As new parents you hear a lot of terms that you’ve never come across before in your life.
Meconium, apgar score, nipple cream, letdown, fontanel, colostrum, colic.
It’s like going back to school, but instead of an end of term exam you’re tested every single day. You’re not expecting to pass with flying colours, just surviving the experience would be nice.
One of the terms that became very familiar for me was silent reflux. Let’s get one thing clear first of all. The name is a bit misleading, because it isn’t actually silent.
I remember the heartbreak at seeing my first daughter wince and grit her gums together as that awful acid bubbled up from her tummy and caused her pain.
I had no idea that it was silent reflux at first.
All I knew was she cried during and after feeds, pulled her legs up as if her tummy was hurting and seemed to be in pain when laid down for nap time.
There were also times she would “stress eat”, which is the best way I can think of to describe it.
She would stop feeding and cry in pain, then enthusiastically pull the bottle back to her and guzzle at it frantically.
My theory was that the milk was soothing the pain. The problem was it led to her overfeeding and she would end up being sick.
The stress of having a baby with silent reflux cannot be underestimated.
Nobody wants to see their child in pain. It’s hard enough as a new parent attempting to decipher what’s wrong with your baby, but add to it a painful condition and your stress levels get ramped up even more.
Anything that makes your child cry more frequently is going to cause more upset and increase anxiety. It can make you and your partner more aggravated which leads to more rows.
As someone who experienced life with a baby with silent reflux I thought I would share everything I know about it and what you can do to cope and help your baby.
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What is the difference between silent reflux and colic?
These two terms often get linked together and one confused for the other.
This is because while reflux involves your baby vomiting frequently, because the muscle at the top of their stomach is underdeveloped and not tight enough to hold food down, the other two don’t have such physical evidence.
However there are distinct differences between the two.
I’ve said before on this blog that I don’t really believe in colic. It’s basically a word for babies who cry a lot in the early months, but in my experience most babies cry a lot in the early weeks.
Those fussy evenings, also known as the witching hour, seem to be pretty universal and the crying increases in frequency until around four months when things start to get better.
Silent reflux is where milk comes up from the stomach during or after a feed.
A little stomach acid can also come up at the same time. This causes heartburn type pain.
It happens because the stomach muscles at the top of baby’s stomach have not yet properly tightened. They will eventually grow out of reflux, but the upset it can cause is stressful especially when you’re sleep deprived.
Does your baby have silent reflux?
The only way to know if your baby has silent reflux is to see a doctor who can go through the symptoms with you.
But these are some of the key signs:
- Very unsettled during feeds.
- Feeding constantly with little gaps between feeds.
- Passing has frequently.
- Prefers sleeping on mum or dad rather than flat in their cot.
- Gurgling sounds from the tummy.
How do I treat silent reflux?
Babies do eventually grow out of silent reflux. The muscle at the top of the stomach develops, matures and becomes tight so that feeds are kept where they are supposed to be.
However there are plenty of things you can try in the meantime to make your baby more comfortable:
- Feed in an upright position.
- Burp frequently during feeds.
- Don’t bounce your baby around immediately after a feed. Hold them upright for 20 to 30 minutes after a feed.
- Elevate the head of their cot. I did this with books propped up under the legs.
- Try different bottles if bottle feeding to see if this makes a difference to ease of feeding.
How to deal with it as parents
Because the crying that comes hand in hand with silent reflux is stressful for you as a parent, there are a few things you need to do to keep calm.
Try taking it turns to do the feeds, if you can. If you’re breastfeeding then express some and get your partner to take a turn so you can have a break.
Remind yourself that it won’t last forever.
Take time away from from the house and baby, even if it’s just a 10 minute walk to the shops.