Can you explain exactly what you do and a little bit about yourself?
Hey! Yes! I’m Áine Homer, The Baby Reflux Lady. I’m basically an activist for babies with reflux, silent reflux, colic, CMPA and other food intolerances and allergies, on a mission to #EradicateBabyReflux because I believe that no baby or family needs to experience reflux for more than six weeks for us to get to the bottom of it and resolve it completely, or at least drastically improve things.
To say that we were underprepared for motherhood in 2013 is an understatement. My daughter had silent reflux, which, in hindsight, was obvious. She wouldn’t lie down, she screamed all night every night, and fed all the time. I diagnosed her with silent reflux with the help of Dr Google (other search engines are available 😉) when she was 5 ½ months old.
All the time, the support we had from midwives, health visitors, GP’s and family were the heart-breaking phrases that parents of unsettled babies hear all too often: “She’s just colicky”, “she needs to learn how to sleep – you’re spoiling her by carrying her all the time”, “she’s gaining weight so she’s fine”, “all babies cry”… I felt completely unheard, ignored and ended up questioning if I was supposed to be a mum.
I also ended up with PND as a result of exhaustion, helplessness and the feeling that everyone thought I was being neurotic and paranoid.
I got to my wits end and then my background kicked in. Professionally I was a master problem spotter and fixer, a guru of pattern analysis. I was an engineer, a project management consultant and a Traditional Chinese Medicine acupuncturist; all of which are driven by root cause analysis. After three weeks of capturing every miniscule detail of our lives, food, sleep, milk, behaviours, symptoms, I started to identify patterns and two weeks later I had a different baby.
My second daughter was better at the beginning, we thought we had struck gold and we found out what it was like to have a newborn… for two weeks. And then life got difficult again. Eventually, we found out that she had a tongue tie, our consultant gave her medication rather than cutting the tie, so we had her tongue tie revised twice privately and life was back to great again. I managed her food intolerances and allergies and life was so much easier.
Why did you decided to write a book on reflux?
A friend first suggested to it after a conversation about food and how it affected me, and my little one. And then when I was supporting pregnant ladies locally with acupuncture, we would have conversations about reflux, food, and what they could do to minimise the risk or manage, and the number of people who said “you should write a book” was growing.
To find out if my experience was out of the norm or not, I started an online survey in May 2017 and out of 1,800+ responses, 67% of parents have told me that they don’t feel like they have adequate support for their babies, and that 76% of babies on medications continued to suffer with reflux symptoms.
I was passionate about dealing with underlying causes of reflux, how it can be managed, and mechanics behind it, that a book was going to be the most effective way of me sharing the information parents need to be able to impact their own lives quickly. I have a long term plan to change the NHS but I cannot wait for that to happen and continue to let families suffer.
What are the symptoms of reflux in babies and how does it affect them?
Reflux has so many symptoms that many parents may not even realise that their baby has it. In fact, there is no underlying pathology for reflux, it is actually a symptom of something else that is going on. Always. And therefore I believe in treating the cause of the reflux, not the symptoms.
An unhappy baby is the biggest sign that something is going on. It is not normal for babies to cry for no reason (colic), there is always a reason, and it is up to us to figure this out.
Some of the most common symptoms that have been reported from my survey are:
- Squirming and grunting (84%)
- Lots of wind (73%)
- Spluttering, coughing gagging or choking when feeding (73%)
- Painful gas (70%)
- Difficulty in staying asleep (67%)
- Coughing (other than during a feed) (66%)
- Waking more than twice a night after 8 weeks (64%)
- Frequent spit-up (64%)
- Gulping their milk (62%)
- Can hear milk sloshing in baby’s tummy (57%)
- Frequent vomiting (56%)
- Cold-like symptoms (53%)
As you can see, vomiting is not in the 10 most common symptoms, nor is poor weight gain. Many parents are told that their baby cannot have reflux because they are gaining weight, but in truth, this is just a myth.
Why do certain babies get reflux?
This is a great question. I read so frequently that the cause of reflux is a weak lower oesophageal valve (the muscle between the food pipe and the stomach). In fact, reflux has very little, if anything to do with this.
Reflux happens when there is a build-up of pressure in the stomach and this pressure forces stomach acid out the top of the stomach, or the body perceives a “threat” in the form of an allergen and forcefully vomits that threat out as a form of self-protection.
The pressure builds up because baby is swallowing air for some reason, which, with observation we can pin this down to its underlying factor(s) and resolve it.
An allergen response is a misinterpretation of food being a potential pathogen by a baby’s body because they have a naturally immature digestive system. This is resolved by removing the allergen(s). This image taken from my book summaries a baby’s immature digestive system.
As baby’s digestive system matures, many “grow out” of their allergies. Most babies will grow out of Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy by the age of three, in fact, it is not that they grow out of the allergy, their digestive system matures naturally and can then fully digest the proteins, so that that are no longer misinterpreted by the body as a threat.
How long does it last?
Reflux lasts as long as the underlying cause is present. For babies whose reflux is caused by swallowing too much air, this often resolves when they learn to use a cup and develop a mature swallow mechanism. For babies with an immature digestive system we often see that they “grow out of it” by about two. There is a growing number of babies who have no reflux, but who are on long term medication for management of their reflux.
In my practice, I am helping babies be completely reflux free within weeks when we address the underlying cause(s) in a careful manner, be it reducing the amount of air baby is drinking, a change to a breastfeeding mums diet, a change of formula, careful choices of food if baby is on solids (54% of babies get reflux flares with the introduction of solids, irrespective of whether or not they are medicated); or a combination of these.
Do you have tips on how to combat it?
My biggest tip and approach is always to find the cause. When we do this we can resolve reflux for good. There are lots of tips for coping during the reflux period around, but in truth, I want to free babies of their discomfort completely. I want to allow babies the freedom to be babies and parents the freedom to enjoy parenting with better rest, with happier babies and to have what I didn’t.
If you suspect your baby might be drinking air, some of the things to do to reduce the air in their tummy is to stir a bottle rather than shake, to visit a lactation consultant and get some advice about positioning and feeding behaviours (this applies to bottle fed as well as breastfed babies) and to assess what is truly going on. I have an e-course what walks parents through the steps of reading all the symptoms that baby might be experiencing, how to see them as a jigsaw puzzle and then put them together into a sensible picture that allows them to stake specific action for their baby.
If you think they might be reacting to a food, then the only answer is keeping a detailed food and symptom diary (free one here) for a week and then see if you can spot the patterns. You must be aware that baby can react to any food so it is not just the top eight allergens to be on the lookout for.
There are links between diary and reflux…why does it have such a big impact on reflux babies?
Yes there are links between dairy and reflux. Food allergies are one of the causes of reflux (due to an immature digestive system). Both the proteins and sugars in dairy milks are very complex, and babies simply do not have the ability to break down full. Therefore, the proteins can be misread by the body as a pathogen (viruses and bacteria are protein structures) and so the body instigates an allergy response to protect itself.
One of these responses is vomiting; this can bring stomach acid with it back into the oesophagus and so the irritation and burning feeling in the throat that baby gets with reflux is actually caused by the allergen. When we remove the allergen, the vomiting stops and so does the irritation.
It is important to say that babies with allergies can also have the build up of air, so allergen removal might not be the full answer.
A lot of parents are scared to give totally dairy free formula, like Neocate to their baby in case they have issues getting them to digest diary in later life. At what age would you start reintroducing diary into a childs diet?
If baby has a confirmed dairy allergy it is important to understand the level of allergy. For example, if baby ever experienced difficulty breathing as a response, then your allergist may want to do diary reintroduction in hospital conditions. This is because the risk of any anaphylactic reaction simply is not worth it. So please always speak to the dietician or allergist who is over seeing your child first.
Diary is also over-rated. Yes, it is inconvenient to avoid dairy as it is in so many ready-made foods, but as a source of calcium, it is not the only one so please do not be under the impression that dairy is a requirement in a baby’s diet. When it comes to introducing any foods that may have had an allergy reaction in the past, I always wait until baby’s digestive system is mature. We have a really visible and accessible gauge for this… baby’s teeth!
Our mouth is the start of our digestive system and so is the external gauge for parents on their child’s gut maturity. By the time baby has a full set of milk teeth, their stomach is now producing gastric protease for the breakdown of complex proteins, until this point, the stomach is primarily focussed on breaking down fats for building the brain.
I do not believe in forcing baby’s body to try and “learn” that an allergen is safe through force. Both of my children had CMPA and both (youngest now three) now love ice-cream, butter and cheese and have virtually no allergy issues.
In fact, my youngest still has a mild nut allergy, and this is after having almond milk right up until about three months ago. Only since we removed this allergen has she been able to sleep perfectly on a consistent basis, so the exposure to the allergen for over a year has not helped her in any way. We were advised by out allergist that she was okay with nuts and that she should be having them over a year ago!
Reflux babies hate being on their backs…this makes the pram, the car and sleeping at night really hard. What would you suggest?
Oh don’t I know! I suggest carrying baby, there are loads of resources for baby carrying which give massive benefits to both baby and parents. I suggest that you look up your local sling library and try before you buy because buying a carrier is like buying a pair of shoes, it has to fit you and your baby right.
With night time sleeping, it is all about finding the cause and resolving this as a priority. I have had clients who’s 15-month old went from waking every 90 minutes to sleeping for 8 hours within two days of making specific dietary changes! Babies want to sleep. If they cannot, it is because they are being woken up by their own body.
In my experience, although GPs are very sympathetic, they can sometimes put all the symptoms down to a bit of colic or wind. Do you think more should be done in terms of GP training?
Oh my goodness yes! The truth is that nowhere in the NICE guidelines are GPs recommended to find the cause. The work I do appears to be a revolutionary approach to reflux in babies, even though it really is ultra simple. I have set up online training for professionals from every walk of infant support to try and spread the word. Many of my clients have said that they have had more sense made of reflux from me than from any doctor they have seen.
What advice would you give to any parents reading this who think their child has reflux?
Trust yourself, and trust your observations. It doesn’t matter whether your baby has reflux, silent reflux, colic CMPA or other food challenge, you can find the cause and then take specific action.
I detail the steps to go through in my book The Baby Reflux Lady’s Survival Guide, (available on Amazon, through major retailers and ebook) and then what action to take based on your own observations, including what to talk to your doctor about.
I’ve even created a free download on my website on “What to Ask Your Doctor to Make An Informed Decision About Medications” (http://www.thebabyrefluxlady.co.uk/freeguide )
I am passionate about helping families who are struggling.I also love a good interaction on Facebook (www.fb.com/thebabyrefluxlady) and Instagram (www.instagram.com/babyrefluxlady). Please come find me and have a browse, I’m always trying to add value to where I can.