By Contributor Amber Turvey (@amberturvey_)
The birth of my second child, Isabella on the 18th of August 2015, bought such joy and happiness. We now had our pigeon pair and with just 19 months between both our children, her first month quite the blur! However, I had the support around me with mother visiting, cooking, helping and a husband at my beck and call.
Month two. The 17th of September to be exact, the day of my birthday, was when everything changed. Isabella would not feed properly and despite everything I tried to help her, I knew something was up. She would latch on then cry and pull off again and scream. She was hungry but soooo unsettled!
I kept forcing her back on and the same thing would happen, over and over. After a quick trip to the chiropractor we were sent home with an adjusted, calmer baby and a probiotic to try. The remainder of the night went smoothly and I finally managed to eat something for the day!
However, from this day, Isabella was a different baby. She was a lot more unsettled, took hours to feed, hated being put down, would never self settle and wouldn’t sleep longer than 20 minutes. Yellow, gunky cradle cap appeared on her head and her eyebrows, the skin on her face was red and inflamed most days and patchy rashes covered her body. At our six-week check-up I explained Isabella’s symptoms to the nurse who said straight away replied with “Silent Reflux”.
The doctor came in; we were prescribed Zoton, told to elevate everything and sent on our merry way. I didn’t know much about Silent Reflux, or Reflux at all for that matter. Hugo was the easiest baby, slept well, fed well and was hardly ever sick, so I was far from prepared for this! I spent most of that night googling the symptoms and treatment of SR and I found out that the reflux meds can take up to 14 days to see any improvement, cue exhausted eye roll. I just wanted a quick fix for my baby girl. It broke my heart to see and hear her like this. I hated EVERY minute.
From 4pm every afternoon, it started. Feeding would take hours and hours. I couldn’t put her down and the hours were spent cluster feeding, bouncing, jiggling and dancing around the house to try and calm her. I couldn’t prepare dinner and I fed Hugo whilst having to hold and rock Isabella while she cried.
Bath times were a nightmare and I had resorted to putting her in the swing with the vacuum cleaner on to get her to stop crying or to sleep for 20 minutes and give my arms a rest. I tried numerous times to give her a bottle or a dummy but she refused. This cycle continued until around 9/10pm each night, when she was finally too exhausted to stay awake any longer and fell asleep on the boob. Isabella would then sleep overnight for a good 5-6 hours before waking again. I should have counted myself lucky at this point because it was about to get so much worse!
Fast forward a few months and things had gone from bad to worst. I was now up every 2 hours. Every night. At the time I couldn’t even remember when I had last got up to her, it was that bad. I was in auto pilot mode and fed when I should have tried settling her first, and falling asleep whilst breastfeeding only to wake up over an hour later.
This went on and on. I tried every Silent Reflux tip I had ever read. I was beyond tired, so resentful and so over everything to the point I had some really bad thoughts. Sleep deprivation is a killer, and it was killing me. I had to do something. Anything.
It wasn’t just Isabella I was worried about. Poor Hugo (my first child), from 19 months old, definitely had a shock to the system too. He lost his one on one mum time, had to learn to play by himself and watched a lot more television than I would have liked!
I began to resent having her. Why did I have them so close together? Why is she like this? I can’t do anything! Just take a bottle! I need a break! Stop crying! Go to sleep! I wish you were older already! I can’t do this! Just. Stop.
I remember speaking with my Doctor at one point about Isabella’s skin and she suggested I cut out dairy from my diet to see if it helped. We had tried numerous creams, both steroid and natural and nothing seemed to help. If it did it was short lived. We had already her tongue and lip ties revised when she was 8 weeks old, but I never saw a huge improvement in her symptoms.
Over the next week I proceeded to cut down my dairy consumption. I stopped having butter and cheese but couldn’t cut out the dash of milk with my cup of tea. I hardly even drink milk; surely it couldn’t do that much harm! I had lots of milk during my pregnancy (Milo cravings were strong!) so why the issue? It wasn’t until I found the ‘Breastfeeding Mums with allergic and food intolerant babies Australia’ Facebook page that I knew I had a lot more to learn. I read a lot of posts from other desperate mum’s, and a lot of answers from mum’s who had been in this exact position before. It was a godsend!
One morning, Hugo’s bottle of milk dripped onto Isabella’s leg. She came up in contact hives straight away. From that moment I knew she was allergic to Dairy. We were instructed by our GP to try Goat’s milk formula in her rice cereal to see if she reacted to that also. I was now determined to stop feeding her. I had come to the conclusion I was making her sick. It was all me!
I proceeded to try the formula and she reacted straight away. Damn! Next was Soy. I syringe fed her until she took a bottle and it went surprisingly well! Finally, we were onto something! I just wanted to fill her up before bed so she would sleep longer. I was desperate, so so desperate. Fast-forward a week and she started reacting to the Soy formula and we were back to square one.
At this point I really had to harden the #*$% up! I just had to do it. I cut out all dairy and soy products from both of our diets and read all food labels. I researched and researched. I found out Dairy and Soy are in most packaged foods and once you cut them from your diet it can take 6-8 weeks to be out of your system and see any improvement.
I was so disheartened and now even more resentful. Why should I have to cut out everything from my diet? Is it even good for her? What am I going to eat? I now resented having to breastfeed her. I mix fed my firstborn, Hugo, and loved the freedom that formula feeding gave me. I just wanted that, again. I wanted to fast forward time. I just wanted her to be walking and talking already. This isn’t how it should be.
Our GP sent Isabella for a blood test to determine her allergies. She came back positive to Dairy but was fine with soy, wheat and gluten. So why didn’t the Soy formula work? Because she is intolerant, not allergic and her body could handle it to an extent before it reacted. Solids were another drama; she reacted to so many different fruits and vegetables. Every step forward saw another hurdle, and another month pass us by.
Once I knew Isabella had an allergy to dairy and couldn’t have any formula at all, I knew I had to keep breastfeeding. This is when I actually stopped resenting our feeding journey and started enjoying our time together. We saw a vast improvement in her skin and silent reflux symptoms since cutting out all dairy and soy products. Once you learn what you can eat and that you can cook most meals by substituting, things get so much easier. Isabella was improving, but was still waking every 2-3 hours at night. I was still a walking mess and every day was a constant struggle. Behind my cheerful appearance was a mum who just needed some sleep.
I continued to breastfeed Isabella until she was 12 months old, when I transitioned her to Oat milk. From about 9 months on, I really started to enjoy breastfeeding. By 11 months I was sad to even think of stopping and the mum guilt kicked in! But, I had made my decision. I was so lucky that she transitioned really well and nearly weaned herself to the point I just had to stop the overnight feeds (yes I was still up to her numerous times a night!).
Once she was on Oat milk full time the difference was amazing. Her skin and eczema was 100% better, no more reflux meds and at 15 months old is finally sleeping through the night consistently with no bottle! Woot Woot!
To say the first year of Isabella’s life was hard is an understatement. I look back now and I regret wishing the time away. Sleep deprivation is hard, and can easily be mis-diagnosed as PND. I never spoke to anyone about my struggles and never got any help. In the end I got there and we all survived, just!
If this resonates with anyone, hang in there it does get better. Seek help through your GP, talk to a friend, reach out to your family. If someone came to me asking for help and support and knowing what I have been through, I would be there in a second.
You don’t know sleep deprivation, silent reflux and living with a screaming baby until you are smack bang in the middle of it. Ask for support and try to not to do it all yourself. There are many things I regret about the past year and one of them is not asking for help or to admit I was struggling. We seem to just pull our big girl panties up and put on a front to cover what is our harsh reality.
My poor baby had such a hard time, but to look at her now you would never, ever know. Isabella is such a placid, happy girl who always smiles and is such a joy to be around.
We are now a dairy and nut free household (she is now also allergic to peanuts), sleep is amazing and I am a different person and mother. I lost myself there for a fleeting moment in time, but am counting my lucky stars that I got through it and have found my happy.