Acid Reflux · Sleep · TEF/EA

Coping With a Reflux Baby: My Experience

Warning: This post is a doozy! I have a lot to say when it comes to this subject. If you aren’t committed to reading the whole thing right now, I’ll spare you the details.

  • Reflux sucks, it’s not fair that your baby is in pain
  • Medication, elevating everything, probiotics, burping, and keeping baby upright after feeds provided the most relief for us
  • Time was ultimately the best healer
  • It’s okay to cry with your baby
  • Join an online support group
  • You will get through this, hang in there
  • You’re doing a great job

Now, pour yourself a cup of coffee and thank you in advance if you make it to the end.

Before giving birth to Calvin I never even considered the fact that my baby could have reflux. I just don’t think it’s something that crosses a lot of people’s minds unless they’ve had a first-hand experience with it. I was warned by many friends, family and the occasional stranger to “catch up on sleep now” and “prepare for the crying”. First of all, there was no way I was catching up on any sleep while pregnant. Between getting up to pee every two hours and being extremely uncomfortable in literally any position, that lovely piece of advice just flew right out the window. It’s sitting outside on the front lawn right next to “sleep when the baby sleeps”, “maybe this brand of chips would be a little better for you because they don’t contain as much grease” (I’m not kidding, a complete stranger actually said that to me), and “don’t co-sleep, you’ll spoil your baby”. Secondly, nothing could have prepared me for just how much Calvin would cry, or for how little he would sleep because of acid reflux. It was horrible. For the first three months he was more upset than happy. Now, this isn’t to say it was all bad either. I did get smiles, and giggles, and the occasional day where things were good. However, most days he wanted to be held all of the time. He often comfort-nursed to ease the burning, and refused every single pacifier. He hardly ever slept for longer than two hours at a time, and I would consider myself lucky if he took a forty minute nap. Often, the amount of time it took to get him to sleep was longer than the length of his little siesta. Meanwhile, friends were enjoying the newborn stage of eat, sleep, poop, repeat. Maybe I’m a little bitter, but I feel like reflux robbed us of so much.

It’s important to note that reflux doesn’t always equal spit up. Calvin’s reflux was silent. I can probably count on one hand the amount of times he has actually spit up. For whatever reason, he would regurgitate into the back of his throat and swallow it back down. This has it’s pros and cons. On one hand, we didn’t have to deal with outfit changes or difficulties with gaining weight, but on the other hand, he felt the burning twice.

In most cases, reflux is caused by an immature lower esophageal sphincter. This is the valve that separates the esophagus from the stomach. As the baby ages, it matures, and eventually the reflux gets better. In Calvin’s case, the reflux is caused by the surgery he had to have to fix his esophagus after birth. Since the two ends of his food pipe weren’t connected, the surgeon had to pull them together, which distorted that valve by stretching it up a bit. Luckily, the gap between the two ends of Calvin’s esophagus was short so there wasn’t much stretching that needed to be done. However, it was enough to cause reflux. He was started on a medication called Prevacid, a proton-pump inhibitor (PPI), in the hospital. It works by shutting off the acid-producing pumps in the stomach. He was discharged from the NICU at two weeks of life on this medication.

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Once home, all hell broke loose. The first night was awful. After what is usually a 9 hour drive turned into 12, because of frequent stops to feed and change Calvin, we got home around 9 pm. We tried to put him to sleep in the bassinet attachment of the Pack-n-Play but he wasn’t having any of it. He cried all night long. My husband and I cried too. We were so overwhelmed with emotion from everything we had just gone through, that finally being home without any support from nurses or doctors was a bit of a shock. The second night was better, but not great. Slowly we fell into our new role as parents and things got a little easier in that sense, but by no means did we have an “easy” baby. Lack of sleep was our new reality and it often seemed like it would never get better. We resorted to co-sleeping. This was partly due to my own anxiety, but also because he seemed to sleep slightly better when he was close to me, and it saved me from having to get out of bed for his frequent breastfeeding sessions.

During those middle of the night feeds I started doing a ton of research on the subject of acid reflux. Now that I think about it, I probably did too much. I once again took a piece of advice many moms get, “don’t Google anything”, and added it to my pile on the front lawn. That pile is getting pretty big at this point. I wanted to know everything I could so that maybe, just maybe, I could help ease his pain in some way. This research turned into shopping as I bought anything I could that other parents swore helped their little refluxers. I was desperate. I bought the Snuggle Me Organic baby lounger, the Rock-n-Play Sleeper, two Hazelwood necklaces, any and every pacifier I could get my hands on, probiotic drops, and gripe water. I did a trial off of caffeine, and even convinced myself that maybe he had a dairy allergy and went completely dairy free for two months. After speaking to his doctor, we started giving him his medication twice a day instead of just in the morning, and when that didn’t help, we upped his dosage.

I can tell you that many of my above mentioned trials didn’t work. He wouldn’t sleep in the Rock-n-Play, the Hazelwood necklaces did nothing, he absolutely refused all pacifiers, gripe water didn’t seem to touch his symptoms, and my caffeine and dairy free diet didn’t help either. This isn’t to say these things won’t help your baby with their reflux, they just didn’t work for us.

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Our collection… Not to mention a few still in the diaper bag, and 2 Wubbanubs.

Thankfully, there are a few things that did help, at least a little bit. Of course, his medication is number one. If your baby is suffering I highly suggest you advocate for medicine if nothing else is providing relief. In addition to that, we elevated Calvin pretty much at all times. We had already been propping him up to sleep, as per the surgeon’s instructions, but we also propped his change pad with a small folded up baby blanket. Furthermore, we started using my nursing pillow for lounging on the ground and for tummy time. He still wasn’t a big fan, but it did help. I also joined a Facebook support group for parents of babies with acid reflux. Just seeing that I wasn’t alone in the struggle provided so much comfort. It’s also where I got a lot of these ideas.

One item we really ended up loving was the Snuggle Me Organic baby lounge. It’s similar to a baby nest but has a really cool design feature of a suspended center (kind of like a hammock). I’ll link it here so you can check it out for yourself. It recreates the cozy environment babies are use to after spending all that time in the womb. We used it as a co-sleeper, placing a thin pillow in between mine and my husband’s and laying the Snuggle Me on that to keep him on an incline. This worked great for the three and a half months that we co-slept. We then transitioned him to a Pack-n-Play beside our bed, and shortly after that, to his crib. The Snuggle Me made both of these transitions smooth.

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I feel like I have to say that I know these sleeping arrangements don’t follow SIDS recommendations. Babies should always be placed on their backs to sleep on a firm mattress in a crib or bassinet free of any blankets, stuffed animals and bumpers. We made the decisions we did because it’s what worked for our family. It was the only way any of us were getting any sleep at all.

Another favorite were, and still are, BioGaia probiotic drops. He was happier and cried less once we introduced them. It also regulated his bowel movements. Another benefit is that I truly believe they keep Calvin from catching as many colds. He’s had one mild one so far and that’s it (*knocks on wood one million times*). I swear by these drops and suggest them to any mama who will listen.

The next thing that made a huge difference was properly burping, and keeping him upright for thirty minutes after eating.

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Baby-wearing was life-saving on those days when he didn’t want to be put down.

Finally, time was what ultimately provided the most relief. At now eight and a half months he’s a completely different baby than he was a few months ago. This isn’t to say that things are perfect. We still have set-backs and bad days. He still isn’t the best sleeper. Even after sleep-training he wakes 1-2 times per night and takes 30 minute naps during the day. Teething really aggravates things, and we avoid high acid foods when it comes to eating solids.

We’ve come a long way, but I know we still have a ways to go. His surgeon wants to try him off of his medication around the 12 to 18 month mark and I’m nervous, yet also excited for this. Until now, we’ll just keep truckin’ along… and probably go make another cup of coffee.

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