When Spilling Becomes a Problem (Part I)

Throughout my whole pregnancy, I was so excited to meet my precious little boy that I thought of little else. I was about to become a Mum and impending motherhood was going to be filled with tender newborn snuggles, time spent breastfeeding my bundle and changing dirty diapers. And let’s not forget walking the hall getting my babe to sleep and then watching him sleep. I probably wasn’t being very realistic, but what first time mother has a sound and true knowledge of what being a Mum is like.

What I’d failed to factor in was all the things that could go awry. My perfect baby boy arrived 3 weeks before his due date and was a tiny 5lb 2oz. He was hungry. He fed, and fed and fed. Then spewed, and spewed and spewed, then hit repeat.

It shouldn’t have surprised me really. I was a ‘spilly’ baby who failed to gain weight and was eventually diagnosed with reflux and failure to thrive. So it was no shocker that my baby was a ‘spilly’ baby. But how much spill is too much? When does being a ‘spilly’ baby become a reflux baby?

These questions were all answered in time, but it took an agonizing 8 weeks to get the answers we searched for. I asked the lactation consultant while we were still in hospital if there was a chance Connor could have reflux as even in his first days of life, whenever he spilled, he would become increasingly unsettled. I was fobbed off. “Babies don’t develop reflux until at least 2-3 weeks of age. Stop being paranoid.” I mentioned that I had been a reflux baby and also diagnosed as failure to thrive but it mattered to them little.

After 6 days in hospital with my boy, we were finally released into the world and we got to take him home! The day we all wish for but also dread. No nurses with a wealth of knowledge, no cleaners to whisk away the spilled over sheets and blankets and bring back fresh ones. No meals delivered to your bedside (not that hospital meals are anything to be excited about!).

We took our baby home, delighted to be together as a family for the first time. AND in our own home. The first few days went relatively smoothly. There was some spilling, some tears (mine and Connor’s), but we carried on. And then he stopped sleeping. My two week old newborn would have to be fed to sleep, would wake and cry as soon as you removed him from the breast and would take another hour to settle. In the end, by 4 weeks old he would be awake anywhere from 1-5 hours then sleep 4-6 hours and repeat. I asked about reflux again. This time, my midwife. She assured me she doubted it was reflux, but if I was concerned, to take him to see the Doctor for their opinion.

The doctor wasn’t a huge help. We were given a prescription for baby gaviscon, but advised not to give it to our boy until he was at least 6 weeks old and then only to be given sparingly. I gave him his first dose the very next day. What do you know, it settled him slightly and the spilling reduced! A week later, it was no longer working and we were back where we started. By this stage, we’d been referred to Plunket for sleep advice.

We’d also stopped trying to put Connor in his bassinet after trying all the other tricks of the trade (raising the head end of the bassinet, warming the sheets before putting him in, swaddling tightly. You name it, we’d tried it), we’d given up. Every time we laid him on his back, a screaming match would ensue. The only place he would sleep semi-comfortably was my chest – the one place he would sleep was also the one place I was being told in no uncertain terms he should not be sleeping. So against all advice, to save our sanity and get some sleep, we started bedsharing, something we had never, ever intended to do.

Connor was now bringing up almost all of every feed, and feeding pretty much 24/7. The only place he was content, I wouldn’t call it happy, was at the breast. I felt homebound. I missed family events, I stayed in. The only place I went was coffee group. Connor would scream for the entire 20 minute drive to the rooms, then feed and promptly crash out for the 3 hours we were there. It was my only respite, the only place I felt able to take my screaming baby where I received no judgement. Family told us that the way Connor cried wasn’t normal, and now they tell us that they should have done more, but in the moment, it’s about getting through.

At times, I wondered if it was all in my head, but my instincts told me it wasn’t. My boy was in pain. He would scream, and I mean scream, like I’ve never heard a baby scream. If he was asleep on me and transferred to someone else’s chest, he would wake within minutes and scream. My husband was working 10 hour days then coming home and doing all the housework, the washing, cooking dinner. Everything. While I sat on the lazy boy with the baby screaming at my breast, arching his back, or bringing up his feed. It was an endless cycle. A vicious cycle. He’d been back to the doctors twice and while we’d been referred to the Pediatricians, when I asked how long the referral would take the answer was 6-8 WEEKS! I promptly followed up with “Well what do I do in the meantime?”

“Hang in there.” REALLY? Seriously? You’re telling the new mama on tenterhooks to “Hang in there!”?!

Taken at the hospital after 10 hours of being awake and crying

And then the next day he cried for 13 hours. Yep, you read that right. 13 hours straight. My 8 week old baby boy, screamed his little heart out for 13 long, exhausting, horrific hours. I put him to the breast and he would arch his back in pain and flail about. I put him on my shoulder and he would scream in my ear. I handed him to my husband with tears in my eyes. “I can’t do this anymore.” And so we took him to ED. We were at wits end. We’d tried everything. We couldn’t keep going the way we were. It was impossible.

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