A new baby’s health is one of the main things parents worry about.
You get through the birth and hope to come home with a healthy, happy bundle who needs feeding, changing and cuddles round the clock to help them grow.
If that doesn’t go to plan it can really throw you off kilter.
We’ve been fortunate not to have any major health problems with either of our baby boys, and I know there are lots of parents struggling with really serious illness. So for that I am very grateful.
But with our second baby we have had quite a rough time over the past three months so I thought I’d tell our story in case it helps other people in a similar situation.
Our Silent Reflux Mystery
Baby F’s troubles started soon after birth; he had blood sugar issues and was tube fed for the first four days. And he was diagnosed with a tongue tie so we found it extra hard to get him to breast-feed, or to feed at all.
However, on top of this he generally seemed very uncomfortable – lots of distressed crying during and after a feed, arching his back and being rigid in our arms, or when we tried to put him in his cot.
He also had major trouble breathing as his nose was constantly blocked with mucus, and this affected his feeding and sleeping; two pretty major areas of caring for a new baby.
When we asked about the blocked nose we were told it was likely due to him being a c-section baby as he hadn’t had a squash and a squeeze coming out, so his nose was full of womb-juice. (That’s not a medical term.)
However, after four weeks the breathing issues were still there and that seemed like far too long for any birth-related mucus to be hanging around in his nose.
We’d also considered that he simply had a persistent cold. So at this point we were trying saline drops in his nose, and the joys of a snot-sucker.
This is a device you stick in your baby’s nostril and literally suck on the other end, yes with your mouth, to draw the mucus out. It has a chamber to stop the snot going into your mouth but I gagged quite a lot.
On the feeding front, after a month of struggling, Mrs B had given up trying to get him to breastfeed, which she found emotionally and physically draining as he would only ever get a few mouthfuls.
So she had started expressing, meaning he was now getting enough milk but this added a whole extra layer of time around every feed so any other activity was almost impossible. Think an hour feeding and winding, a short break and then 45 mins expressing for the next feed. Keep that up twenty four hours a day.
After 10 weeks we were starting to go a bit deranged and this wasn’t helped by having to look after our toddler as well.
Our GP thought the breathing problems might be asthma, although they don’t normally like to diagnose this condition in such young babies. Nevertheless we were given inhalers (brown and blue) and a separator that we had to place over Baby F’s face. He didn’t like this at all and started twisting his head away as soon as he saw it!
The doctor also prescribed baby Gaviscon to mix into feeds – they were clearly trying to cover off a couple of angles and I am pleased to say our doctor was very helpful and understanding. This made a big difference to us – just knowing someone was taking it seriously.
At first the inhaler seemed to help but the general stuffiness persisted and it wasn’t helping with his post-feed distress. After a couple of weeks we decided he probably didn’t have asthma (but we will be keeping aneye on this).
By this point with our first baby we were getting stretches of five or six hours of sleep at night. With Baby F he woke every hour or two – it was like having a newborn for nearly three months.
The breathing was also really distressing to listen to, and I am not talking about a cute little snuffle. This was a rasping, rattling sound like someone who has really bad sleep apnoea; his whole tiny chest heaving up and down with the gargantuan effort to take every breath.
There were times I sat and watched him at night in fear that he would simply not have the strength to keep breathing. I don’t know what was going on in his head but he was clearly very unhappy, exhausted all the time, and not having much of a life. Overall it really affected his development too. He was really listless and uncommunicative. Not surprising but also very worrying for us.
So we went back to the GP again.
I am sure at some point many parents with new babies must feel like they are being hypochondriacs, not knowing what is ‘a phase’ and what is a medical condition. But if you are in this situation or dealing with any mystery baby illness I would simply say be persistent and trust your instincts.
One of the trickiest things is that a baby will not always display the symptoms when you go to the surgery. As Baby F was worst at night and after feeds we filmed him and showed the GP the video. By now we’d been spending lots of time on parent forums trying to work out what was wrong and had started to suspect he had silent reflux.
What Is Silent Reflux?
In a nutshell, reflux is where the baby’s stomach contents come back up into their oesophagus and mouth. This happens in most babies to some extent as their stomach valve isn’t mature, and it results in ‘possetting’ or the occasional full on vomit down your chest.
However, in some babies the problem becomes more chronic and is very painful for them as they are constantly brining stomach acid up; we all know how horrible it is when we’re sick and get that burning sensation in our throats. Imagine that every time you ate!
Standard reflux means you will be seeing a lot of vomit – often projectile – and your baby may be struggling to put on enough weight.
There is comprehensive advice about spotting and dealing with reflux online so I won’t replicate that here.
Silent reflux simply means that the stomach contents don’t get all the way out but sit in the oesophagus (food pipe) or at the back of the baby’s mouth and, when they lie down, travel up into their nose. It is much harder to get a diagnosis but Baby F’s constant congestion and distress during and after feeds are two classic signs.
At 12 weeks our GP prescribed Ranitidine (sometimes branded as Zantac) which is a medicine used to treat stomach ulcers but we were only giving a really tiny dose before feeds.
At this point Mrs B had stopped expressing as it was too tiring and also very difficult to do with a toddler around. So we were also trying different brands of formula to see if any made a difference – we settled on Aptamil Reflux. But it really is a case of trying something for a few days and seeing if your baby responds well.
There is a lot of trial and error involved and sometimes the signs that something has worked are not clear. We didn’t feel like things were improving so we went back to GP at 15 weeks and she suggested a thickener – Carobel – to add to a feed and using Gaviscon with the Ranitidine. That felt like a lot of things at once but we gave it a go.
After 24 hours it was obvious this was not working, and in fact was making him worse. We had our worst night so far, pacing around all night with Baby F wailing on our shoulder. The fact that this coincided with the start of a family holiday didn’t help our stress levels!
The next day we went back to Aptamil Reflux with the Ranitidine and things settled down.
At 16 weeks Baby F is still not having huge feeds and he takes longer to settle after a feed, but he is growing. And if your baby is putting on weight you are unlikely to get a referral from your GP.
Overall, my heart goes out to anyone coping with a baby going through reflux.
Not knowing what is wrong can make you feel like you’re being paranoid, especially when you’re already massively sleep-deprived. And seeing your tiny baby in obvious pain and distress all the time and not being able to make it stop is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to witness.
You are also probably getting constant comments from family and friends, and even complete strangers, about your baby’s breathing and ‘fussiness’ when feeding and their general ill health. You will be given lots of unasked for ‘advice’ about what to do e.g ‘Oh dear has he STILL got a cold? Are you going to take him to the doctor?’ Etc
But unlike your baby at least you can take a deep breath and count to ten.
What Can You Do To Prevent Silent Reflux?
So in summary here are the things we have tried that seem to have helped our new baby. There is sadly no ‘cure’ for reflux, silent or not, so all you can do is try to make your baby as comfortable as possible and wait until they ‘grow out of it’.
- Giving him frequent, small feeds – although this means you will be getting very little sleep.
- Keeping your baby upright for at least half an hour after a feed. Ditto.
- Raising the head end of the cot -some have this option but you can also put big books under the feet (check it’s stable)!
- Add baby Olbas oil in bath and take your baby into the shower as the steam can help clear their airwaves. Similarly we used a humidifier in his room at night with a drop or two of decongestant in the water.
- Trying a thickener in their milk or a special anti-reflux formula (if you aren’t breastfeeding). In general breast milk is going to be easiest for your baby to digest but keeping it up when you and your baby are totally exhausted and distressed may not be possible.
- Wearing a sling can help keep your baby upright, lessen the reflux, and give them chance to sleep.
- Cranial osteopathy can help with reflux and other issues. We didn’t try this with Baby F but we did when our first baby had post-birth trauma. You can read more about this technique in this article on Mother and Baby.
Remember – every baby is different so what worked for us may not work for you and I strongly advise you to get GP appointment if you’re at all worried about your baby’s health.
Good luck. Hopefully by 6 months most babies will grow out of reflux as they start eating solids and their tummies get bigger. If you have any advice or a story to tell please share your comments to help others. 🙂
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