The beginning of my motherhood journey was not exactly how I pictured it, in fact, it wasn’t even close to how I thought I’d be spending the first six months of my son Freddie’s life. I thought I knew to some degree what I was in for but, man, was I wrong.
When my son was six months old our paediatrician diagnosed him with gastro-oesophageal reflux. Reflux, for those that don’t know, is more than a baby simply throwing up after feeding. My son did vomit (a lot), but some babies don’t throw-up though they have reflux, this is more commonly known as silent reflux – the name is almost laughable as silent, one thing a reflux baby is not. You see, it’s not the vomiting that is the telltale sign. It is the hours upon hours of inconsolable screaming, the fussy feeding (my son overfed but they can also refuse to feed), the arching and kicking in pain, the catnapping (we were living off 25 minute increments of sleep), the gagging and grunting, the hoarseness, the shrill cry every time we placed him down, and many, many other symptoms which make an already overwhelming experience of new motherhood, even more stressful. This added another layer to the already unknown and it truly made me doubt myself as a mother. Was it something I was doing or not doing to cause this? The answer, I now know, is of course, no – and any mother reading this and nodding her tired head, please hear me when I say, it won't always be this way.
My husband and I had spent the better half of the year trying everything and anything to soothe our son, but nothing seemed to work. That wasn't until our paediatrician prescribed the correct medication and the right dose (we had tried another from the GP that did not work for us), along with a prescription formula as I had become too anxious to breastfeed, that things started to change. Together, with the medication, formula and a handful of helpful products, my son and I began to find our rhythm. We began to experience more smiles than tears, and my confidence as Mum started to rebuild.
Every baby is different, every journey is unique but here is the list of products that helped us.
All babies love to be held, and in my experience and from talking with other mums, this is tenfold for reflux bubs. I remember I held Freddie all day and most of the night – I’d go to the bathroom holding him. Make a Nespresso hold him. I lived off muesli bars and Tanker Topper biscuits until my sister suggested I try her Cocoonababy which she had used for her son who also had reflux. I was reluctant at first but thankfully she convinced me to give it a go and Freddie was happy to day nap (with supervision), or be put down simply so I could eat, drink my coffee and relax just for a moment – this nest kept him elevated enough to be comfortable (imagine laying flat on your back with terrible indigestion?) and hugged him while doing it. The Cocoonababy also came in handy during playtime. I would lay his activity gym over the top which again, allowed him to happily play independently for a moment or two.
My breastfeeding journey ended a lot earlier than I expected. Freddie had become hard to feed. I couldn’t sit him comfortably across me, he kicked and screamed in pain as soon as he laid down, and I had become extremely anxious at the thought of feeding him. While I waited for our pediatrician appointment (I wanted to ask which formula and I had an inkling he had food allergies which it turns out he did, and still does) so I exclusively expressed for 6 long weeks. As excruciating as that sounds and it was, I was grateful I had plenty of milk and thankful that I had invested in a double pump. This cut the time in half, and when you are waking up at or staying up to god awful hours to express, this was definitely worth the investment. The Medela storage bags also made it easy to store and measure out his feeds.
I had originally bought Bibs before my son was born. I loved the aesthetic, the quality, and they have a cherry shaped teat which is recommended as the best shape for baby's mouth. I introduced a dummy to Freddie the day we got home from the hospital – when we were in hospital I noticed he sucked, a lot, and the hindsight is, that reflux babies do tend to suck to create saliva which helps push down the acid. I wasn’t concerned with ‘nipple confusion’ and if I have a second child, I’ll be packing them in my hospital bag.
One of the things I wish I just surrendered to earlier was the fact that laying Fred in the pram just wasn’t an option for us. He was hysterical when I laid him flat on his back, and he didn’t get any better the more I persevered – my body was not in a good way after birth so the pram seemed like my only option at the time but the baby carrier became my best friend. It allowed us to get out for a walk, allowed him to stay close and upright which is way most comfortable position for him. The Ergo is what we used and it felt comfortable, sturdy and supportive, and we could turn him around once he got bigger and wanted to look around.
I must admit, before baby, I thought this was not a necessity, but it is if you don't want to end up with a bad back. A bath seat means you aren't bent low holding your child in the bath, and they can be comfortable and upright while you wash, play and enjoy bath time. Fred and I also had lots of baths together but the seat was helpful when my husband wasn’t there to help us safely in and out of the bath.
Invest in lots of bibs and cloth nappies – not to use as nappies, but to use as ‘spew rags’. Between my milk coming in, Freddie’s vomiting and all the other bodily fluids, these cloth nappies come in handy. I’d place one over my shoulder when burping, hand one to anyone that held Freddie, and put one under his head most of the time as he could projectile at any given moment.
I know how hard it can be for any mum to get away for a moment. I found it extremely hard to leave, especially when my son was at his worst, but believe me when I say even making a nightly alone-time ritual for once bub is asleep, will do wonders. I enjoyed indulging in a nightly bath (alone) with Epsom salts to help ease my muscles, a glass of wine and a novel – this allowed me to escape mentally without physically leaving the house.