Olivia was three weeks old, and had been crying hysterically for three hours straight. You could set your watch by it: every night, without fail, she would scream uncontrollably from around 6pm till 9. We tried every thing to stop her pain: cuddling her, patting her, rubbing her back, laying her across our knees, Infacol, bottles with special teats, but nothing seemed to work. Was it wind? Colic? Was I doing something wrong? However, when I asked my health visitor why Olivia was in such distress, she simply replied “It’s the Witching Hour.”
“The Witching what?”
“They call it the Witching Hour,” she replied. “Nobody knows why babies cry like this. It’s just something that they do, perhaps because their digestive systems aren’t mature. It seems to happen in the evening. The good news is they grow out of it in a few months.”
A few months? It was clear to see my baby was in agony, and listening to her scream hysterically for hours was torture, not just for her, but for me. In desperation, I turned to an osteopath, having read that this could work wonders. There were stories of babies on forums who, after just one treatment, were instantly calmed, or threw up a big load of mucus, or did a weird poo, and then were happy and contented. The osteopath was lovely, but after three sessions she said the treatment did not seem to be working, and didn’t think further treatments would help.
What now? My baby had red-rimmed eyes, she frothed at the mouth with bubbly spit. She arched her back when she fed at the breast, and pulled grimacing faces when she lay down as if a bad taste had come into her mouth. She had hiccups constantly. One day, after a bottle of milk, she projectile vomited so hard that it looked like a scene from the Exorcist. She hardly slept for more than 20 minutes at a time and was still crying for hours every night. I was at my wits end.
One day, a different health visitor came to visit. “I think your baby has Silent Reflux,” she said. “Try to keep her upright for 30 minutes after a feed. Don’t lie her down flat to sleep; prop some books under one end of her Moses basket.”
At last, there was a name for what Olivia had. Silent Reflux happens in some babies because the sphincter muscle that closes off their stomachs is not strong enough. Whenever they lay down, and sometimes when they are upright, their milk and stomach acid rises back up their oesophagus and burns them. Every time they feed, it can cause terrible pain. Some babies refuse to feed; others comfort feed to try and ease the pain, which creates a vicious cycle. I googled furiously for information and found that medication was available. I begged my GP for a prescription.
The first medicine offered was Gaviscon Infant, which comes in a powder. You mix it with your baby’s milk – breast or bottle – and it acts as a thickener to help stop the stomach contents rising back up again. I had stopped bottle feeding by now, having finally got the hang of breastfeeding, but I found Gaviscon Infant almost impossible to administer. First I had to express milk, then mix in the powder and try and administer it via a spoon or syringe while my crying, hungry baby flailed and screamed for the breast. This was not going to work.
Finally our GP offered Ranitidine, a liquid medicine which suppresses production of stomach acid. At last, our beautiful baby got some relief from her pain. She began to sleep more soundly and her crying sessions diminished. However, the months of pain had taken their toll on both of us. Olivia had suffered in agony while I felt powerless to help her. I had been living in a state of high anxiety, nervy, afraid to go out alone with her case she began screaming, or projectile vomited. This was my first baby, and I had felt like a total failure as a mother and I ended up with Post Natal Depression. It makes me sad and angry that it took so long to find out the real reason for my baby’s distress. Silent Reflux spoiled our first precious months together, that should have been a special and happy experience.
As for the “Witching Hour”? I don’t believe in the supernatural. If your baby is screaming for hours on end, I believe they are doing it for a reason. If you are struggling with a sleepless, hiccuping, screaming baby, look up Silent Reflux and see if the symptoms are familiar. Because the first few months with your newborn should not be a living hell. They should be joyful. And magical.
©Rebellious Mum 2016
For more information on Silent Reflux, visit https://www.nct.org.uk/parenting/what-reflux