About a month ago, I wrote an article about my son’s food sensitivities. To deal with them, my wife’s diet had dwindled down to little more than plain chicken, white rice, and water — she’s in great shape and doesn’t even come close to looking like she had a baby 11 weeks ago, by the way — in an effort to keep our son’s stomach calm and comfortable, but despite those efforts, he was still having stomach issues. That’s when my wife started doing some research, where she realized after reading about infant gastroesophageal reflux (GER) — heartburn — that most of the symptoms our little boy had matched up.
My wife is a nurse, so when she explains this kind of thing to me, she usually speaks in nurse language, which I am not fluent in. This means that she’ll inevitably have to go back and dumb down the language so I can understand. I’m going to briefly explain GER to you. But don’t worry, and put those dictionaries away — I’m not even going to try to write in nurse language.
There is a ring of muscles at the bottom of the esophagus that lets food and liquid into the stomach, and then closes to keep them in there, only occasionally opening to release a burp. But sometimes, more than gas gets out, which is when you get heartburn or throw up. GER occurs when stomach acid flows up into the esophagus. It takes a little while for these muscles to mature in newborns, which is why it’s normal for newborns to spit up occasionally.
However, our son would be difficult to burp, have frequent wet burps, spit up a lot, have frequent hiccups, wake up a lot while trying to sleep, and have sudden fits where he would arch his back and then curl into a ball, all the while screaming and obviously in inconsolable pain. In many cases, he wouldn’t feel better until we could get all of his burps out, or until he spit up or passed everything into his diaper. In fact, he used to poop, throw up on my neck, and poop again before going back to smiling and loving life. And all of this was continuing even after my wife had eliminated anything from her diet that could trigger an allergic reaction.
It’s torture to see your child go through this, and you can’t help but to feel helpless as he suffers, so my wife took him to the doctor. And she was right — our son does have GER. He was prescribed a medication that seemed to help, and in addition to this, my wife researched and learned about all the techniques that can help reduce his reflux, such as having him upright while feeding, spending a lot of time burping him, not moving him around too much after feeding, keeping him upright for 30 to 45 minutes after feeding, and letting him sleep on an incline rather than laying flat, which we accomplished by putting a pillow under the top end of the mattress in his crib.
All of this helped, but unfortunately, it didn’t completely cure his woes. One day, our babysitter — who is also one of our best friends, whom we love dearly — broke down in tears because our son was in pain and she felt terrible because she couldn’t fix it. It was no fault of hers, and after seeing her break down over our boy’s GER symptoms, we decided this was the last straw.
I went and picked him up and called the doctor to talk about our options. While breast milk reduces reflux in most cases, sometimes, like in the case of my son, a special formula may be required. The doctor’s nurse told me about two kinds of formula that will help his reflux, fussiness, trouble burping, and doesn’t include any ingredients that he is sensitive to — magic formula. She had a can of the powder and a quart of the ready-to-eat liquid that she gave me to try out, along with a warning that it’s very expensive. She wasn’t kidding. It’s around $10 more per 16 oz. can than all other formulas, but after using it for a few days, we’ve already seen drastic improvements. Another downside, besides the price, is the dog food smell of the formula, which is pretty gross. But even though it’s going to require my wife and I to tighten up our budget and deal with unpleasant odors, we’ll gladly do it to keep our son from being in pain.
On Mondays, Travis King will be sharing some of the surprises and learning experiences he encounters as a new father.
– Travis King, CMN Staff Writer
Photo: Travis King