Around 50% of babies have reflux. It’s more common than you think and yet, I have only recently really begun to understand what reflux actually is. Please don’t start reading this thinking I have the magic answer for reflux – I don’t I’m afraid. But I want to start a conversation. I want those who don’t know what reflux is to understand a little more in order to be able to support a parent of a baby with reflux. And I want those parents of babies with reflux to know that they are not alone.
Lets start with some definitions. Posseting – all babies do this. Babies are born with weak lower oesophageal valves which means that their stomach doesn’t seal properly so when it churns as part of digestion, some undigested milk shoots back up the throat. It’s a bit gross but generally doesn’t upset the baby. Fortunately, this usually stops happening around the weaning stage.
Colic – This is officially diagnosed when a baby cries for 3hours, at least 3 days a week, usually starting at around 3 weeks and tends to stop happening at around 3 months old. It is very common for babies to have a ‘witching hour’ in the evenings, although colic crying tends to be more high pitch and more intense. Often it is difficult for parents to ascertain the reason for their babies crying and their baby may be inconsolable. There are various ideas about what causes colic – digestive discomfort being one (tummy massage helps!) and overstimulation of the senses. Sometimes babies, like everyone, need a good old rant in the evening.
Reflux – Reflux is the regular (maybe constant) regurgitation of milk from the stomach and lower digestive discomfort. Babies with reflux often cough whilst feeding and are very prone to hiccups, sometimes gulping after a burp. They are often labelled as ‘unsettled babies’ (not helpful btw!). Reflux typically begins at around 8 weeks old and usually has resolved itself by age 1 – that’s a long year for the parents of a baby with reflux. Food aversions and unwillingness to eat are also common in older babies who have recovered from reflux.
Parents of babies with reflux will be exhausted. Now, I know all new parents are exhausted, but reflux is a whole different ball game. Babies with reflux often wake every 30, 60 or 90 minutes. On top of this, feeding a reflux baby is challenging because often a baby will refuse to feed properly – it’s sore so why would they? Of course, that in itself is tricky because the baby needs to feed to grow and put on weight and we all know everyone is obsessed with how big your baby is (eye roll). Babies with reflux cry a lot – again cue comments from random people about your grumpy baby or suggesting you ought to feed him/her. When babies with reflux cry, it is relentless; it is excruciating to listen to. In short – it’s bloody hard work.
I’ve met a lot of parents, especially mums, of babies with reflux. These parents can feel less confident and more anxious. They can feel isolated from other new parents. They can feel ignored, especially when the severity of reflux isn’t acknowledged. They can struggle to bond with their baby.
I told you I didn’t have the answer (I’m sorry), but actually sometimes I think it is more difficult when someone throws a million ideas at you: ‘have you tried eating Madagascan lemon peels’ or ‘you should probably change the brand of muslin cloth you use’ [those are totally made up and ridiculous but I hope illustrate just how useful random people’s advice can be]. Remember that you are the expert when it comes to your baby. Trust your instincts and do what feels right. Visit your GP if you feel you need to. Know that I will always listen and I will never doubt the challenges you face as a parent of a baby with reflux – and I hope others who have read this will too. It’s not “just a bit of reflux”. Hang on in there – you are doing a far better job than you think you are.