Colic, Reflux, Allergies & Cry
Nothing prepares you for coping with constant crying and irritability does it? When your baby appears in constant discomfort and pain and nothing you do seems to help and soothe them. When all you want to do is protect them, feed them and nourish them, and yet feeding them seems to cause them more discomfort and pain or is just downright hard work. Especially in the middle of the night when we are desperate for sleep.
Having a baby who is fussing a lot, or has colic, reflux or allergies is really tough and can be incredibly stressful. You’re probably sleep deprived and exhausted; your nerves frazzled from all the crying and irritability. You might also be wracked with worry, your mind in constant overdrive. It's no wonder this is a breeding ground for post-natal anxiety and depression!
Has this been a challenge for you, or did/do you have an 'easy' baby? What is your experience? How did it impact your mental health? How did/do you cope? What are your top tips for mums struggling right now?
Here we want to open up the conversation about the realities of Colic, Reflux, Allergies & constant crying and the impact on mum’s wellbeing. You can get involved yourself - write a post or share on your stories on Instagram. Let's get the conversation going and #LetsTalkAbout coping with Colic, Reflux, Allergies or constant crying. #MotherhoodTheRealDeal
Our son had a rough start in life, born with reflux, allergies, a posterior tongue tie and high palate - meaning atrocious breastfeeding pain for me. He was very unsettled, couldn’t be soothed or put down, had to be in constant motion or on me to sleep. My mood plummeted and I cried in anguish before a feed. We tried to top him up with formula to give me a break, but he screamed even more. Little did we know that he had silent reflux and cows milk protein allergy, amongst other food allergies.
The first five days were the worst of my life. The tongue tie got corrected (the first of three cuts, they can reattach), but the crying still didn’t stop. After a full feed, he would arch his back and scream in distress. I was in despair, as we had NO sleep. He developed bleeding eczema, dropped weight centiles and was so itchy that I had to attempt sleep holding his little arms to he didn’t tear himself to pieces. I would beat myself up for ‘failing’ at motherhood and struggling to soothe him.
How did we cope? Trying to get everyone the most sleep, my husband walked for hours with the sling or buggy. I safely co-slept and did naps in the sling. My maternity friends and mother in law came to help so I could shower. I frantically googled for answers and begged for help from health professionals. A private dietician finally understood, months in. I cut allergens out of my diet, one by one until improvement. He seemed to grow out of his reflux around 18 months, sadly none of the medications we had tried were effective.
I used my breath and my experience of working with self-compassion, trying to just breathe when everything else couldn’t be fixed or controlled. I used my knowledge of how to treat depression and anxiety, connecting with others as much as I could, and trying to leave the house to not hear the screaming echo against the walls. I often went to a café on my street as the staff were so kind and fed me allergen free cake and coffee. I cried. I fell apart and rebuilt myself again
Michaela's top tips
Trust your instinct. If you think something is wrong, seek help and don’t take no for an answer. Reflux can be treated and the suffering can be eased. Seek support from friends, family, partner. Take turns holding the baby if they only contact nap, use a sling/carrier and get respite from having to hear the crying. Speak to charities such as Samaritans, PANDAS or Cry-sis – the last one offers a helpline for crying and sleepless babies.
Go easy on yourself. Not being able to soothe your baby is one of the hardest things a mother can face. The hopelessness and lack of control is linked with trauma, depression and anxiety. Mention the crying in the postnatal check and how it is affecting your mood. Reach out to others, as you are not alone. Drop everything non-essential and lower your standards, perfection does not serve you here. Come have a chat with me if you need more support.
Find ways to calm and soothe yourself, even if you can’t soothe your baby. Easing your own tension will help your baby to feel more safe and somewhat more at ease too, even if in pain and distress. They pick up your vibes, so start with you. The Safe Place Imagery and Soothing breathing rhythm I am doing in @thenourishapp aim to stimulate this soothing system in you and baby. Also try Kindness for tiredness by @tenofzen and Surviving the night by @themammacoach, they will keep you company during those dark, long nights.
Dr Rebecca Moore
Shall we talk about trauma due to reflux and colic today? I have been trying to find any literature on this. Can’t find any studies but I can find a whole heap of stories from mothers.
Here’s another example of how you might be traumatized after birth. When your baby has colic or reflux. Both of mine did and I look back and recognize I had many symptoms of traumatic stress. As did my husband.
Having a baby with colic or reflux is SO hard. I felt constantly on edge. When will she cry? When will she sleep? As night dawned I felt overwhelmingly low and tearful as I faced another night of constant crying. I felt angry. I felt on edge. I felt ashamed. I felt alone. When I wondered would it ever stop? I spent days walking outside in the bitter cold because at least then she stopped crying. I needed some silence. I needed to not have her on me for a while. I needed my health visitor to see the panic in my eyes but she didn’t. The unpredictability of reflux was another layer to deal with on top of birth and feeding and sleep deprivation.
I needed someone to hear me. I wanted to share how awful it was. I needed a hug and compassion. All the themes from @birthbetter about what good care can do. How trauma can be reduced or prevented. I want women with colicky or reflux babies to be seen as vulnerable to trauma and distress and to have extra visits and care. It’s also interesting of note to know that those with PTSD in adulthood are far more likely to have reflux themselves....
My first baby had reflux, although it was not diagnosed, and I wasn’t that keen on going down the medical route anyway. He used to feed then sit up and bring it all back up, all over me and him and anything else in sight - not that conducive to relaxing NCT coffee mornings! I was breastfeeding so it was quite demoralising seeing all that milk come back up every time, and he was quite a skinny little thing, so I was constantly worrying he wasn’t getting enough to eat. Because of the discomfort he used to scream every time I put him down to sleep in his cot, so during the day he would only ever sleep in the car or buggy or on me, and I never understood when anyone suggested I should ‘sleep while the baby sleeps’, he just didn’t!
I didn’t mind dealing with the sick and all the extra washing, but the lack of sleep or any downtime during the day was a killer. In the end we got some help from a maternity nurse and tried a bit of sleep training, but that was devastating to go through with all the screaming, so we gave up on that and he just had the odd nap in the buggy, then sat in a bouncy chair in the evenings. Swaddling really seemed to help with the night sleeping, and everyone said it would improve when he started solids, which it did, and he eventually settled into the elusive 2-hour afternoon nap.
Zoe's top tips
It is really hard to listen to your baby cry and feeling helpless that you can’t do anything to soothe them, plus the constant screaming and lack of sleep can push you to the edge of sanity. Anything you can do to take yourself away from the situation for even just a few minutes will help you get through the day/night. If you are by yourself, just putting the baby safely in the cot and going into the next room to take a few deep breaths can give you a micro-break, even if he’s still screaming his head off. And if you have a partner or friend/family member who can help share the load, arrange to take turns holding/looking after the baby so you can go for a walk by yourself or have a rest for an hour. Accept all offers of help, you don’t have to do it all by yourself!
There are some brilliant coping mantras and short meditations which can really help in moments of total overwhelm, just to give yourself some compassion and remind you that whatever is going on, it’s not your fault, and it won’t last forever.
I thought I was going to ace motherhood the 2nd time round. I managed a VBAC, and the first 10 days were pretty good. He started feeding well, we were only getting up a couple of times in the night. It was Christmas, so initially lots of family were around. But then it all started to fall apart… it was like my breastmilk had turned to acid and he arched his little back and scrunched his knees to his tummy and pushed me away with his feet.
We were up for hours on end during the night, unable to settle him. He wouldn’t even sleep in the buggy, he just screamed. Every feed felt like a battle and the only way he settled after a feed was to be held really still. Often even holding him seemed to upset him. I found a chair that didn’t rock or bounce, but held him cuddled and importantly very still. I couldn’t feed him out of the house, it was all too traumatic. I can’t even begin to tell you how much this impacted my toddler who I also had at home – neglected for hours with Peppa Pig on repeat. Mummy lost to this screaming baby – “make him stop mummy!” – hands over her ears.
How did I cope? I didn’t. Looking back it’s not surprising my mental health suffered. My nerves were shot. My cortisol levels through the roof. I remember sitting outside his room listening to his screams and wanted to crawl under a rock and never come out again. I felt like I had failed yet again at this motherhood thing. I wish I had had even half of the soothing mantras, meditations and self-compassion I have now to help me through that time.
Luckily I did have a kind and compassionate GP, who not only diagnosed silent reflux & CMPI, but also referred us to a kind paediatrician who really understood the stress I was under to keep this little boy fed and well. There were other doctors I saw that made me feel like I was just a neurotic mother and I just needed to cope with this ‘Colic’ and it would pass in a few weeks. It didn’t. It went on for months which turned into years.
I saw another kind GP about my mental health and started taking a low dose of anti-depressants. I am so grateful for the compassion I eventually received, but I know it is not the story for all.
Sara's top tips
My top tips are firstly to practice self-compassion and let go of perfection; secondly to practice acceptance (easier said than done!!!); thirdly take time to nourish your frazzled nerves so you can be there for yourself & for your baby; and last but not least – ask for help! Help from your GP, health visitor, friend, family. Whatever you need to take the pressure off you during this challenging time. If your GP doesn’t take you seriously. See another one.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of beating ourselves up and believing that we are failing in some way. But we are just doing our best and sometimes we can’t ‘fix’ it. When we learn to notice the negative chatter inside our heads we can start to challenge it and change it. And recognise that we really are doing an amazing job and what we are going through is hard – and sometimes traumatic! Is the washing really that important? Is asking for a bit of extra help such a failing? Does it matter if our toddler misses a bath or three and eats cheese and toast for the third night running?
There are loads of fabulous tools on the nourish app to support mothers through this challenging time and nourish those frazzled nerves. Some of my favourites are the Soothing Breathing Rhythm from @the_thomas_connection, a beautiful mindful awareness meditation from @themammacoach ‘Calm for you’, a Quick Fix Nidra from @connect_to_calm and the Prayer Salute yoga sequence from @suzyreading – I wish I had had these in my toolkit when my little ones were tiny, I know they would have made the world of difference. You can access all these tools for free for the first month. Cancel anytime if it’s not for you.
My mood had certainly gotten dark during the last four months. It was not depression so much as rage. I wanted out so desperately - wanted HIM out to be precise – but I, or rather, we, were trapped. Just me and THIS BABY. This screaming, inconsolable baby. My heart ached for this poor boy who needed something I couldn’t give him. ...... It pained me to the depth of my being to be failing this innocent child. Amidst the tension and loneliness, I would certainly ruin this boy. That thought was eating me alive.
".... somewhere deep down inside me, something was buried so low that I couldn’t hear it until months later, when the colic subsided, and the autopilot switch turned to the off position. …..….. And here it is, that inner voice. It has crept out, and it is full of love. Love for the child whose impossible start plagued him and me. Love for my first born whose patience through those months still gives me goosebumps. (That beautiful old soul; she just KNEW.) Love for the growth that results from doing very hard things. For the personal transformation and professional transition to a new career helping mothers through these very same times – the most fulfilling job that never would have been, had I not needed that support myself. And, most of all, love for the mother I thought I was not, could never be, but always, ALWAYS was.