Guest post by Megan Jaworski
Megan is the founder of Be The Change Coaching and a Melbourne supermum with two small boys – two year old Liam and six month old Benji. For those of us who have never had a reflux baby it is hard to imagine the confusion, guilt, isolation and helplessness that comes with the constant crying and knowing your baby is in pain but not being able to help them. Babies suffering from reflux have a rough ride, but the impact on their mums can be enormous. Megan wrote this story to help other mums know they are not alone and to share some practical tips that have helped her.
Reflux in an adult can be horrendous, but when your baby has it, it can be a living 24/7 nightmare.
18 weeks ago I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy 3.5kg baby boy. He was my second baby, so in my naive state of mine, I thought I had most things covered. However, I was not prepared for the severity of his reflux. My first born had mild reflux and would vomit a lot, but fortunately he wasn’t in a severe amount of pain. So it was a shock to me when my second baby, Benjamin, would scream in pain during and after every feed. It was the most severe during the nighttime feeds. I would be up burping him and holding him in every position possible for up to three hours after a feed, just to try and help him. My bedroom floor had splashes of vomit, and I would go through two large hand towels and two outfits for myself, and two for the baby after the nighttime feeds due to the sheer amount of vomit (my laundry was out of control!). I was so worried he wasn’t digesting enough milk. Fortunately for me, he was gaining a healthy amount of weight, however, it didn’t remove my fear of him not drinking enough milk or the guilt of not being able to take away his pain.
The physical toll
The sleep deprivation, the holding, rocking and burping of Benjiamin, the constant wearing, and the constant irregular feeding began to take it’s toll on me physically. My muscles ached, my back was sore (I had a c section and severe stomach muscle separation, so I had no core to support me), my neck was out, and I was downright physically exhausted from it all.
The emotional toll
Not to mention the mental and emotional toll it took on me. Due to the long and frequent feeds, and the never ending burping sessions, my life revolved around Benjamin’s feeds. And my nineteen month old, Liam, needed me. I couldn’t play with Liam like I wanted to as I couldn’t lie Benjamin down for at least an hour after a feed. I couldn’t change my toddler’s dirty nappies until Benjamin’s vomiting had stopped, because changing Liam involved lying Benjamin down, and he would cough or choke on his vomit whilst lying down. I would lie awake at night listening to him choke on his vomit from lying him down to sleep and I kept turning him onto his side or picking him up to ensure he didn’t choke, and I often slept with him on me so he could sleep. I felt like I never had personal space and guilt festered inside me as I felt like I couldn’t be the mum I wanted to be to both Liam and Benjamin. I couldn’t show love to Liam in a way he needed (or I wanted, and this led to a small amount of rejection as Liam didn’t want me much anymore), and I couldn’t take Benjamin’s pain away.
I tried so many things and nothing seemed to work. How could a mother not know how to help her own child? This was my ‘role’, my only role was to look after the children. This is what I was meant to be able to do, wasn’t it? If I couldn’t help my baby, then what good was I as a mother? These were the unhealthy thoughts rolling through my mind. I felt like a mediocre mother and a mediocre wife as I had nothing left to give to my husband, and I became increasingly irritable and even jealous of my husband’s freedom to leave the house and not have to worry about feeds or if his diet was impacting Benjamin’s reflux.
I struggled to leave the house as Benjamin would vomit in the car capsule, even if I waited two hours after a feed. If I fed him in public he would scream or vomit everywhere, so I didn’t feel confident feeding him in public, so that ruled out cafes, or going to the shops or going anywhere. And I felt like a part of me was dying inside as I am an extrovert and rely on social interaction and adventure in order to feel like myself, in order to feel at peace, happy and ‘like me’. I hardly saw anyone, I rarely left the house and I felt quite alone and isolated and wondered if any other mothers out there experience this with their reflux baby.
Now don’t get me wrong, I adore Benjamin and Liam. I wasn’t depressed, however, I had low moods, and I can definitely see how this situation could lead to Post Natal Depression (PND). It’s bloody hard and soul destroying, but for the most part, I just felt at a loss as to what to do and guilty that I didn’t have the answers. I felt helpless. I felt like I was at the end of my tether. And I saw the warning signs for depression, and I knew I had to do something, anything to help me cope, if I couldn’t help Benjamin.
Finding other reflux mums
So I decided to reach out. I spoke about reflux on social media and to other mums, and I shared my struggles. And you know what? I was shocked that I wasn’t alone at all. I had mums contact me privately to thank me for sharing and to share their story too.
Some mothers did get PND as a result of the isolation, sleep deprivation and helplessness to help their screaming baby in constant pain. Others had to sleep sitting upright with their baby attached to them for weeks at a time and were so sleep deprived they had to go on anti-psychotic medication. Other mothers would cry for hours on end as they held their vomiting, crying baby. Another couldn’t speak to any mum whose baby didn’t have reflux because it hurt her to hear their joy and how easy it was to go out places and how much sleep they were getting. And then other mums shared of how it brought about a significant decline in their marriage as they were both on edge over it. Every mum experienced exhaustion, overwhelm, guilt, isolation, loneliness, helplessness and cried often. Some admitted to having dark thoughts that they feared to share in case of being judged as these thoughts were about their happiness before having children and how they wanted that life back again and wondered if they made a mistake. All mothers, no matter how dark their thoughts were, loved their babies more than life itself, and this love contributed to the despair as they felt completely at a loss.
And that’s when I realized that the only way to help mothers with their struggles was to talk about it. But not just to share the struggles but also to share how to help not just the baby, but the mother as well.
To the exhausted mother out there I trust this article will help in some way for you to cope emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally in order for you to be the best mum/wife/person possible under the circumstances.
Below is a compilation of strategies that myself, and other mums have used to get through this challenging time.
Support for the mother:
Know that you’re not alone:
Firstly, I want to say ‘you’re not alone’. Let me repeat that ‘you’re not alone’. I empathise with your cries and pain. So too can other reflux mums. You need to find them and speak to them. It really helps.
Join a Facebook support group:
There are many out there that provide practical and emotional support to help you through those long dark nights.
Tell friends and family you are struggling and ask for help:
It is really hard to be vulnerable, but know that asking for help is a sign of strength and not weakness. Organise for friends and/or family to visit you to hold your baby, or if the baby is too unsettled, to do the dishes, or play with your other children, or just as a listening ear. If you can, have a nap during this time, rest, go for a kid free walk, or have a hot cup of coffee or tea (which is a treat!). Isolation is one of the leading causes of PND, so reach out and ask people to visit you, because we all know leaving the house with a reflux baby can be a nightmare.
Ask friends or family to cook a meal for you once a week, that at least gives you one night off. Or organize a food home delivery system according to your budget. This will take off some of the pressure to cook, and you will be eating a lot healthier than if you eat take away or toast (or in my case, pasta and more pasta!).
Make a phone call:
If you can’t get someone to visit you, then pick up the phone and make a phone call. It might be hard for you to speak or hear over a crying baby, but at least try. Five minutes can make all the difference.
Speak to people who validate your feelings:
There is a time and place for positive self-talk, but sometimes all you need is for someone to say “this is a shit time for you. It’s tough, and I don’t know how you’re managing. I’m sorry you’re going through it. How can I help you? And remember, you can do it gorgeous mumma. I believe in you.”
Be conscious of your breath. Try and take a few deep breaths each day. Deep breathe when you get into the car, as the baby is falling asleep in your arms, in the shower (if you’re lucky enough to get one that day), or whilst feeding the baby. Breathing deeply releases stress and relaxes our body. And while you’re breathing you can even add the mantra “this too shall pass”, “I’m doing the best I can with what I have”, “You’ve got this”, “they won’t remember this pain”, “one minute at a time” or “one day at a time”.
Surround yourself with people who lift you up:
Be strategic in who you surround yourself with. You might be feeling emotionally fragile at the moment so surround yourself with people that lift you up, support you, love you, encourage you, can empathise with you and help you.
Get professional help at home:
Get a cleaner, a cook, a babysitter, a gardener, anyone who is a professional who can help relieve some of the stress you might be feeling.
Get pampered at home:
Get a hairdresser, masseuse, beauty therapist etc. to come to the house and get your hair done, or your nails or get a massage, and ensure they can work around your baby’s feeds. Make it at a time when you have someone to help hold the baby for you so you can relax and enjoy being pampered. You deserve it. It might be a bit more expensive than going somewhere, but sometimes our sanity is worth the extra expense.
Support for your baby:
See a naturopath:
A naturopath can advise you about homeopathic remedies.
Visit a chiropractor or osteopath for the baby’s health.
Change your diet:
Go on an elimination diet and slowly cut out certain food groups one by one for a week or two at a time (do this under the guidance of a health professional). The most common food allergies that increase the severity of reflux are: diary, soy, wheat, gluten, sugar, and animal proteins.
See a GP or Pediatrician:
Speak to him/her about using medication such as Gaviscon or Losec for your baby.
Change the way your baby sleeps:
Sleep the baby upright or on an angle where is safe to do so. This may include wearing the baby or tilting the bassinet up where his/her head goes. Safely sleeping the baby on his/her side by using props to keep the baby on the side, such as a rolled up cloth with tape secured tightly to the baby’s tummy with a blanket tightly wrapped around both (note: please don’t try this at home unless you speak to your health care professional first). Safely co-sleeping (use proven safe methods for this).
Change the way you breastfeed:
The Gestalt style of breast feeding has been known to help many mothers reduce the severity of the baby’s reflux (it helped with mine!).
Burp the baby for up to an hour or two after every feed.
Give the baby a bath or a shower to help settle him/her if he/she is in too much pain:
Water has been known to soothe an upset baby.
The most important thing to remember is that you’re an amazing mum full of love for your baby, and your baby is lucky to have you as his / her mother. Reflux isn’t easy, however, take comfort in knowing it doesn’t last forever. It will get better. Hold on. You’re not alone.
For more information and support visit the Reflux Infants Support Association.