My husband and I were blessed with an extremely easy baby girl for our first child. It seems as if all the baby books I had read during pregnancy had been absorbed by her too, as she was a model baby who drank and slept pretty much according to book schedules. We had our trials with breast-feeding, which I found extremely difficult (painful and very little milk), and the usual sleep-less nights and cranky days during a growth spurt or over-stimulated days, but all-in-all, I thought this whole baby business was not as hard as some moms say it is and while I felt sympathy for moms who told of difficult babies or endless sleepless nights, I really didn’t understand what they were going through. After my experience with my son, I can honestly say that I have extreme empathy and admiration for moms who are dealing with difficult babies and keeping up a very brave front.
When my easy-going baby girl was eight months old, we decided (as a family goal for the year ahead) to start trying for our next baby as I was already in my mid-thirties and it had taken us a very long time to fall pregnant with our daughter. Fertility is fickle, and this time around we fell pregnant immediately – in January!! (New Year’s resolution ticked off!), and we were in shock! Then we got excited, we didn’t have to go through that awful monthly trial of being disappointed at not being pregnant yet and we obviously had the parenting thing waxed, if our first baby was anything to go by. Ha Ha, big mistake – karma teaches the bold BIG lessons.
Our beautiful baby boy was born full term via Caesar, with no complications and scored a 10 Apgar at birth. I struggled again with breastfeeding, but he had latched well and was very enthusiastic about sucking – all the time. He cried and wanted to suck so much that the nurses told me to put a dummy in his mouth or risk losing my nipple. I used a nuk dummy and it seemed to calm him well. From the first night, I took him out of his crib and placed him in my bed with me (mostly as this is easier for feeding with a painful Caesar scar, and I wanted to bond). He didn’t sleep as much as I had expected that first night and from 1am to 5am became extremely restless and agitated – a pattern he kept for the next year! He drank voraciously and niggled and cried a lot, and spat up a lot of his milk feed. My mom had told me that boy babies are fussier, so I didn’t get too worried at first. I also know that each baby has their own personality and it takes time to get to know their signals and figure out what they want, so I battled on bravely with the niggling, crying, constant feeding and sleepless-ness for the first few weeks, thinking it would be short-lived.
At the first paed check-up, I was informed of his “failure to thrive” (what a horrible, horrible term for under-weight!!), and that I had to top-up with formula after every feed (I was already trying everything to increase my milk production). This meant that I would breast feed him for 20mins, burp & soothe him (upright) for 10 mins, then formula-feed him for 10 mins & burp & soothe again for 10 mins, change his nappy & settle him to sleep (all this took one whole hour!), and within 45min, he would wake up screaming again. So we would spend one hour keeping him upright and singing soothing lullabies to him while doing passage patrol (desperately hoping he would go back to sleep), and then I would start the feeding routine again (at two hour intervals). I had told the paed that I thought he had colic (due to the on-cue screaming from 1am to 5am every morning), and that he spat up his milk a lot, but he assured me that there is no such thing as colic, just fussy babies with nervous moms, who will both eventually calm down, and that the spitting up was less than I thought it was.
By the next paed visit, I insisted that my child definitely had colic and reflux and asked for help. The paed patiently (annonyingly) told me that there wasn’t much I could do for colic except to keep baby and me as calm as possible and wait it out, as it would be over by month three or four (easy for him to say!!!). He then told me that if my baby did actually have reflux, that my feeding him so often was actually making it worse, since it was over-filling him and giving him tummy cramps. Now I was completely confused and quite incredulous too – I was trying to do my best for this little baby, while also looking after a tiny toddler and husband, and had been following the paed’s instructions to feed my under-weight baby more. Add sleep-deprivation to the picture and you can understand that it was not a fun time in my life.
To cut a long story short – the colic lasted for four (very long) months and the only thing that provided any relief was a calm, dim lit room with classical music, massages with Lillian Terry’s aromatherapy oils for colic and sleep after bath time, Hyland’s homeopathic colic tablets, homeopathic carbo veg tablets, gripe water and sleep sense swaddle blankets for baby, and lots of rescue remedy and cups of tea for me. I did try taking him to a chiropractor for a few sessions but didn’t notice a very marked improvement. The screaming did eventually stop, but he remained a very bad sleeper for a very long time.
The reflux was not quite as easy, as it lasted until he was 14 months old and took a LOT of trial-and-error and patience. I stubbornly decided not to use gaviscon or any strong medication as I felt it would harm my baby more than help, and instead tried all the natural, homeopathic and practical tips I could find or be advised of. I kept his crib & then cot at a tilt, with head elevated, kept him calm during feeds (often in a quiet room), burping him and keeping him upright for about 30mins afterwards. I severely restricted my diet to very bland food for as long as I breastfed (5 ½ months), tried different types of formula, and even added a thickening agent to the formula. None of this seemed to really help much, and we accepted the fact that our little guy was a puker. After the colic stopped, the reflux didn’t seem to cause him any pain, just a LOT of mess, and we never expected it to last as long as it did. It did improve a bit when he started solids & crawling, but only really went away once he started walking at 14 months.
With regards sleep, aside from the fact that my son started off as a poor sleeper with colic, we definitely added to the dilemma because we picked him up and carried him upright whenever he seemed distressed (due to the reflux) and I was really scared that he would choke on his posseting while sleeping, so even when he slept, I was waking up to check on him and I didn’t want to do sleep training for as long as he had reflux. I walked around like a dazed, sleep-deprived zombie for the first year, before finally going through sleep training with him (once the reflux had ended). It was very tough but an amazing change in our lives and I highly recommend it for those who are desperate. Our (new) paed gave me a mild sleep syrup that I could administer for one week to help my son ease into the new regime, and by the end of the week, he was almost sleeping through the night (now without the syrup). I became a much nicer person & better mother and wife with a semi-regular night’s sleep!
My first paed and clinic sister were not very sympathetic or much help during this difficult year in my life, as they have seen so many cases of this that you become just another statistic and they expect you to simply be patient and wait it out. Every mother I came across offered me a varied range of advice from practical to interesting, to downright absurd (one insisted that I needed to add at least 3 tins of cream soda to my diet every day while breastfeeding and it would clear up the colic and reflux immediately!), but I really appreciated all of their well-intentioned help and listening skills as it was a tough time for me and it felt good to know that I wasn’t alone or in-competent as a mother.
In hindsight: I had been very strict with my preggy diet for first baby and had attended yoga, pilates and preggy bellies. It had been a wonderful, healthy and relaxed pregnancy and I’m sure that contributed to my easy-going baby daughter in some way. With my second pregnancy, I still avoided the big no-no’s of diet (alchohol, soft cheese, etc), but included coffee, curry, cooldrinks and chocolates this time. Also, with a small toddler, I didn’t have time for any exercise, and we had decided to move to a bigger home to accommodate our growing family, so I was packing up our existing house in Midrand and supervising contractors for our new house in Pretoria (closer to family). Our contractors ran late and we only moved into our new house 2 weeks before our son was born, and it was very stressful. I still had contractors in the house for the first few weeks after my son was born (more stress). I think the relaxed diet, lack of exercise and increaded stress DID play a part in making my son colicky, and I now think that if I wasn’t so stubborn and insistent on doing things as the books had prescribed was the only right way, and if I had asked for more help, then it could have gotten easier sooner. For example, my old part-time domestic didn’t make the move to the new house with us and I didn’t have the energy for the first few months to find and train a new full-time lady, so I was struggling and trying to do everything myself and I didn’t insist on or accept more help. I often sat on a bar stool, shovelling mushy food into my toddlers mouth (in her high chair) with one hand, while holding and breastfeeding my baby son with my other arm, sleep deprived and with tears streaming down my face, then as soon as my baby or toddler slept for a bit, I rushed around the house tidying up and doing washing etc. It was not a nice time in my life, and it felt like forever, but it did pass and we all survived it.
Advice for other moms:
- Try to have a calm, healthy, happy pregnancy with as little stress as is circumstantially possible. DO exercise, and DON’T move just before your baby arrives.
- Try to have all the help you will or might need set up before baby arrives.
- Have a reliable domestic who will take care of all domestic chores and who you trust to watch over or hold baby or take baby for a pram stroll when you need to shower, nap or (in the case of a colicky baby) when the constant crying becomes un-bearable. Bonus points if she can make you a cup of tea or meal when you need it.
- Write down the numbers of a few recommended lactation specialist (to ensure one will be available if needed), a good, recommended night-nurse service (I should have had gotten one to help me a few times) and a good baby clinic with kind nursing sister(s). You might not need any of these, but have them handy in case.
- Ask friends to recommend a good, kind, experienced paed (you will need more than one, as they are not always available when you need them most). I tried a few until I found two wonderful individuals that I really trust, and who speak to me as a concerned mom and not a statistic or a 15 min pay-check.
- Don’t be afraid of offending a nurse or paed by getting a second opinion if your instinct tells you that they are not giving helpful advice or conflicting advice. The sooner you find someone you can trust, the sooner your situation will improve.
- There are so many books out there with varying advice and other moms will add to this information so that you can get extremely confused as to what to do. Let the info from books guide you while you are learning, but also accept that all babies are very different and once you start to figure out what makes your baby happy, then switch to your instinct when you have conflicting advice. If you are able to be friends with a group of moms who are going through the same phase as you with babies, it will be the most valuable and honest support you can get.
- If you think your baby is small or under-weight (or over-weight), then don’t wait for the paed visit, just go to a baby clinic or pharmacy and have your baby weighed once a week and if they raise a red flag, you can deal with it sooner.
- Look after yourself. If you’re not coping, trying to be super-woman will only lead to burn-out a strained marriage, insecure baby(s) and neglected friends. Take a good multivitamin supplement, ask for help (pay for it if you must), and ask or beg for babysitters once in a while so that you (and sometimes hubby too) can just be a person outside of the chaos for a few hours. This really IS important.
- Not all babies are difficult, but don’t think you are a bad mom if yours is. Lots of us have been through this and its tough, but you will survive it. And if in doubt, LAUGH (at a funny movie, at friend’s jokes, at the situation and yourself).