Leila was born at home, in our comfortable and colourful living room. She had a long and complicated descent through the birth canal, but once she was born (sunny side up!) she was healthy and perfect. The first days with her were magical, but not at all easy. I was exhausted and still in pain and just wanted to curl up in bed with my little baby and found the breastfeeding very difficult. Just minutes after the birth she had latched perfectly and with almost no help (to my surprise!) but over the next few days she would latch on briefly and then unlatch and arch her back in protest. Seeing her in discomfort, added to the sadness of "failing" at the art of breastfeeding in front of my partner and of all the people that visited us during those first few days, was very frustrating for me. Luckily on the 4th day we figured out that her discomfort was due to the fact that she had not yet passed her meconium, so as soon as we put a bit of olive oil on her butt she instantly did. After that things got easier, she started nursing like a pro, and for about five weeks I thought "nice, all the hard stuff is now behind us!'. I still remember those wonderful weeks; she nursed happily, slept all the rest of the time, and allowed me to recover.
Then on the 5th week suddenly we noticed she was arching her back again during feedings, and my serene, sleepy baby quickly became very fussy and cried so much it was heartbreaking. What was hardest for me was that she seemed to scream when she was in my arms and when I tried to breastfeed her. Her sleep cycle became a very stressful "20 minutes of sleep - 5 minutes of nursing - 30 minutes of crying" and this was happening day and night. Our doctor reassured me saying it was colics, or a growth spurt, or both, and that it would just pass, sooner or later. But every mom knows that when their child is in pain "sooner or later" does not sound soon enough at all. Of course I was relieved when Duncan, her dad, would pick her up and she would calm down and fall asleep in his arms, but at the same time it hurt me so much to not understand why the problem was me.
The day that Leila started refusing the breast I was desperate and called Elke, a nurse that had visited us from Kind & Gezin. I told her that I was not convinced with what our doctor had said but that I had no energy to go look for a different doctor, and that I needed help ASAP. She came and observed our breastfeeding "battle", and said that to her it looked like Silent Reflux. We had never heard of it, and since our baby never spit up any milk, we hadn't considered reflux as a possible problem. And then she gave me the best piece of advice I had received until then in those difficult weeks: to join the mother group at Zwanger in Brussel, to share experiences and get advice from the midwives and from other breastfeeding moms. She also put me in contact with Elke, midwife at ZIB, who confirmed she too thought it sounded like Silent Reflux and offered me breastfeeding-friendly advice. I chose to specify "breastfeeding-friendly advice", because in the same days that I talked to Elke, I went again to see my doctor, and suggested to him it could be Silent Reflux, to which he suggested that maybe simply my milk was hard to digest for Leila, and that I could try "other brands" that she might like more. This, and a prescription for anti acids that we never bought, left us very unsatisfied.
At "Moedermelk & Boterhammen" I learned all about reflux and about the many things I could to help Leila cope with it without giving her medication. I also learned not to be embarrassed when my baby cries and screams (and other people approach you to tell you she is crying because she is hungry/cold/hot/uncomfortable in the sling/tired etc. which is usually said with kind intentions but that still made me feel inadequate as a mother). Other mothers at the group had struggled with reflux before me, and so I started following bits and pieces of advice, and before I could notice any progress in Leila's condition, I noticed a big change in my attitude, because finally I felt like I was doing something to help her. We started holding her upright all the time (night time included, for a few weeks I slept reclined with her in my sling, so that she was never horizontal; I stopped eating dairy, started giving her probiotics and started feeding her more frequently (about every 30 minutes) so she would get smaller more frequent feeds. We met with An, the osteopath at ZIB, and she massaged Leila's diaphragm, which we think helped her. Things started improving slowly (which for the first weeks meant she was only crying 10 minutes instead of 30 after every feeding), and we never did find out which one of these things helped Leila get better, maybe they all did. By the time Leila was 10 weeks old, her reflux had gotten a lot better, and I could now relax during feedings (though still keeping her vertical) which felt like a dream.
Today Leila is almost 4 months old and we fit like two pieces of a puzzle. My breast is for her a safe and happy place to be, she often smiles with anticipation when I lift my shirt to feed her and most times when she is finished eating she either looks up and gurgles happily, or she is fast asleep. With the right support and advice, breastfeeding went from being a frustrating and sometimes painful battle with my baby to being our special peaceful moment together. I still often feed her in the sling and at night I feed her in a laid-back reclined position, because I have made the mistake at night to be too tired to sit up and so I feed her lying on my side, but I usually pay for that mistake by then spending the night awake with an unhappy baby. We have stopped the probiotics, and I have started eating a little bit of dairy again, and all seems to be going well. She now sleeps on her own on her inclined mattress in her co-sleeper next to me (by sleeping on her own I just mean not in my arms). Of course, we have days in which her reflux will come back (today was one of them... and maybe I realize I shouldn't have eaten all that chocolate AND an ice cream this morning), but now we know how to recognize it quickly and how to deal with it, so it lasts very little.
Of course now Duncan, Leila and I have other challenges ahead of us (for now how to get a good night's sleep is on top of our list) but at least we now have a healthy and mostly happy baby and I love breastfeeding her.