Myth: switching from breastfeeding to bottle-feeding will solve reflux. Fact: if you have a baby with reflux, it is still possible to breastfeed, indeed, it is even more important that you breastfeed! A baby with reflux is prone to gastrointestinal problems and because breast milk is designed for human babies and so easily digested, it is the perfect food for a reflux baby. In fact, due to babies’ inability to control the flow of milk from artificial nipples, there is an increased risk that reflux will be worsened with bottle feeding.
You are about to read the story of a mother whose baby displayed reflux symptoms from the very start of life. Here, she shares the struggles of public breastfeeding, ambivalent medical professionals, and the helplessness of watching one’s baby in chronic pain. She also reveals easy tricks she formulated to ease her baby’s discomfort.
“Neve was a ‘sicky’ baby from the beginning. She also cried a lot for no obvious reason. At just a few days old she would regularly vomit after feeds. It would look like brown mucus. Sometimes she would vomit what appeared to be an entire feed.
At 10 days old Neve had a snuffly nose which refused to budge no matter what we did. This carried on until a few weeks later, her breathing sounded so laboured that we phoned the NHS helpline. The nurse we spoke to, upon hearing Neve’s breathing over the phone, called an ambulance. We were rushed to the local hospital paediatrics unit. By this point Neve was 5 weeks old and was being sick after every feed, groaning in pain, whimpering and not sleeping well.
After answering the same questions over and over again, the paediatrics finally diagnosed reflux. Apparently, the snuffle was a major symptom. I was relieved to finally have a diagnosis, but disappointed with the treatment. As Neve was gaining weight, the paediatric consultants really didn’t see the problem like we did. Instead, they simply sent us on our way with a prescription for gaviscon. We weren’t given any advice on how to administer it. I premixed it and then administered it with a bottle or syringe at the end of each feed. As you can imagine, feeding on demand and trying to give a full (and usually sleeping) baby gaviscon was a complete nightmare. Plus the fact she was still being sick after nearly every feed so hardly keeping any medication down in any event.
The amount of sick I was cleaning up was ridiculous. Sometimes it would be small and often, sometimes it would be a full feed. I always had a muslin or bib with me and would dread feeding in public. I also feared other people holding her in case she was sick on them. Our family were very concerned but didn’t know how to help.
It all felt pointless and very upsetting. I can remember sitting crying as I tried to feed her one evening and she kept coming off the breast and screaming. I felt like I was poisoning her with my milk. I had to stay very strong and determined to persevere with breastfeeding. I could have very easily given up many times but I knew in my heart that I was doing the best for my daughter by breastfeeding and formula would have more than likely made her more ill.
I found keeping her upright as much as possible helped a little. By keeping Neve in an upright position both during and after breastfeeding, gravity could help prevent the milk from coming back up.
At 12 weeks we had a review with the paediatrician and made it clear that gaviscon was not working. Consequently, they prescribed ranitidine. We came out with huge smiles on our faces thinking this was the answer to our prayers. It was not. Neve continued being sick after every feed and groaning and straining.
At this point I had cut dairy out of my diet which seemed to ease her symptoms somewhat and made me feel like I was doing something. It also helped to have Neve sleep on our chest for naps and to give her plenty of night feeds (these seemed to stay down the best). As Neve was gaining weight well, we block fed (nursing on only one breast for a couple of feeds, then switching). As the lactating breast never truly empties, this enabled Neve to will be rewarded with a slower flow of milk which soothed her burning throat without overfilling her stomach. We co-sleeped to facilitate these regular feeds.
Light at the end of the tunnel
At around 16 weeks we decided to stop all meds as she was still being sick so for me they weren’t worth it. I have to say I’m so glad I did.
With time her sickness has improved dramatically. I can 100% say I’m so glad I stuck with breastfeeding through all this. I know I would have always been wondering ‘what if?’ had I given up. It’s been an invaluable source of comfort and nutrition for my baby as well as being so easy and free!
If you have a baby with reflux don’t feel you have to give up breastfeeding, formula won’t make it any easier – if anything, it’ll be worse. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
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