Birth baby: check. Swaddle baby: check. Change diaper: check. Feed baby…not so fast! We all assume that once we have made it through 40 weeks of pregnancy our baby will eat, sleep, and sit like an adorable blob that we can make funny faces at. But sometimes those things don’t click into place and the poor child is left screaming with two wholly exhausted, close-to-tears parents. This isn’t because the parents haven’t tried absolutely everything in their power to make this baby happy. On the contrary, these parents have tried breastfeeding, bottle feeding, formula feeding, car rides, swings, swaddles, special crib mattress elevators, white noise, fans, burping over the shoulder, burping sitting up with chin support, etc, etc. Nope, the family described here may be victims of a horrible case of reflux.

Working in the NICU, I have seen hundreds of babies with reflux. My first baby didn’t have reflux and so, to be honest,  it never occurred to me that my second one might. But at 6 weeks old when feeding went from a pleasant experience to a maddening, frustrating experience that left everyone crying, I knew what it was. The horrible suck, suck, SCREAM that would escape my tiny baby’s mouth with each feed attempt left me feeling like the worst mother in the world. Why can’t I feed my child? How can something so seemingly basic cause so much pain to all involved?

One tough element of reflux is that it can be silent – no projectile vomiting necessary. My son has never had projectile vomit. A second tough element is that it doesn’t start at one particular age. My son started right at 6 weeks, but for others it can start earlier or later. And finally a third tough element is that not one singular thing works for every baby and it lasts longer for some babies than others.

This was a really tough time for our family. Luckily, the nurse practitioner at our pediatrician’s office specialized in reflux and was amazing. She not only trialled different medications and dosages with us, but she would also call after hours to check on us. She knew firsthand that it is a lonely, dark road with a reflux baby. But she gave us wonderful support and I will always be grateful for that.

I’m happy to say that my baby is 6 months old now and off his reflux medication. We are getting ready to start solid foods and he really enjoys eating. If you had told me 18 weeks ago that I would be writing this, I would have laughed in your face. But the good news is – honestly, there is life beyond reflux. Hang on!

Here are some of my suggestions to help get through this tough period:

– Keep your baby upright after feeding.

– If you are breastfeeding try different positions. Sometimes feeding your baby so they are almost sitting straight up can help. If bottle feeding try different nipples or bottles. The ones that are made to decrease gas help some babies.

– Don’t be afraid to contact your pediatrician. They can help you sort things out if it is truly reflux. Sometimes other things can appear like reflux since babies can’t tell us what hurts.

– If your pediatrician starts your baby on medication, don’t be afraid to call back or schedule another appointment if it seems like it isn’t working or the effectiveness decreases. There are several medication options and also the dose may need to be adjusted.

– Accept any and all offers of help! Even if it is 15 minutes to take a shower – you will feel calmer afterwards. Caring for a refluxy baby is HARD work – physically and emotionally.

– Reach out. The support of others that have been in the trenches is really helpful- for tips/tricks AND as a beacon of hope that this won’t last forever!

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Alisa Brooks

Alisa Brooks

Alisa Brooks is a nurse that has worked in both fertility and neonatal ICU. She lives with her husband and two wonderful sons outside of Washington, D.C.