For the first six weeks, it seemed William would cry more-than often, stiff with pain and then he would spit-up. We talked to the doctor and the doctor continued to say that it was colic and spit-up was normal. So we continued to rock, soothe and calm our crying and upset baby. Finally, I started googling the symptoms after a night of about 3 hours of sleep and everything we were seeing pointed to GERD. The article said that an infant would sleep comfortably in a more upright position on their tummy. I was so tired though, this was something I knew I didn’t dare try until I was wide awake and maybe had someone to help me monitor him.
The next morning, at my mom’s house, we carefully positioned him on pillows on her bed, upright and leaning on them just slightly on his stomach. He immediately went to sleep and for the first time, seemed to sleep comfortably and with an actual smile. This, to me, was the proof I needed and I immediately called our pediatrician and made an appointment, for that very day. Now, to anyone who isn’t new parent sleep deprived, GERD probably isn’t a medical emergency, but to me, a sleep deprived mother who had finally seen her son sleep comfortably, this seemed like a very important appointment.
Once at the doctor, I explained my research and showed him the picture of William sleeping comfortably. Then, I begged for a solution. The doctor started us on Zantac, whose dosage would have to be adjusted with every appointment, as the dosage was weight based. He then explained some techniques that would aid with the GERD, which included feeding William on a 45 degree angle in a bouncer, in a boppy positioner or on our legs. We weren’t really supposed to cuddle and feed him, as that would mean he is too flat during feedings and that would mean he would eat too fast or it would go down to fast and he would more than likely vomit. He also had to sit at this angle for about 20-30 minutes after each feeding, to reduce his pain and vomiting, Perfect, we went home with a plan and immediately, we saw a reduction in crying and his being upset. Although, he wasn’t perfectly sleeping through he began to be more peaceful and we began to think that we had handled GERD.
Then, we noticed something very, very disturbing. After each feeding of carefully pumped breastmilk, he would stiffen and cry. In pain. We knew it really couldn’t be the GERD as this was just immediately after meals. My mom continued to advocate that we go back to the doctor, saying she just felt that something was wrong and that we needed another solution. We had fixed one problem, which then showed another. So, again, I called the doctor and made an appointment. They fit us in and we went over and explained the situation. Our pediatrician tried to tell us it was just GERD combined with colic, but that nothing could be done. We asked if it could be anything else, as specifically, this occurred right after a bottle. We begged and begged him and finally, eyes rolling, he said there was a simple test he could do to rule out a dairy or soy intolerance and prove it was colic. All he needed was a poopy diaper, which of course we didn’t have. I explained that my parents lived 5 minutes away and that we had a poopy diaper there, in the trash, could I drop my mom and baby off, grab the diaper and bring it back for the test. Reluctantly, he said yes.
I called Rand, on the way back to my parents, and explained what was going on. I could almost hear the eyeroll on the phone, while he tried to say if the doctor said it was colic, it must be colic. Why was I pushing for this extra test? I told him I would just feel better knowing that we had the test and knew definitively it wasn’t an intolerance. He said to call him when I was with the doctor getting the results. I agreed, dropped off my mom and William, grabbed the diaper and went back to the doctor.
Once I handed over that diaper, the 15 minutes of waiting for the results seemed like an eternity. I thought about how our lives would change if it was an intolerance, meaning food restrictions as I breastfed and possibly special formula, and then, how our lives would be if it was actually colic. What I thought was, at least with an intolerance we could improve his daily life by giving him milk that wasn’t causing him pain, and therefore, we could actively make a difference. With colic, although we could soothe, there was no actions we could definitively take to improve the situation. So there I sat, praying that both the doctor and husband were wrong, that I would be given the opportunity to make a difference in my child’s happiness, as seeing him cry and stiff with pain was just wrenching my heart.
Finally, the doctor called me back to speak to him about the results. As I called my husband and put him on speaker phone, he took me into an empty exam room and closed the door. We sat down and he said, “the test came back positive for blood in the stool. That means that he has colitis, which is only caused by either a dairy or soy intolerance.” Once asked what that means, he explained that I would have to go completely dairy free if I wanted to continue to supply breast milk. That 95% of intolerances that could be soy or dairy, were dairy. That within 72 hours of not having dairy that the main dairy proteins would be out of my breastmilk, as a dairy intolerance is not the same as being lactose intolerant. Dairy intolerance is an intolerance (similar to an allergy) to the protein, not the sugars, in dairy products. That meant no yogurt, milk, cheese, butter, ice cream, frosting, chocolate, or anything that contained milk for me. That also meant, that until the dairy cleared from my breastmilk, we were to give him special hypoallergenic formula, Similac Alimentum, to help him start the healing process, which would take up to six weeks.
I left the doctor’s office with relief. We had a plan that would help William, and it all started with the small sample formula cans I was carrying, about a week supply. I went back to my parents and explained the situation and they, too, were relieved that there was an answer and a possible solution to easing his pain. We mixed up his first bottle of hypoallergenic formula and gave it to him. He then, finally, for the first time, became “milk drunk” and went into a very deep sleep.
The struggles of having a baby with GERD and a dairy intolerance is very real. It is terrifying before babies are diagnosed and even once they are diagnosed, it becomes a lifestyle, from carefully timed medication to feeding positions to a special diet. Often, everything has to be just so, in order to prevent either the projectile vomit or the pain that comes from anything that deviates from the script.
Moms, trust your gut! If you feel something is wrong, advocate for your little one! You know them better than anyone else. You are their mom, advocate and a strong mama bear.