When It’s Not Just Colic – Reflux Hurts

When It’s Not Just Colic – Reflux Hurts

This is a subject I’ve been considering writing about for quite some time but every time I sit down to put into words I hesitate.  I look at my amazing, beautiful little girl and find it very difficult to go back to those first months of her life when our days were not filled with smiles and cuddles.

It was clear very early on that we didn’t have an “easy” baby.  Our first days in the hospital when she was born are mostly a blur.  I was recovering, with quite a few stitches, in a semi private room with a roommate with no respect for others. So, rest was already difficult to achieve, then add a newborn who cried around the clock.  I was overwhelmed and living in a fog.  But I thought it would get better.

In the days and weeks to follow it became clear that it was not getting better.  In the beginning I thought maybe what we were experiencing was still in the range of “normal”.  Babies cry right?  She was eating, nursed like a champ, and gaining weight.  In fact, all she wanted to do was nurse.  I mean that quite literally.  If she wasn’t nursing, and occasionally sleeping, she was screaming.  It was the only way to comfort her.  After a while it became too much for me. My production was good but eventually the stress of having to nurse around the clock with no sleep (and if you have a baby with reflux you know I really mean NO sleep) caught up with me and I had to start to supplement with formula.  That was a difficult decision for me but it was the right one.

Nap time and bed time were a nightmare.  It would take hours and hours of pacing the house, every single day and night, to get her to sleep.  And once she was asleep we couldn’t put her down.  She needed to be held at all times.  I took her to her regular checkups and talked to our doctor about my concerns.  She told me it was just colic, or gas, and to just give her a pacifier when she screamed.

I knew there was indeed something wrong and I was not content with a passing diagnosis of “colic”.   So, after hours of research, a night in the emergency room and finally finding a doctor that would help us we finally started to move in the right direction.  Our daughter had reflux specifically she had silent reflux (more on that below). After leaving the pediatrician’s office with a diagnosis and a prescription I finally had some hope.  I cannot even describe to you how I felt three days later when it became clear that the medication was beginning to work. My beautiful little baby, who was just over two months old at that point, started to change.  Her personality started to shine through and she was awesome!  I’d like to tell you it was all rainbows and butterflies from that point forward.  It wasn’t.  We had many ups and downs. We had several incidents with the pharmacy who were really uneducated about the medication (it’s a compounded medication so they actually have to make it themselves) until we found a wonderful pharmacy that got it right.  Even then the medication was not a cure.  We had good days and we had bad days but we finally felt that we were not helpless in our pursuit to help our little girl.  She had a condition that we could manage to some degree and the chances were very likely that she would outgrow it.

Symptoms of Reflux in Babies

Please note that a few of these symptoms are completely normal things for a baby to do but if you suspect your little one might have reflux and has several of the symptoms you may want to talk to your doctor about it.

  • Excessive crying, especially after eating and when laying down
  • Excessive drooling
  • Frequent hiccups
  • Feeding issues.  Many babies with reflux will have a difficult time eating and will outright refuse to do so resulting in poor weight gain.  Although less common, some babies will use feeding for comfort and want to feed excessively.
  • Frequent spitting up.  This is not always the case however.  Some babies, like ours, have “silent reflux” where they reflux but reswallow instead of spitting up. This can make it difficult to diagnose reflux (because they aren’t spitting up much) and it’s also harder on baby because it burns both coming up and back down again.
  • Gagging and choking
  • Breathing problems – asthma, aspiration, frequent sinus congestion, chronic cough,etc.
  • Projectile vomiting
  • Constipation or troubles passing stool even if it’s not “hard”
  • Poor sleeping habits and frequent waking

Although health professionals are getting better at it, reflux in babies is largely under diagnosed. Left untreated, severe reflux can have some serious complications. My advice, if you suspect something is “just not right” with your baby – trust your instincts and get help.  In most cases, diagnosis is done by observing symptoms.  A true clinical diagnosis would involve some invasive testing but that is generally a last resort in babies.  If reflux is suspected some lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication will prove to be effective and no testing is actually required.  The good news is that most babies will outgrow reflux (or at least the worst of it) by the time they are a year old.  Once they start sitting up more frequently and eating solid foods you may also see improvement.  We were able to take our little one off her medication at 10 months.  She is now 2 1/2 years old and other than her asthma (which often goes hand in hand with reflux) she is a healthy, happy girl.  I still hear her reflux from time to time (she swallows it) but it’s not something that causes her chronic pain or discomfort.

Because it’s worth repeating I will say it again.  Always trust your instincts when it comes to your child!  I had to be persistent to get our little one diagnosed and then to get her medication right. I can’t imagine the consequences if I had not gone to bat for her. Parenting a little one with severe reflux can be very difficult, especially in those first weeks when your body is still healing and your hormones are trying to get back to “normal”.  Between the hormones, the crying, the complete lack of sleep and the worry, it can completely drain you physically and emotionally.  Do your best to take care of yourself.  Believe me when I say I know that is much easier said than done.

To find out more about reflux in babies I highly recommend visiting the Living with Reflux website.

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