Silent Reflux: The Silent Assasin
With my daughter I was aware of the delicate balance required to maintain my milk supply. I had read most women worried needlessly about low supply, it was largely a 'myth' and easily rectified with good feeding practice. We had overcome latch issues, dairy intolerance and reflux, so I put my low supply down to our bumpy start. I felt confident about a second attempt at breastfeeding. My baby boy was a feeder from the get go, an hour on each side straight after birth. We were off to a good start. But with number two silent reflux and low milk supply did a number on me.
Our first two weeks he fed around the clock, shredding my nipples. I could barely look at them, let alone touch them to apply Lansinoh. Breast shells were my saviour, providing armour against my own clothing. He gained weight well. I toughened up and his feeding eased. We had this.
Four weeks in it all went pear shaped, my pair were not performing and my mini was miserable. The dark days descended. He stopped sleeping and the screaming started. He began feeding almost hourly but battling the boob with short fussy feeds. He coped better one day a week with his Gran and expressed milk. He didn’t fuss with the bottle, was more content and even napped. The only respite I could offer was putting him in a wrap, for a brief sleep, sucking on a dummy.
I had no faith in myself. I couldn’t feed my boy, I couldn’t soothe him, I couldn’t ‘do this’; ‘I don’t know how to be a Mum to this boy’ I cried down the phone to my own Mum. I can't describe the heartbreak at having your baby fight your body; for the act that should nourish and soothe them to bring so much pain and frustration. And harder to admit is my own frustration at my broken boy for not feeding, for not getting on board. I labelled him 'fussy' and 'clingy' blaming him.
But I failed my boy. Born above the 75th percentile, he was below the 25th percentile at seventeen weeks. Trying everything to increase my supply: regular skin-to-skin; taking fenugreek until it was seeping from every pore and I stank; expressing after every feed even though my boobs were dry; constantly putting him to the breast; eating my body weight in food; and keeping my fluids up, I saw no improvement. Sleep was the only advice I couldn’t achieve; I daydreamed about it, probably hallucinated. But with a baby who didn’t sleep, and following good feeding practice rigorously, I was lucky to catch a couple of forty minute stints a night.
Looking back and I see plain as day that reflux played a hand. But in my sleep deprived state I missed it, as did the health visitor and GP. On one hand ‘silent reflux’ feels like a fitting description, a silent assassin that snuck in and killed my supply and my ability to feed and comfort my baby. Yet silent is the last word I would use to describe our experience; my boy wasn’t even silent when he slept and I was crying out for help.
I have very few pictures of my boy from those days and its not just down to second baby syndrome. Silent reflux is a force to be reckoned with, my boy had to sit back and ride out the pain and my confidence as a mama was shot; but worst of all it saw me do battle with my baby when we should have been bonding. It broke me and I suffered symptoms similar to postnatal depression with breast feeding grief. But my boy has weathered that storm, he is a fighter with the biggest smile and the most contagious laugh and I’m hell bent on capturing that now. And we've undergone some rebranding; I now consider this kid 'cuddly'.