Sarah Camp, June 2020
Coping with a Crisis
Finding Calm in the Midst of the Chaos
*This post was inspired by the shelter-in-place orders that were implemented during the CoVID-19 pandemic. It was compiled by the Admins and Mods of the Facebook group Infant Reflux: Support for Gerdlings.
Having a child is one of the biggest changes you can go through in life. Becoming a parent to any baby is challenging and exhausting in and of itself, but having a Gerdling compounds those stressors tremendously. This is “supposed” to be a time in your life full of joy and cherishing your infant. Well, that’s tough to do when you’re dealing with a baby who is crying in pain nonstop, won’t sleep, fights feedings, and is just generally agitated. Your “fight or flight” response remains on high alert, which is nerve-wracking and physically draining. Outsiders tell parents that Baby is picking up on their stress, which is making Baby even more unhappy. Most parents feel guilty for not being able to enjoy these fleeting moments as others may. So many factors contribute to how you’re feeling, and it can seem like nothing short of chaos.
We have a great post on Caregiver Burnout (click here!), but what do you do when you can’t get outside help? What if no other family or friends are available to come offer you relief? What can single parents do? These are sixteen of our best suggestions to help you manage having a baby with acid reflux. We hope that these ideas can help alleviate some of your distress!
1. Reach Out
The first and most important thing I can say is that there is never, ever any shame in needing help. Parenting a baby with GERD is a heavy burden to bear, and you should not have to carry it alone.
Rebekah L. writes: “I honestly don’t even know what I would have done with the second without help because I asked and took a lot of it.”
Monica S.D. writes: “Don’t be afraid to demand help from a doctor and your partner.”
Find a family member or friend that you can talk/vent to about all of this. They may not have all the answers, but even someone just listening helps. There is also nothing wrong with seeking professional help! Going to a psychiatrist, counselor, spiritual advisor, or any person whose calling is to help people work through difficult situations is incredibly brave and something that you should be proud of yourself for. Your baby and your family will be thankful that you had this courage to ask for help. Getting the help you need may involve just talking to someone, taking prescription medication, or a combination of the two. Do whatever you need to do to get and keep yourself healthy.
If you ever have thoughts or plans of harming yourself, PLEASE call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also visit their website at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
There is no better family for your baby than YOU!
2. Step Back
Becky L. writes: “Parents need to understand though that when they get to that moment they absolutely can’t take out anymore it’s ok to lay baby safely in their bed and walk away for a moment. I’ve done it. It’s ok. Take a few deep breaths then go back to the bouncing and rocking.”
If at any time you feel yourself becoming angry or aggressive toward your baby, put Baby in a safe, contained space and leave for a few seconds/minutes/whatever you need to gather yourself. Having these feelings is normal and understandable, but acting on them is not. You need to give yourself a little time to recollect before you can return to comforting your baby. We do not condone letting a newborn or a Gerdling in pain “cry it out,” but this temporary period of crying is not going to harm them, and it is something the both of you need. Some ideas of things you may need to do during this pause are:
- Go to the restroom–seriously, it’s really difficult to use the bathroom while holding a crying baby.
- Make yourself a cup of coffee or tea.
- Eat a quick snack.
- Have a good cry. Crying can be cathartic and is a great way to release the built-up emotions you may have rising inside. It’s also fine if you need to shed a few tears while holding your little one!
3. Take Turns
The very first thing mentioned by the majority of admins and mods of this group when asked what helped them cope was to swap off shifts with a partner to deal with nights. The fact is, you NEED sleep. Your body is immensely more stressed when tired. If you’re able to get a solid 3-4 hours of sleep, you will feel much more alert and at least somewhat refreshed to press on with Baby.
Anke T. preferred to have a couple specific hours off each and every day. She writes: “DH was working a ton at that time, long hours and the only thing that kept my sanity where short but regular breaks that I could look forward to.”
Loreli B.K. found it better to conquer nighttime by dividing it in half with her husband. She writes: “My hubby and I would also alternate 3-4 hours each night. So he’d do the walk/rock etc for a few hours while I slept and then we’d swap.”
4. Ditch the Schedule
There are tons of books, blogs, websites, etc. these days that are all about the importance of having baby on a routine. How long should naps be? How long should they be awake in between? How long should they wait to feed again? How much should they eat at one time? How long of a stretch of nighttime sleep should they be getting? When are they supposed to sleep all the way through the night?
PLEASE do not stress yourself out with any of these things! All babies are different, and there is no one plan that they should each be expected to follow perfectly.
Sarah C. (that’s me!) writes: “One thing that helped me let go of a lot of anxiety and mom guilt I was holding onto was throwing out any expectation of a schedule….THAT was freeing. It’s simply not possible with a Gerdling that young, especially one whose reflux is not controlled with proper medication and a well-tolerated diet.”
5. Tune it Out
This may involve using something you already have, or it might be a purchase you need to make/something to add to your wishlist for your birthday or an upcoming holiday. Most people probably have some earphones laying in a drawer tangled up…if not, they can easily be purchased at a dollar store. Even better if you already have or can get noise cancelling headphones!
Rebekah L. writes “The only thing I can suggest is wearing ear phones with something to listen to cranked up. It might not block out all the crying but it helps the brain focus on something else.”
6. Speaking of Music…
Your baby may enjoy listening to music as well! The most comforting thing will likely be the familiarity of your voice. It might help you pass the time to sing a counting song; you can also sing anything you know by heart, or even a song that you make up!
Loreli B.K. writes: “I used to also sing to DD while walking, 10 Little Monkeys. One night DH said ‘that’s clearly not long enough…better try 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall’. When you’re right, you’re right!“
Sarah C. writes: “I sang Amazing Grace over DD more times than I can count because it’s one of the only ones that I could remember in the chaos. My husband on the other hand made up a very deep-bass voice song called Go to Sleep, Dammit and of course it freaking worked!”
Other music that has worked well for some of our own Gerdlings are Gigglebellies Sweet Songs & Lullabies as well as Rainbow Connection by Gwen Stefani. If you find something that works for you, keep playing it as much as you have to!
7. Move It
Baby is used to being rocked, bounced, jostled constantly while inside Mom’s belly. For many, being still is something to fear because of this reason. Fortunately, there are many options available to help you give Baby the motion s/he craves:
- Baby Wearing! Use a wrap, carrier, or sling. This gives the benefit of motion while still remaining close to a caregiver. It will also free up your hands.
- Walking: carry Baby in the football hold, hold Baby over your shoulder on their tummy (fireman carry), walk up and down the stairs, etc.
- Bouncing: Sit on a yoga ball and bounce Baby, bounce up and down while holding Baby on your bed, hold Baby in your arms and lean against/sit on your washing machine or dryer with it running
- Commercial products: Get a swing, glider, bouncer, or mamaRoo to give your arms a break!
8. Change of Scenery
We all know that trying to take a fussy baby anywhere in public is an absolute nightmare. However, giving Baby something new to look at can be really helpful in distracting them (and you) from the misery. Fresh air helps, too! Try taking a walk around your neighborhood or a local park. Even if you need to walk around in a parking lot, Baby won’t know the difference! Just the change of scenery will be beneficial for them. You may want to use a stroller if Baby will tolerate it. If not, you could walk around with Baby in a wrap, carrier, or sling.
If the weather is bad, go for a drive instead! Some Gerdlings despise the car seat. If you find this to be the case, you may want to try switching from an infant carrier seat to a convertible car seat. Most of these are safe to use from birth but may require a special insert to provide extra padding and support around smaller babies. Always check with the manufacturer’s instructions, and never use inserts other than those recommended by the manufacturer, as unapproved ones may render a car seat ineffective in protecting Baby in the event of an accident.
If Baby truly hates the car no matter what you do, you may choose to take the drive when you have your alone time/”break” provided by a partner. It can be difficult to calm yourself if you are still in the house with Baby, worrying about any crying you may hear. Getting out of the house by yourself may be the breath of fresh air that you so desperately need. Or, have your partner take baby for a drive on your “break” so that you can enjoy your bed or couch for a few minutes instead.
*Only get behind the wheel if you are rested enough to remain awake, alert and aware. If you’re exhausted and there’s any chance you may fall asleep, do not take the risk of operating a vehicle…it’s not worth it!
9. Create a Diversion
While it won’t take Baby’s pain away, sometimes getting his or her mind off of the discomfort can be helpful, even if only for a few minutes. Another issue with Gerdlings is that once they are worked up, the crying can make reflux worse, and this becomes a perpetual cycle in which Baby has a very tough time calming down.
Sometimes lights projected onto ceiling help distract baby, or even a slow moving ceiling fan. Use both parents, older siblings, visitors (if you feel comfortable), or even pets to give Baby something new to think about. Sometimes even a quick look at the television or a video on your phone may be a great distraction. Keep in mind that the AAP doesn’t recommend screentime until at least 18-24 months, but sometimes with a Gerdling we have the saying of “you gotta do what you gotta do.”
10. A Little Bit of Peace
Some babies actually do worse with too many distractions around. Think about it like if you’ve ever had a migraine or bad headache. You try to avoid lights and sounds as much as possible, and you definitely don’t want to be around a lot of people. This may be how Baby feels when in pain from reflux, especially if they are over-tired from not sleeping well either. In this case, the best thing to do is remove as many stimuli as possible. Go into a dark, peaceful room where you and Baby can be alone or around as few people as possible.
Monica S.D. writes: “Swaddles didn’t work but getting DD naked/reducing sensory input would. So lots of football hold, swinging in the dark wearing just a diaper.”
Most babies do not do well with absolute silence, even if they crave less stimulation. They are used to hearing a dull noise at all times inside Mom’s tummy, that probably equates to the sound of a running shower. It’s not loud enough to hurt your ears, but it’s difficult to talk or hear anything else over. A white noise machine may be something that will help your baby feel calmed. Running water is the magic trick for others!
Becky L. writes: “I would stand in the kitchen with water running for hours. Then I discovered a soundtrack that had that exact sound! I downloaded it and used it every time DD got upset.”
12. Just Keep…Swimming?
Water may not have to remain running to comfort an upset baby. Baths are warm, soothing, and familiar to Baby. They’re also a great distraction without being over-stimulating. Baths can be given at any time of the day, but they may be a great thing to incorporate into your bedtime routine since they’re so relaxing. You can even take baby into the shower or tub with you with a water sling (yes, such a thing exists!)…just remember to keep his or her head out of the water!
Don’t use soap daily since it can dry out Baby’s skin, and remember not to use anything that could be too hard on Baby’s skin, such as products with strong fragrances.
13. Tender Touch
There is almost nothing as comforting to Baby as skin to skin contact. This isn’t something to only be done the first hour after birth; it can be done as often as you like for as long as you like. There are many health benefits for both Baby and Mom (or Dad!). It is the best way to keep Baby warm, smell you, feel your heartbeat, move with the rise and fall of your chest, and ultimately be comforted.
14. Reflux Sucks!
Paci, binky, dummy, soother…a rose by any other name would smell as sweet! If Baby takes a pacifier, use that to your fullest advantage. Pacifiers are soothing for babies because they satisfy baby’s need for nonnutritive sucking. They may also help Baby keep reflux down the esophagus. Furthermore, they have been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS when given at the onset of sleep.
If a mother is breastfeeding, there is some debate about when and how to introduce a pacifier due to potential nipple confusion. Please discuss any concerns about this with your healthcare provider or IBCLC.
15. Attitude of Gratitude
Sarah C. writes: “This may sound really cheesy, but I was feeling so guilty for not enjoying my baby girl, especially when she was a teeny tiny newborn. I needed to find a way to focus on the positive when it seemed like all my life consisted of was crying. I ordered a journal off Amazon called “Letters to My Daughter As I Watch You Grow.” Anytime she did something that made me smile, I would try to at the end of the day write it down in that book. This helped me live in the moment a little more and not get swallowed up by the overwhelming despair that can be infant reflux. It also became something that I could open up on the hard days when it seemed like there weren’t any silver linings, and read over everything I had written in the past to lift my spirits.”
16. Let It Go!
Last but not least, leave everything you possibly can undone! Seriously, just wait on all of it. The laundry, dishes, cleaning, cooking…do absolutely the bare minimum you can and use the rest of your time not spent taking care of Baby RESTING. A lot of people will try to make you feel like you need “you-time,” but honestly if that’s not possible please don’t beat yourself up over it. You can worry about hobbies, working out, anything like that later. Take care of yourself with rest as much as you can. For you, that may mean sleeping, spending time with your other child(ren), watching TV, eating in peace, etc.
Anke T. writes: “The thing that helped us was getting take-out food a lot and minimizing chores at home.”
We hope that some of these strategies may help you make it through this difficult time. Please always remember that you are never alone, and there are many ways to help your baby. Even if none of these suggestions provided make things easier on you right now, you can hold on to the hope that things WILL get better. This is a temporary struggle, so please don’t ever give up!
Despite what many doctors and traditional knowledge say, time is NOT the solution for a baby with severe GERD. Lasting damage with long-term effects can occur when left untreated or under-treated. Additionally, all babies deserve to live comfortably, not in chronic pain from acid reflux burning their esophagus.
You can get reflux under control NOW with the right medications and a well-tolerated diet. This may mean finding the best formula or eliminating foods while breast feeding. While we always support Gerdlings receiving breast milk, if eliminating too much from your diet is causing your mental health to significantly suffer, it is not worth it! There is no shame at all in going to formula for any mom, but especially for this reason.
To get personalized support immediately, contact Laura Heller Bennett, owner of InfantReflux.org via Facebook messenger to purchase a phone consultation. Click here to be taken to her profile! You can also send her an email at [email protected]
(About Laura) https://www.infantreflux.org/about-us/
Some of the products mentioned above, as well as many more things we find helpful when you have a Gerdling, can be found on our InfantReflux Members’ Favorites shopping page.