Let me start by saying, I have committed all of the GERD Parenting Sins…I rocked my reflux baby to sleep and let her come in my bed even though others told me that I was spoiling the baby and setting myself up for a severe and long term sleep issue. I let me reflux baby eat on demand 24/7 even though that was considered way too often. I even resorted to "waitress syndrome" and made my toddler customized meals at a moments notice fully knowing that I was "causing" her to be a picky eater. I am sure you have received much advice and even some firm and dire warnings about breaking the parenting rules and causing your baby or toddler with reflux to be "spoiled", "clingy" and worst of all, a "picky eater". This week I will deal with the topic of spoiling the baby.
A distant observer may think that parents have a great deal of control and their parenting style will cause an infant or toddler to be spoiled or picky. The reality is, from the moment a baby is born, she is communicating her own styles, habits and needs to her parents using a very primitive communication system. Mostly using hand gestures, crying and body motions, parents need to interpret these signals and communicate vital messages. Are you warm or cold? Does your stomach hurt or is it gas? Parents may have some success at imposing their styles and habits with mixed results.
When your baby has Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), she may have daily digestive discomfort that ranges from mild to severe. I wonder why well meaning friends and relatives believe that rocking or comforting a baby in distress will cause a behavioral problem. If your co worker complained about nightly heartburn that kept her awake every night, would you tell her to ignore it? If your neighbor’s baby has a severe ear infection, would you advise her to let the baby cry it out all night long? Probably not. I have a hard time understanding why others don’t understand the need to be the source of comfort for a hurting baby. I think the holding; rocking and sleeping nearby convey caring and love. I know many, many reflux babies who were held 24/7 for weeks and months and they all emerged from the experience healthy and independent. My own refluxer was nursed to sleep before every nap and at bedtime without any long term consequences. If anything, I think the extra holding and closeness was an effective "treatment" for her pain and discomfort.
At some point, I did become concerned about the way my refluxer was dependent on me to get to sleep. I am sure that I was influenced by the comments of others when I revealed that I had committed this terrible sin. So I went to the library and read some books about "training" or "teaching" your baby to go to sleep and stay asleep at night. My poor refluxer just wasn’t ready to be "taught" to deal with her reflux alone in her crib. When I tried to let her cry it out, all she did was cry until she vomited and spent the rest of the night sleeping on a vomit encrusted sheet.
She did eventually learn to sleep all night long. After getting a second opinion with a new pediatric gastroenterologist, her medication was increased and another medication was added. Within a week, my little refluxer was sleeping all by herself in her own crib. Of course I was still waking up at night thinking that I heard her. It took me longer to learn this new skill but I eventually learned to sleep through the night too.
It is hard for others to understand your motivations and parenting decisions when you have a baby with reflux. You might not want to be attached to your baby 24/7 but you know that right now, holding your baby is a vital treatment. During this challenging season of parenting, be sure to surround yourself with other Reflux Moms and Dads for support and understanding.