This article today in the Sydney Morning Herald needs more than just a cursory glance. It says more about the state of support for new mums from the health service than anything else. It’s so easy to point the finger and It’s easy to end up with anxiety if your baby is doing nothing but vomiting and screaming literally all day long.
As a baby whisperer, I’m one of a number of baby sleep consultants, providing help and support to families the health service ought to be doing. It’s a national disgrace for mums to have to wait up until 3 months to be granted an appointment in sleep school. It’s only fast tracked if the mum is severely depressed or suicidal. Outrageous. Babies with reflux can vomit many times an hour. One baby I visited did a remarkable 17 vomits in an hour. He was medicated and somehow gaining weight. Poor mum, poor baby and poor carpet.
Many babies with reflux wake at the 20-minute mark during the day. Gastro-oesophageal reflux is a common problem caused by an immature gastric sphincter. The valve at the top of the baby’s tummy is a bit loose allowing milk to come back up the food pipe (oesophagus). It’s then either spilt out as a vomit or silent reflux where it is immediately swallowed and can happen up to 30 times a day. The peak age of reflux is 4 months and most stop spitting up by 18 months of age.
Postnatal depression and anxiety
It’s so easy for a vomiting, screaming and unsettled baby to lead to a mum with postnatal depression and anxiety. Feeling out of your depth and not knowing where to turn to. “The focus needs to be on giving mothers good psychosocial support to de-escalate this cycle and reduce the need to medicate the babies,” the researchers said.
Babies need to be taught how to self-soothe and sleep. It doesn’t happen by chance, despite what parents hope. A sleep-deprived baby can often look and sound very similar to a baby with reflux. It takes a highly trained medical or nursing professional to distinguish the two. Without observing a mum and baby in the home how is a 15-minute doctors appointment going to get to the bottom of this?
Large research study
The researchers analysed the hospital records of more than 869,000 babies born between 2000 and 2011. A random audit of 326 admissions records to parenting services Tressillian or Karitane in NSW and focus groups with 45 nurses and doctors at the centres.
The authors of the study stressed the findings did not suggest reflux was caused by anxiety. Rather it is often bi-directional. They agree reflux is a legitimate medical issue. However, currently, it is over-diagnosed and medicated.
The study strengthens calls for mothers to be given more support as they care for their babies during what can be a stressful and lonely period. Exactly.
How do mums find help?
For some mums, the birth of their own baby will be the first time they have held and cared for a baby. The hospital antenatal classes focus on birth and breastfeeding. Other options are calm birth and private midwifery and physiotherapy antenatal classes. Nowhere in these classes are settling and the care of an unsettled baby covered in any detail. Mums are woefully unprepared by the hospital system. They are discharged home with a Blue Book for recording weights and immunisations etc. with a few phone numbers for government services. They receive one visit, at home if they are lucky with a Child & Family Health Nurse. Following this, they may attend a new mums group that lasts 4 weeks for an hour each week. It’s a group environment so no time to look at individual issues and settling. Most of the time the advice is to hold them to sleep and feed them to sleep. The risk is an overtired baby who is overfed and then you get reflux. Rather than pointing the finger at the mum, we need to point that finger back where it belongs, on the health services doorstep.
This is why I set up Nurture Parenting 7 years ago. I could see what was not happening in the community and how poorly supported new parents are. It’s time for change to happen.