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Christine’s Story: Surviving Silent Reflux

Before my baby was born, I spent months in search of the perfect everything: The crib that would be the perfect size to wheel into our bedroom, an organic mattress that would ensure no toxins be near her sweet head, a stroller with bassinet so as not to disturb her slumber.

I was under the illusion that babies sleep, on things, other than me.

Our little girl, you see, would not sleep in her crib. When we placed her in it after arriving home from the hospital, she screamed until we picked her up again.

Unperturbed, we tried again. Same result. Scrunched up her face and gave high pitched wails.

Exhausted, we let her sleep with us in bed, with my husband and I taking turns to be propped up with the baby on our chest.

The next day, after a sleepless night for us both, we tried again. The bassinet in the stroller? Negative. The play mat on the floor? Nope. The crib – one more time! Uh-uh, still hating it.

The only place E would stop screaming was upright, in our arms. We reasoned that maybe she just liked being held. Maybe she’d change her mind soon and decide that she loved the crib!

That night we started a routine that would last the next six weeks. My husband and I would rotate shifts during the night, sitting awake on the couch, holding the baby while the other got a few hours sleep. My husband would then go to work, looking somewhat like a zombie, and I would spend the day holding the baby.

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Having to hold her while she was asleep turned out to be a sweet relief from the alternative. It felt like if she wasn’t asleep or feeding, E was screaming.

People, including the paediatrician, insisted on multiple occasions that if we read the “Happiest Baby on the Block” book that it would change our lives. Taking advice from the book, we shushed, swaddled and swung our hearts out, but we were convinced we were doing it wrong, because E kept crying.

We bought a ring sling to carry E in since she wouldn’t sit or lie in the stroller, and we had a breakthrough. If we walked the baby in the sling, she would eventually stop crying.

Sometimes 10 minutes of walking would do it, other times almost an hour of pacing the streets would be needed. We felt so relieved that we had finally found something that stopped the baby screaming. We also got to know our neighbourhood extremely well.

We kept returning to the paediatrician, convinced there was something more we could do to stop the screaming, to get E to sleep on anything except our chests. The answer was always the same: “It’s colic! She’ll grow out of it”.

Never mind that we weren’t sleeping, and I was going completely out of my brain. I felt like I was all alone, drowning in misery and exhaustion.

I was trying so hard to do my best for our baby, but no-one would listen to me, no-one would help.

My baby was obviously in pain and I couldn’t do anything for help her. It was a very hard, dark time. I cried a lot. I hated my baby. I hated myself for hating my baby.

My husband and I didn’t know what to do. We truly believed something was wrong with our baby, but didn’t know what. It was heartbreaking seeing our baby in so much discomfort every day, and feeling completely powerless to help her.

We disagreed with our paediatrician’s opinion, but didn’t realise that we had other options than those presented to us at the time.

The breakthrough moment came for us when a friend emailed me after reading my blog post on the difficulties we were experiencing with E. She suggested our baby might have something called “silent reflux“, which I’d never heard of.

I looked it up online, and the symptoms matched E’s exactly. I went straight back to the paediatrician, and asked if this is what our baby could be suffering from. The paediatrician replied that most babies had some degree of reflux and, again, she would grow out of it.

Because E wasn’t vomiting and was gaining weight, no help was offered. I persisted, requesting medication and the paediatrician reluctantly gave us Zantac, repeating that our baby would eventually outgrow it and there wasn’t much we could do to help her.

I can’t describe how this made me feel. My paediatrician made me feel like I was overreacting, like I was a crazy woman who couldn’t deal with a normal, new baby.

We waited the time period the paediatrician asked us to try the Zantac for, and at the end of the period (a week and a half?) with no change I returned and asked for a referral to see a paediatric gastroenterologist, as I refused to believe that there was nothing to be done to help E.

We were given the referral somewhat reluctantly (“They’ll tell you exactly what I have”, our paediatrician told us) but I felt certain there was more we could do.

Our visit to the pediatric gastroenterologist was life-changing. For a start, she believed our baby had a medical problem, and she also wanted to help us.

During our visit she gave us a fantastic list of things we could try to help our baby deal with the reflux, asked that we try these for a few weeks, and if things didn’t improve asked us to return for a different medication that they preferred not to give if they didn’t need to. Here is a run down of the suggestions we were given:

Feeding: when feeding, stop the baby every 3 – 5 min, distract him/her, then keep feeding. This stops their stomach from getting overfull and helps to stop as much of the stomach contents from coming back up and causing reflux.

Sleeping: try placing the baby on surfaces that are a long slope. Don’t put the baby flat for too long or in things that crunch her tummy at a right angle.

Baby carriers: keeping the baby upright during the day as much as possible is meant to help, as reflux is cumulative.

We followed the advice and soon after our visit, things started to slowly got better. We had been given a vibrating bouncer from Fisher Price and, miracle of miracles, when we put the baby in it, she slept.

After a very long six weeks of the baby sleeping only on our chests, my husband and I finally had our first night sleeping in bed. At the same time. It. Was. Amazing.

E still screamed a lot for the first four months, and it took us until she was six months of age to get her to sleep in her crib. (Yes, she slept in the vibrating bouncer for four-and-a-half months.)

We’ve tested her off the Zantac and the screaming returned, so, for the time being, she’s still on it.

It’s been a very, very slow progression, but we feel like we have made it through the reflux and out to the other side.

We’re counting our blessings daily – we now have a smiley, happy baby who rarely screams, who sleeps in her own bed, who is thriving, and growing into the most amazing person before our eyes.

Christine Knight is an Australian learning to navigate life in New York with her 9-month-old baby and husband. She’s on hiatus from her career in writing, marketing and advertising while she obsessively photographs and blogs about her baby’s first year.

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