Freddie was around four weeks old when we ended up at an Out of Hours one weekend. He had been screaming for most of the day and although we had had other concerns, we had dismissed them as being ‘typical’ newborn behaviours. That day though, we felt that something really was wrong. We waited for around an hour taking it in turns to push Freddie around the waiting area to try and keep him calm. I felt utterly broken that day. I felt helpless and very low but I doubted my gut instinct and questioned over and over again during that hour whether I was just unable to cope and In fact there was nothing wrong. I remember looking at other newborns and they just seemed to fall asleep easily and they would cry but it seemed easily remedied with a feed or a cuddle or a wind. Freddie wasn’t like that. I know that those parents would have had their own struggles but all I could see at the time, were those peaceful babies led on their backs in their prams. Mine was never happy like that and it broke my heart.
Eventually we were called in to see a friendly GP who looked Freddie over, proclaiming that he was a ‘very cute little guy’. Flattering but of no comfort when said ‘little guy’ screamed until he turned red whenever he was placed on his back. He couldn’t find anything wrong but sensed that our concern was such that we would benefit from a second opinion. We were given a side room to try and calm Freddie down and a short while later the pediatrician came to see us. I couldn’t articulate myself well that day, we were getting no sleep and the self-doubt was crippling. All I could really say was that he cried a lot. Unsurprisingly, the pediatrician looked him over and announced he had colic. I had read about colic online and felt it didn’t match up with what we were experiencing but at the time I was so defeated and I felt he knew best so I ignored the nagging feeling telling me that wasn’t the answer.
I wish in that moment I had trusted my instincts because it turns out I did know best, I knew my baby better than anyone else and I wish I had been strong enough to articulate that at the time. I knew deep down it wasn’t ‘normal’ for my baby to let out a piercing scream whenever he was on his back. That those little choking, coughing noises weren’t normal. That the cry he did when he got hiccups wasn’t normal. The way he would pull off constantly while feeding as if he was in pain, even though he was obviously hungry wasn’t normal. That the way he arched his back and screamed unless he was upright on our chests wasn’t normal. The fact that unless he was feeding he was constantly unhappy wasn’t normal.
A few days after that visit to Out of Hours I was researching on my phone during one of the many night feeds, desperate to find an answer, and I stumbled across a blog post just like this (I wish I could remember which one it was because I would love to credit the author of that post). I found out that the collection of things we had observed Freddie doing, had a name- Silent Reflux. I booked a doctors appointment and I was all fired up to put my case across, this time I wasn’t going to feel intimidated. Luckily, I didn’t need too. My GP took one look at the way Freddie reacted when I put him down on the bed and agreed with me. After a couple of brief questions he gave me some Infant Gaviscon and sent me off to try if for a few days with strict instructions to return if it didn’t work. I had a really low moment that day. The gaviscon powder had to be mixed with breast milk (or formula but as Freddie had been breastfed so far I couldn’t guarantee he would accept the premixed formula I had bought). I was driving round trying to find a breast pump, Freddie was crying and I hadn’t been able to eat anything because he had fed all morning and screamed whenever I tried to put him down. I remember sitting in the car in the car park of Mothercare on the phone to my sister in floods of tears because I was just so tired of being screamed it and so fed up of feeling so helpless.
After a week of meticulously mixing the sachets of powder into a paste and syringe feeding it to Freddie, there was no change so a week later we were back to the GP. We moved on to ranitidine which I had mixed feelings about because I really wanted Freddie to not be in pain anymore but it felt so unnatural to be giving such a small baby such a strong smelling medicine. We did give him the ranitidine though and it did help, it didn’t make it go away but it made a big difference. Such a difference that at around 11 weeks, we reduced it and then stopped it completely. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the story. The Silent Reflux returned a couple of weeks later and we were back at the doctors and back on a higher dose.
At five months we still have those bad days, days where I don’t eat and where we both end up in tears. We are now seeing a paediatrician to explore if there is anything else that we can do. But Freddie sleeps well at night (which is a comfort to me even though he still won’t nap on his back during the day) and he is happy to play on his back for short periods. He has always been such a happy, curious boy when it’s under control. Even when he gets the painful hiccups that make him screw up his face in pain, he is so desperate to smile and to laugh at whatever is going on around him. I know this is temporary and that it won’t last forever, I know that because he is already heaps better than he was when he was that tiny five week old.
One of the hardest things was other people constantly sharing their opinions, sometimes even complete strangers. People would tell me their babies spit up/were sick occasionally so they knew how I felt. That’s really not the same thing as listening to your baby scream in pain as the acid comes back up. Or well meaning people saying ‘Oh does he need a feed?’ I hated going out in public on my own during those early months because it would inevitably end in tears- from both of us. I still doubt whether I have made the right decisions; giving him medicine, not going on to formula, putting him on his back when he was comfier on his front, not weaning early, not trying stronger medication. I don’t know if I’ve made all the right decisions, but I have done my best and what I thought was right at the time and that’s all I can do. When Freddie flashes me one of his charming, cheeky grins or friends and family remark on how strong and clever he is, I feel I must be alright at this motherhood thing.
A few tips if your baby has Silent Reflux:
- Keep them upright for a minimum of 20 minutes after a feed.
- The sleepyhead and the Ollie Swaddle have been incredible for settling Freddie to sleep.
- Add a wedge (or a rolled up towel will do!) to raise the head of the mattress of wherever they sleep.
- Consider medication.
- For tummy time, put them on your chest. They can still strengthen the muscles in their neck without being flat on the floor.
- Pop a cushion under their head during nappy changes.
- Buy a sling! Lifesaver for us as it kept Freddie upright and he loved to nap in it. We loved the Close Caboo from 0-3 months and then the Connecta Solar Weave from around 3 months. My husband loves the Ergo carrier.
- Accept help! I couldn’t have got through the couple of months without family offering help so I could shower or eat etc. and also friends who will listen to you offload. This goes for just generally having a newborn too!