I’m so pleased with how this guest blogging feature is going. We’ve had seven fantastic writers so far and the response has been brilliant. I’m such a strong believer in the therapy of sharing our parenting difficulties and the response to My Mountain so far shows me you are too. Thanks once again for your lovely comments on last week’s post, and big thanks to Become Mum for sharing such a difficult decision with us.
Our eighth guest blogger, Lucy, is writing about something I can really personally relate to as Caterpillar suffered with this during the early days too, although thankfully not to the same degree.
Trapped wind sounds like a bit of a joke doesn’t it? As a student I lived in a house with six guys, so trust me when I saw I know just about every fart joke going. Having gas is funny, not a serious issue. Or so I thought before I had a baby.
Before my son was born in 2014, I was vaguely aware that babies’ digestive systems don’t work as well as an adult’s. I knew you had to burp them and that they occasionally spit up. Whilst I was pregnant a mummy friend of mine made a comment about Infacol. So I thought I was prepared. We bought plenty of burp cloths and aimed for practicality over cuteness in baby clothes. Sorted, right?
The first couple of weeks after my son was born went past in a haze of hormones and breastfeeding. But then it became clear that there was a problem. Tom started waking up multiple times every night making this horrible groaning sound that turned into cries of pain. Observing him, we could see that he was pulling his legs into his chest. He’d often fart multiple times, which would relieve the problem for a while. But then the groaning would start again.
I knew newborn babies didn’t sleep. But everything I read suggested they would be up three or four times a night. I still have a log I kept of Tom’s sleep over a week during that period. I think he was about 8 weeks old. One entry for a fairly average night says: “down at 19.20. Resettled at 19.40 (gas). Up at 21.40, 22.15, 23.44, 2.10, 3.40, 4.40, 6.00, 6.15 (for day).” Each time I would settle Tom back to sleep (some of these are feeds, though not all). But the discomfort of the trapped gas meant he couldn’t stay down. What was so heartbreaking was that he clearly wanted to be a good sleeper – he was easy to settle and just needed a quick feed or sometimes even just a suck on my finger or a dummy. But he couldn’t stay asleep. He was exhausted and in pain. On a bad night, I’d be up 10 or 12 times with him.
I was frantic (and sleep-deprived). A first-time mum, I had no idea what was normal for a newborn, but it didn’t seem possible that no one had warned me that things would be this bad. My sister-in-law, whose daughter is five weeks younger, didn’t experience anything similar. Hours spent on Google just brought up forum after forum of parents with the same issue, but no real solutions. We tried massage after every nappy change and before bed, which helped a bit. We gave Tom Infacol before every feed, which made him burp like a champion, but didn’t stop the nightly groaning. We swaddled him to sleep, and gave him a dummy, as sucking seemed to ease the pain.
Nothing worked, though introducing a dummy would come back to bite us later when the 4 month sleep regression hit.
When I spoke to the doctor, she just shook her head and gave me a prescription for infant Gaviscon (useless, as he wasn’t suffering from reflux). He’ll grow out of it, was her verdict. And I’m sure he would have done, eventually. But eventually was no good to me. We needed sleep! And I didn’t want my baby to be hurting anymore with something that seemed like it should be preventable.
Eventually, after hours of research, mostly carried out on my phone in the small hours of the morning, I decided to try probiotics. I had heard about them before, but was unsure about giving live bacteria to a baby. What if it made him ill? Plus, the infant drops were expensive, at £15 for a tiny bottle, and our GP had no interest in prescribing them. But we had tried everything else. And my sleep deprivation was making me impatient, snappy and weepy. It was affecting my parenting, and my relationship. I scoured medical journals and established that, even if it didn’t help, the probiotics were unlikely to do any harm.
It took 2 months of disturbed nights before I tried the probiotics. Tom was 10 weeks old. The first day we gave them to him, he napped pretty well and only woke up twice in the night with gas (plus twice for feeds). The second night, he woke twice for feeds and not at all for gas. It felt like a miracle.
Looking back now that my son is 16 months old, 10 weeks of sleepless nights doesn’t seem so bad. But when we were in it, it seemed like a nightmare that would never end. The worst thing was the feeling of helplessness – not being able to ease his discomfort and getting no advice or support from medical professionals. Even just some sympathy would have helped! New parents need to feel like they are being listened to, that their concerns are not just dismissed, and sadly that wasn’t my experience. That there was something available that solved the issue, which we weren’t told about, is almost secondary to the lack of support.
Sleep deprivation is awful and it stops us from being the parents we can be. To anyone struggling with sleep issues my best advice is to be kind to yourself. Don’t feel like you have to pretend everything is alright when it isn’t. And if there are underlying issues, keep pushing for treatment. Do your own research too – not all GPs specialise in infants so they may not have the most up-to-date information. Talk to other parents who have experienced the same problems and find out what worked for them.
This post is about parenting struggles, not promoting probiotics, so I haven’t included any brands or links. But if anyone does want to know what we used, contact me at email@example.com and I’ll be happy to help. I promise I’m not sponsored by them (though they totally should be paying me the amount of recommending to other parents I’ve done!).
Lucy is a working mum, living in London with her son and technology obsessed husband. She believes that all of us should be spending more time outdoors, especially our kids, so she has made a pledge to spend at least an hour a day outside with her son. She blogs about their adventures at Project: Urban Wilding which also features musings on gentle parenting and natural childhood. Lucy is also on Twitter and Facebook.
*If you would like to contribute to the My Mountain series with a piece about your own biggest parenting challenge please email firstname.lastname@example.org*