As I look at this newborn photo of my sweet baby girl it makes me a bit sad knowing what she was going through at the time, and what mommy and daddy were also going through. Most people have no idea about the hardships of having a reflux baby. They immediately think, “oh reflux, just a little bit of spit up no problem, right?”
Victoria’s reflux the first 3 1/2 months of her life was heartbreaking, and a very sad, depressing, and challenging start to parenthood for Bryan and I. Do you want to know what it’s like to have a reflux baby? Imagine your baby crying and spitting up / vomiting after every single feed. Imagine having a bedtime routine that ran anywhere from 4 to 6 hours. Having a reflux baby was pretty much the same as having a colic baby.
While pregnant with Victoria, I recall reading about colic and how terrified I was of it and what it can do to the mental health of parents, especially working parents, who are self-employed and run their own businesses — such as myself. I feared this amongst many other things … New motherhood is seriously full of anxiety.
I knew this was going to be an especially challenging new journey for me (there is no paid maternity leave when you’re self-employed). I would have to learn to balance like never before, even cut back on a lot of project offers from my long-time digital marketing client, as well as cut my work load on Grimy Goods.
While my head was stuck in the clouds over colic nightmares and endless “what ifs” — I didn’t even know reflux in infants existed.
Bedtime Routine with Infant Reflux
We’ve had a bedtime routine for Victoria since we first brought her home. This involved a bath, baby massage, nursing and bedtime lullabies. Since she had infant reflux — anytime after I breastfed Victoria — I had to hold her upright on my chest for at least 40 minutes before lying her flat on her back in her bassinet. She would fall asleep easily, but around the 60-minute mark, she would wake up crying, kicking up her legs, and spitting up.
Essentially, 20 minutes after transferring her to her bassinet, Victoria would be up again crying due to reflux. My husband and I would endure an arduous process of diaper changing, footy pajamas changing, nursing, soothing (Dr. Karp’s 5 S’s were a godsend), holding my sweet baby girl up right for another 40 minutes and then praying she’d sleep a little longer each time. This was the process of bringing her comfort.
There were nights where we went through at least three footy pajama changes. The poor little thing would soak them up in vomit. Since she spit up so much, she had to be nursed again. Not to mention nursing helped sooth her. And since she nursed again, she was bound to get reflux and gas again. This repetitive process went on for about five hours every night. It was a vicious cycle.
As I write this my eyes are tearing, my heart hurts. I felt so bad for my baby, but now looking back, I also feel bad for my husband and I. Victoria’s first few months earth-side were not a cozy-cuddly-lazy-mornings and nap all day type of experience. Instead, my leap into motherhood was an anxiety-ridden blur. Remembering these days don’t immediately spark joy, instead they ignite anxiety and depression from almost 4 months of sleepless nights and feeling as though your’e trapped with no way to help your child.
And don’t even get me started on the strain it put on our marriage, and work life.
I often feel cheated of many of the newborn experiences that other mothers so joyously talk about. I had plans for early morning strolls, pushing Victoria in her adorable bassinet attachment for her stroller. I envisioned sleepless nights, but not this treacherous, where even the sound of my daughter rustling in her beautifully crafted wicker bassinet, shot a fire of anxiety through my heart. That sound implied she was about to cry and a reflux witching hour(s) was about to reveal itself.
For some reason, the reflux bouts would cease after five hours, and when they did Victoria would sleep through the rest of the night for 4 to 6 hours.
Helping Your Infant Through Reflux
Infant reflux is a result of an immature digestive system. We all know how it feels to have heartburn. Even as an adult, that sh*t can be painful. Imagine how awful it must feel for a tiny baby.
I eventually had to cut so many foods out of my diet (dairy, corn, egg, chocolate, onion, garlic, etc.). The process of elimination was grueling and tedious, and really tested my patience. Having a rather bland, unsatisfactory diet was what gave my baby some relief.
We also experimented with crib wedges, different types of swaddles (this one was the best), gripe water, gas drops, pacifiers, upright support, different types of bottles, different types of nursing pillows, different types of nursing positions … everything was such a process of trial and error.
As hard as it was on my husband and I, it didn’t matter, we would have done anything to give Victoria more comfort and relief.
Medicating Your Infant’s Reflux
After almost 2 months of sleepless nights plagued by anxiety and depression, we opted to medicate Victoria with infant Zantac. I just could not bare my child crying this much. Seeing her so helpless and unhappy broke me. Not to mention, my mental and physical health was not in a good place. With loads of research, and sage advice from our amazing pediatrician, we chose to do the lowest dose possible that would treat her reflux.
This was such a difficult decision for me because I did not want to over-the-counter medicate her. I’ve always taken a holistic approach with everything. Even as a child my mother barely gave us anything over the counter. It was always just her ‘sana sana colita de rana’ magic.
Looking back, I wish I had medicated Victoria sooner. However, when you have certain new mommy friends preaching their “expert” advice on what you should do and shouldn’t do, mom guilt can surface if you’re not doing something in a “natural” way.
F*ck that sh*t.
Do you and what is best for you and your child — but make them educated decisions. Don’t let people cloud your judgement with their often misinformed and self-serving “advice.” Don’t let righteous comments on mommy forums or from parents in your mommy-and-me classes and play dates influence the decisions that you know are best for you and your family.
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There is absolutely nothing wrong with medicating your child — holistically or not — to bring them comfort. Just be sure to do your own research and seek out professional medical advice from your pediatrician and other doctors as well. Second and third opinions are always a good idea. The more credible information you’re equipped with, the better you will feel about your decisions. What’s important is that your child is happy, healthy and thriving — and so are you.
Vitoria’s reflux medication along with a bland diet helped a lot, but bedtime was still a tumultuous process. It was better, but it was still a process. We’d have good nights and sometimes we’d have nights that took us back to square one. Those challenging nights were usually sparked by mommy indulging in a slice of cheese pizza or a scoop of ice cream.
Victoria’s digestive system eventually matured at about 3 1/2 months. And how sweet it was! It was like hitting a golden age! 🙌🏽 She was going to sleep easy, and I was able to eat with no diet restrictions; and best of all she was sleeping through the night for 10 to 11 hour stretches. If was AMAZING!
And then around 4 1/2 months, the four-month sleep regression hit, followed by moving her to her crib, in her own nursery. I’ll share my adventures on that in another blog post!
Real talk: Motherhood is a beautiful and terrifying journey. It’s full of love and happiness, but it can also be full of anger, frustration and sadness. It’s a mountain range full of the most powerful highs and lows — but for me, the highs greatly outweigh the lows.
I was (and still am) so thankful to have my mother’s endless support, as well as the equal partnership of parenting with my husband Bryan. He is an incredible Father and partner who pulled me out of the sinking mud countless times. With him, it was never “Bryan is watching Victoria for me today.” It was always, and still is: “Bryan is taking most of our parenting duties today so I can get some me time in. Tomorrow is his self-care day.” It’s not my job to tend to our daughter and the home, it is our job. We do it equally, and we do it with so much love.
I know other women are not that fortunate. Whether by choice or an unhealthy relationship — the weight of parenting is often placed on the mother.
Just remember — if you’re not in a good place, both mentally and physically — always seek out professional help. Talk to your friends and family. Communication is so important. Say “yes” to all the offered help and support. Say “yes” to time away from your child. Don’t be too proud. You need this. I know I did, and I wish I could hit that rewind button to let my close friends and family know what I was really going through.
If you’re in need of postpartum support, I urge you to visit Postpartum Support International. You can also call their helpline at 1-800-944-4773 or text: English: 503-894-9453, Español: 971-420-0294.
The CDC also has wealth of resources in all in one place.