upset crying baby

Reflux-Related Crying or Crying-Related Reflux?

Áine Homer, A.K.A. The Baby Reflux Lady, is bringing clarity to the confusion around baby reflux. She is a voice for unsettled babies, an advocate for silenced parents and an activist for changing how baby reflux is treated across the world. She is the author of The Baby Reflux Lady’s Survival Guide and supports parents and practitioners in translating baby’s symptoms and behaviours into understanding and focused action to resolve reflux and colic, and manage any allergies or intolerance’s.

With an estimated 50% of babies in the UK experiencing reflux every year, the disease of Gastro Oesophageal Reflux is on the rise.

The impact that reflux has on family life should not be underestimated:
– the chronic sleep deprivation alone is a massively contributory factor to postnatal depression.
– the worry and stress it introduces into partnerships can lead to arguments and relationship breakdown
– the incessant demands of a baby with reflux undermines sibling relationships
And this is all on top of the physical suffering of the baby with the reflux.

A phrase that is repeatedly searched is “is my baby’s crying normal?” This may seem like a simple question to ask, and the answer most frequently found is that “all babies cry”, websites that understand reflux a little more, will tell you that the high pitched shrill of a baby in pain is not normal, and frequently happens with reflux. So parents should take note of their baby’s cries.

baby with reflux

I fully agree.

Parents should always pay attention to their baby’s cries, they tell us so much, it’s their primary way of communicating.

However what may be new to hear, is that your baby’s crying, is likely to making their reflux worse, and could even be the cause of their reflux.

When a baby cries, they gulp air. When they take that short pause to breathe, they inhale air at such a force that they end up bringing air into their tummies too.

Air in a baby’s tummy acts like the air inside an inflated balloon, increasing the pressure. When milk is added in, their stomach is stretched to capacity.

Think of a partially inflated balloon, if you squeeze one part of it, the other side expands to contain the moving air inside. Now if you try to squeeze and fully inflated balloon, it explodes.

The stomach is similar, except, thankfully, it doesn’t actually explode, although sometimes the projectile nature of the vomit would indicate differently.

The muscular contractions that the stomach uses to churn milk, mix it with stomach acid. When the stomach is stretched to capacity with air and milk, the stomach contents have nowhere to go except to explode through the two stomach valves, one the right way, and the other the wrong way.

baby tummy massage

The more a baby cries, the greater the air intake in their tummy, and the greater the risk of reflux.

I have met clients who’s babies have been diagnosed with full blown Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disease, so bad, they were medicated for it. When we analysed what was going on, we have found that the original cause of reflux was that baby was over tired and crying a lot.

Crying leads to reflux, which leads to acid in their oesophagus, which in turn, causes pain and more crying. And so the cycle of crying-induced-reflux begins.

It’s so important that we trust our instincts as parents.

By the time my daughter was six weeks old I felt like I had exhausted all the help I could seek, I had asked midwives, doctors and health visitors for answers, and all told me the same thing: “all babies cry, it’s normal, you’ll get used to it.”

I was a desperate first time mum who doubted myself every moment of every day. One day I asked a health visitor for help with her sleep, she instructed me to put her in her cot and walk away.

My little girl screamed from the moment she was laid down (this itself should have been enough to indicate that something was not right). The health visitor kept reassuring me that she just needed to learn to settle.

After twenty minutes of high-pitched “I’m in pain” crying, I found my strength and went to my baby, scooped her up and vowed to myself to start trusting my own instincts more.

This was one of my greatest learnings as a parent, I know my child better than anyone else, as you know yours.

We discovered 4 months later that that my baby had always been in pain, my little girl had silent reflux, and no one spotted it. No one tried to help us, no one would listen to me as a mum.

I tell this story because that night was by far the worst night we had as a family. And things seemed to get worse. Looking back now, I can see triggers now so clearly. In the middle of it, I had no clue.

So what can you do to minimise crying-induced reflux?

Do everything in your power to minimise the amount of crying your baby does, crying makes reflux worse than it otherwise would be.

Especially in the first three months, look at your expectations of yourself and your baby, are you going to lots of classes, groups or meet ups? Remember that you baby has so much to learn, and being awake is stimulating for them. Everything they see and hear is new. They have no reference point for anything, other than you.

Take a step back from classes, take time to just be with your baby. Your home is perfect for them. A calm space and environment. Make sure that they are getting enough sleep, even if that is on the boob, or on your shoulder.

baby sleeping in mum's arms

Contact your local sling library and find a carrier that fits you and your baby perfectly before you invest in one. And then make friends with it. By six weeks, my second child was spending most of her days in the carrier, on my back. This was blissful because I could safely drink my tea, do some chores, go for a walk, with her beside me, while also not in my face. Literally. And this contributed massively to maintaining my own sanity.

And finally – the most important piece of advice I give to all mums – trust yourself, you are the expert in your baby.

Aine is on Instagram and Facebook regularly with more insights, and provides more in-depth information about reflux and allergies on her website.

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