Unsettled baby- is this reflux? Five tips to consider when you think your baby may have reflux.
Please note: This article is based on personal experience only and does in no way constitute medical advice. Please seek out medical advice as appropriate should you have concern’s about your baby’s health and wellbeing.
I hadn’t heard of reflux apart from a bit of indigestion before I had my second child- I guess I kind of had, in passing, but never really thought too much about it and how it may affect our family. What is reflux for a baby anyway?
Definition of Reflux according to Reflux Infants Support Association:
“The word reflux means to flow back or return; ‘gastro’ is a term related to stomach; and ‘oesophageal’ relates to the oesophagus (food pipe). Following this, the term ‘gastro-oesophageal reflux’ is where stomach contents (comprising food and stomach acid) flow back into the oesophagus”.
Our first baby – textbook perfect
Just to give a bit of background….my first child was the perfect baby. How lucky were we?! Sure, he did all the normal baby stuff that we were warned to expect from a newborn. He soon settled into a routine of sleeping through the night, drinking milk and eating solids. He loved being around people, adapted to our lifestyle and was easygoing and happy.
Second child – signs of reflux
Three and a half years later……enter our second child…a little girl. Hubby and I were feeling fairly confident we knew what to expect given our cruisy first experience…..it couldn’t be too different, could it? We were all over this….
It soon became apparent to us that it was not all about the cute newborn baby pics!! After bringing our daughter home it soon became clear there was something different going on. I was breastfeeding her and no matter how much I tried to feed her, she didn’t ever seem to settle.
We would try to hold her upright to burp her but she would often scream and writhe and seem to be in pain. She also vomited up milk….all the time and sometimes it projected across the room.
She didn’t sleep well at night (in fact not really at all).My daughter didn’t settle or sleep well during the day either. She always seemed like she was uncomfortable.
So off to the maternal health and child nurse and doctor I went. I discussed my concerns with our paediatrician. I felt that I wasn’t heard. There was no real explanation given as to why she was behaving like this and what I could do to help.
To add to my concerns, I kept being told that she wasn’t gaining weight as expected. The main emphasis seemed to be on encouraging me to feed her more and make sure that she gained weight in line with the recommended charts. I went home feeling guilty that I wasn’t doing the right thing as her mum. I kept hearing that I wasn’t feeding her enough and felt terrible.
In my sleep deprived and stressed state, I spent a whole lot of time researching via Dr Google. I came across a group in Australia which specialised in reflux. I decided to join and soon found out that there seemed to be a whole other world which existed that I hadn’t been aware of before.
Yes- there were mums and dads out there experiencing very similar issues to us with their babies. This gave me a glimmer of hope that maybe there was something we could look to and ask for to help us cope.
I ended up visiting my paediatrician again when my daughter was around 3 months old armed with the information I had gathered about reflux. I can still vividly recall sitting nervous as hell, with my handwritten list in my shaking hand and holding back tears. I had the videos recorded on the iPhone of our daughter screaming uncontrollably.
I remember saying to myself that I must not leave the doctor’s office until I was given some answers!
Luckily for us, our doctor was more understanding this time, maybe it was because she felt sorry for me- a sleep deprived blubbering mess! We ended up having medication prescribed to try for my daughter. Although it took a at least a week to notice, there was an improvement.
We were pleased to see that she was able to rest and sleep more comfortably. She seemed like a totally different baby. She was more relaxed and happy. It was horrible to look back and think about the months we spent (and seemed wasted) when she was so upset. I felt like we had missed out on a lot of the special times in the early months.
When our daughter was around 9 months old, we found out that we were expecting our third child. It was a bit unsettling thinking about how I would manage with two babies under two. I had a feeling of dread that my third baby may also experience reflux.
The pregnancy progressed….during this time I spent a lot of time online researching about reflux. I wondered what else I could do to be proactive and help my baby if they were to experience reflux this time around.
Third child- more signs of reflux
Baby number three soon came along (another little boy!)
This time I felt a lot more prepared. Although I was hoping that he wouldn’t experience reflux symptoms, it very soon became apparent that we would be heading down a similar path. My son wasn’t feeding well from the breast, we were providing him with top- up feeds.
We were advised that he wasn’t gaining weight in line with what was recommended. It was suggested he was at risk of failure to thrive (not a nice term to hear when you feel like you are trying your heart out to do the best for your baby).
The warning signs were all there again…..
I went along to his paediatrician (a different doctor to the one I had visited with my daughter).
However this time I felt more prepared. I took along my written notes and my phone videos of his unsettled behaviour. I knew that this time I would be demanding medication to assist with his reflux. And then hopefully all would be fine as it had been with my daughter…..
Unfortunately this doctor didn’t seem quite so understanding. She explained to me that she thought that a lot of what I had described was normal newborn behaviour. She believed it would settle in time without the need for medication. The doctor even offered to send me to sleep school as she said she thought it would help me to settle my anxiety about the baby’s unsettled “colic type” behaviour.
As you can probably guess….I didn’t react well to this. Yes- I recall being a blubbering mess again. The doctor ended up prescribing medication for reflux only after I lost my cool and demanded she provide it. (She still insisted he didn’t need it though!).
We tried baby boy number three on the medication…. although unfortunately he didn’t seem to respond in the way my daughter had. From being involved in the Reflux support group online, I made a decision to trial taking out dairy and soy from my diet while he was breastfeeding. It was suggested this may assist with relieving his unsettled behaviour and indicate an intolerance.
Eliminating dairy and soy entirely from my diet was a whole other challenge that I won’t go into detail here about. It certainly wasn’t as easy as I had anticipated. It did take a while to notice some differences in my son’s symptoms and behaviour.
The elimination diet I was on while breastfeeding as well as the medication for reflux he was taking seemed to result in some improvement. It was great that we were able to finally get a little sleep and see a happier side of our little boy.
I persisted with this diet for over 12 months while breastfeeding and also when we introduced solids. He still never really slept well until he was 18 months. Looking back I don’t know how we managed while both trying to work with such sleep deprivation. Over time, we gradually re- introduced dairy and soy. Touch wood- my son has seemed to be able to tolerate them now. I still watch out for what he eats and any symptoms/ reactions.
What I would watch out for if I had another baby
I would like to share the most important points I noticed with my two reflux babies:
- Frequently unsettled- crying, squirming, upset when placed into cot or bassinet or car seat.
- Vomiting milk often including projectile vomiting – immediately after and between feeds.
- Poo which seemed to have mucous in it and blood streaks.
- Poor weight gain (as per recommended charts)
- Poor sleep patterns- waking frequently and seeming as though they are uncomfortable or in pain.
I hope that the information I have shared above can help at least one parent in their journey with a baby who doesn’t seem to fit in with the norm. I encourage you all as parents to seek medical advice and support if you feel that things aren’t right.
I found it was often that others tried to dismiss my concerns by saying it was normal behaviour or that I was overreacting due to lack of sleep, anxiety or stress. This is not always the case. Looking back I am so glad that I persisted in seeking out help and treatment for my two babies although it wasn’t an easy path – it was certainly worth it.
Five tips to consider when you think your baby may have reflux:
- Seek out help from medical practitioners and ask them about options to help your baby. If you feel that you haven’t been listened to- don’t be frightened to seek out another opinion…and another opinion, until you feel satisfied with the outcome.
- Don’t be afraid to ask about the medication options available to assist your baby- make sure to ask about possible side effects too.
- Seek out support for yourself – make sure you look after yourself too- check out information available through Reflux Infants Support Association (RISA) – they have an online support group you can access for a small fee. For me- this was a lifesaver – to read about those going through similar experiences, to be able to ask questions and receive support- so amazing.
- Try to look for and enjoy the positives of your parenting experience- those initial months fly by so fast and can’t be reclaimed. If you feel like you need further support please speak with your medical practitioner or contact PANDA.
- Make sure you look after yourselves as parents too. Having a child with reflux symptoms can be very challenging and can have a big impact on your physical and emotional wellbeing and your relationships. Be kind to yourself and seek out help when you are struggling.
Thanks so much for reading and I hope you enjoyed. Please share with another parent who may be wondering about why their baby is unsettled…