottle but soon got the hang of it. I noticed a difference with the carobel within a day. She definitely seemed to be keeping everything down. I had a stash of breastmilk in the freezer so this kept her going for a couple of days while I got back into a pumping routine. But I soon realised it wasn’t as easy as before. The last time I exclusively pumped Heidi was taking 2 or 3 oz feeds. Now she was needing 5-7 oz at a time! I couldn’t keep up. I couldn’t pump enough. I phoned my GP again and he advised me to feed it as a paste before each feed as advised on the packet. Have you ever tried spoon feeding paste to a 5 week old? It doesn’t work. And I wasn’t going to force feed it to her or struggle with it in public and during the night. So I asked for an appointment and went up.
He understood straight away why it wasn’t practical for breastfeeding and suggested omeprazole. I myself have used omeprazole in the pass and it had worked wonders on me so I was feeling quite excited to try this on her. He worked out how many mgs to give her each day according to her weight. I had to cut a tablet in 4, dissolve it in a little breastmilk and give it to her with a syringe. It was a bit fiddly at first but she soon got used to it and nowadays, shes like a little hamster licking water from its bottle!
After a few days we really started to notice a difference. She was still spitting up a little but nowhere near as often or as much and could be left on her back for a little longer than before, before becoming uncomfortable. And as time has gone on, her doseage has gone up with her weight. I like to give it to her in the evenings, about an hour before bedtime, to make sure her tummy is pretty settled before putting her down. There is an occasional night where I am putting her down and suddenly realise I have forgotten to give it to her. For a few days its noticeably worse again so we know it is definitely working for her! I have an alarm set on my phone now so I don’t forget either!
Our biggest success though in dealing with her reflux, (and please note, I am not telling anyone to try this, I am not a medical professional and I am not giving advice, I am simply telling my own experience), is tummy sleeping. As I had mentioned earlier, we noticed she slept great when sleeping on our chests. So during the day, I occasionally popped her down for a nap on her tummy and kept a close eye on her. She always slept so soundly! I couldn’t believe it. I had read that babies couldn’t choke if they spat up on their backs. One day I was changing Heidis nappy and the next thing I knew she was choking really bad and her face was bright red. I pulled her up quickly. It scared me and it scared her. She looked at me blankly before sobbing her heart out. It just made me more nervous at night and it happened on a couple of other occasions too.
My Mum suggested I try tummy sleeping at night, my sister and I were tummy sleepers and although she understands advice has changed over the years, that was the advice 30 years ago. I was so scared to though. If anything happened her I would never forgive myself. After a couple of weeks of observing her daytime naps though and seeing how good her neck control was and how she never lay on her face, one night we decided to give it a go. Of course, I barely slept. I was constantly checking on her, making sure she wasn’t on her face, if she was too still I poked her to make sure she was still breathing. She still got up for her night feeds but that was the best nights sleep she had had since she was born. So i kept going with it. Of course it meant I got little to no sleep, but I had become so used to it anyway. After a couple of weeks, a very generous friend gave me an angelcare movement monitor that she wasn’t using. The pad goes under the mattress and an alarm goes off if it doesn’t detect any movement for 15 seconds. Of course I still slept with one eye open at first, but as a little more time went on I became more trusting of the monitor and more confident in Heidi as a tummy sleeper. She has slept this way since she was about 10 weeks old and I now know what a half decent nights sleep is again. I do still check on her regularly, but fall right back to sleep again. Having the bedside crib makes it easy to check quickly and I can hear her breathing too which is so reassuring. The monitor is fantastic. Sometimes when i lift her for a feed I forget to switch it off and the alarm starts beeping so I know it definitely works! She is also rolling now so the more time goes on the happier we feel with our decision. Its not for everyone and I understand if anyone judges, I probably would too if Heidi was happy on her back.
We make sure we are being safe in every other aspect we can. No loose blankets (we prefer a sleeping bag), feet to the bottom, nothing in the crib with her, we keep a close eye on room temperature etc. This is the most open I have spoken about it. Sometimes I feel like a bad Mum and will be harshly judged if I talk about it but you know what? I will never forget the look on her face that first time she choked and I feel better knowing that if she is sick in her sleep, the only place its going is onto her sheet. I have also read several other blogs from Mums who have had similar experiences. After all, different things work for different people, different things work for different babies, and mum shaming is an awful thing.
For anyone with a reflux baby, please know it will get easier. You will find something that works for them and for you. And when you are up for the 15th time in the night changing yet another babygrow, it feels like you will never ever sleep again but you will. Speak to your doctor. Speak to your health visitor. There is help out there for your baby.