Coping with baby reflux- our experience
Emily was our first. She's now very almost 5 and it seems the reflux days are almost behind us. But, when she was tiny, things were all a bit crazy and reflux played a big part of our day to day lives. Reflux is so common, especially in babies born prematurely, and is usually nothing to worry about. It was challenging to deal with though, so I wanted to blog our experiences with the hope that it gives some hope to parents in a similar position to the one we were in 4 years ago.
Emily was born 4 weeks early. It was thought I had an infection that brought on early labour (though this was never treated) - I think she was just ready to see the world. Initially we found feeding very difficult. Those that have ready breastfeeding blog will know that Emily was just not interested in food. For the first 2 days she was fed expressed milk every couple of hours via a cup. The midwives fed her as we had little success getting her to take anything. It was obvious from the get go that Emily was a 'sicky baby'. From the first feeds she was bringing milk back up, but babies do quite often so we didn't think anything of it. But she was sick with every feed and it was mentioned that the ring of muscle between he oesophagus and the stomach may not have fully developed, causing the very frequent spitting up. I used to burp her so that she would be sick over the hospital floor rather than all over me (for the 100th time). We were in hospital for other reasons for about 10 days and I reckon that at least 5 of those days saw my husband pop to tesco for more clothes (because Emily had been sick on all her outfits). He took washing home everyday and we ended up with about 50 muslin cloths. It was our first baby so we knew no different but when I compare it to our experience with Edward who was never sick, it was very very different! Nothing that we couldn't handle of course and it didn’t seem to cause Emily any pain or discomfort, just lots and lots and lots of outfit changes, for Emily and myself.
Emily was bottle fed expressed milk for 3 months as we continued with the feed, sick, change, sleep cycle! But it was when we changed to formula milk at 3 months and we noticed Emily's sickness getting much worse. But rather than spitting up all the time, Emily started being sick a few times a day huge amounts! I used to carry nappy bags in my pocket to catch it as they were big enough to catch her sick, muslin cloths simply didn’t cut it anymore! I visited the doctor who agreed that this wasn't normal amounts of baby sick. We were told to slow her feeding down, keep her upright after feeds and feed smaller amounts more often. The doctor was hopeful that when Emily started sitting unaided and for longer periods of time, that the reflux would sort itself out. It seems this is often the way things pan out, and by 1 year most babies will have fully developed the ring of muscle and will stop bringing up food.
Anyone with experience of a newborn will know that it's not easy to slow down feeding! Babies aren't the most patient with their food and certainly aren't going to want to wait if they are hungry. So this was something we found pretty impossible to do. We did invest in a wedge reflux pillow to keep Emily more upright in her cot (When she stayed put it definitely made a bit of a difference, though she often rolled off it within about 5 minutes!). Thankfully she slept through the night by this point so keeping her upright after feeds wasn’t causing problems at night (though there were plenty of nights where we were cleaning sick out of the bed). Family members began to comment on Emily's sickness but I just kept saying "It will all settle down when she starts eating and sitting up!".
6 months came, Emily started solids. She loved food so was very easy to wean and naturally her bottles decreased. But the sickness never disappeared. It just changed. I waited until Emily was sitting but again, she continued to bring up huge amounts of her food and milk. Emily went from being sick after bottles to being sick once a day but bringing up loads of food and milk- it used to complete baffle people who didn’t know her situation! It would pretty much fill a nappy bag (gross right! But I really want to share our experience to help others in the same situation!). I used to be on edge everyday waiting for the one big sick, then I would relax after that knowing that it most likely wouldn't happen again. She was sick in the swimming pool, soft plays (we shut a number of those that year!), restaurants, baby classes (in the ball pit! I was horrified). She would be sick more often if she was running around and getting hot, if she'd eaten too much, if she'd had a cold and was coughing anyway. I laugh about it now but it was really hard! I was always really anxious at other people's houses, I even took playmats with me to some because I desperately didn't want to ruin their carpets! It never once bothered Emily and catching/cleaning up sick isn't an issue once you've done it so many times. I think what I found most draining if having to explain to everyone that my child isn't ill, she just has reflux. Because when your at a baby group/soft play/ restaurant and your baby has just been sick everywhere (and we're not talking spitting up anymore here) everyone suddenly wants to be as far from you as possible in case you spread whatever it is to everyone else. Nursery also had to understand that Emily would most likely be sick at some point in the day, and that she was fine otherwise.
I went back to the doctors when Emily was sitting but the sickness hadn't improved. Emily baffled them! The doctor simply couldn't understand why she was being sick consistently once a day. We were referred to the paediatrician and waiting for an appointment at the hospital. This would be the first of many visits. We were using gaviscon infant occasionally but it was so expensive that we couldn't use it as often as we should have been. The hospital asked to monitor her and over the coming months we had numerous appointments. We wrote food diaries many times (Emily has an egg allergy so we had to rule out other allergies and intolerance- this was hard as I was told hundreds of times it must be something she had eaten). There was no link and the hospital told me she was fine. She was happy, always playing and they never saw her being sick. Her stats were perfectly normal and they weren't going to do anything. Emily was 1 year old by this point and I was wanting her to be prescribed the Gaviscon that I had seen made a huge difference for her! I quite simply couldn’t see an end to it and wasn’t sure it was going to sort itself out anytime soon!
Then at the end of a very long appointment Emily threw up all over me! The paediatrician was shocked to say the least. I had to get changed into scrubs as I was totally covered. Finally they understood what we were dealing with and straight away Emily got her prescription! We didn’t go crazy with it, we only needed to use it once a day by this point but it made the world of difference. When Emily was 18 months her reflux calmed down and we stopped the gaviscon. It hadn’t disappeared at all, but she was being sick less frequently and we had starting leaving the gaviscon out of her milk to the point where we thought she would be fine without. It still rears its head now, 4 years later, when Emily has a nasty cough and she's lying down usually but thankfully we are well over the worst.
And of course reflux for Emily wasn’t nasty or painful and it can easily be dealt with but I wanted to share our experience. I spent hours googling to find out what we could do, how we could help, how we could make it easier and didn't find much of use. Reflux seemed to be a term that is thrown around quite a lot but i think if your little one has it, it will become more obvious, as you meet others and realise that your little one is spitting up more than most. And just like we did, you’ll spot the signs and deal with it in the best way for you. Because that’s what we do as mums and dads!
For anyone seeking more info and advice here are some useful links, however, if you are concerned about your little one please talk to a professional:
Want to document your little one’s journey? Victoria is a newborn and baby photographer based in Shrewsbury. You can find out more about her photography sessions here.