Mackenzie’s Journey of reflux and dietary intolerance – Awareness Week 2021

Nothing can prepare you for having a baby in a pandemic. Our beautiful little girl Mackenzie was born during level 3, we couldn’t have any visitors and all our family were half a world away in South Africa with no way of getting to us. I found the whole experience overwhelming and quickly developed severe post-partum anxiety. When she was two weeks old, my husband had to return to work, leaving me on my own with a baby that screamed constantly and without the one person keeping me together. I was convinced there was something wrong but my midwife, brilliant as she absolutely was, kept reassuring me that newborns are tough and it would all get better.

Faced with the prospect of several months of crying and screaming and no sleep, I turned to my GP for help and she recommended the Waikato Family Centre and for the first time I started to feel a little bit of hope. I rang them up and explained that I had no idea how to stop a baby from crying and could they please show me. They were so helpful and so began the first of many trips to what would become our second home.

At about five weeks old, during one of my many visits, one of the nurses looked at me as I tried to settle my screaming child and said, “yes newborns are hard, but it’s just not supposed to be this hard.”  And for the first time, I realised it wasn’t all me. She handed me a print out from the crying over spilt milk website detailing the symptoms of silent reflux and I could tick every single symptom on the list.

We then went down a path that would be all too familiar to many reflux families of giving Gaviscon, then Omeprazole, then both together, then changing doses and eventually things began to settle a bit, but we still had dreadful days. Her nappies were horrendous; slimy, green and spotted with blood and we started to look into the possibility of food intolerances caused by something in my diet. We started with milk, quickly followed by soy and things started to look up. Her eczema cleared, her baby acne cleared and she started to be able to take short naps in her bed before I’d have to pick her up and let her sleep on me. But the mucousy nappies continued and then her sleep deteriorated. I then tried cutting nuts out of my diet, shortly followed by chocolate…then corn…and then more and more. Pretty soon I’d eliminated eight things from my diet and my child was going downhill again. In desperation I cut nearly everything out and went on a diet of pumpkin, kumara, brown rice and chicken.

What was supposed to be a short fix turned into several weeks of a truly boring diet but slowly things started to look up a bit, though we still had days where Mackenzie would be completely inconsolable. Our next step was Mothercraft. We went to Mothercraft when Mackenzie was nineteen weeks old and they helped identify that whilst my supply was great in the morning, it was dropping off and that was causing some of the issues. We reintroduced gluten into my diet – bread has never tasted so good – and things were looking up. And then on day three Mackenzie developed a gastro bug and was immediately discharged. As disheartened as I felt, we were at least now on the books of the dietician and the paediatricians who gave me strict instructions to stop analysing every nappy and purely treat based on behaviour.

Mackenzie is almost seven months old now and is doing so much better. After developing a bit of a feeding aversion we’ve had to do baby led weaning to start solids as she will not allow us to feed her, and I do need to feed her at night as she often won’t take enough during the day, but I have reintroduced everything but soy and dairy into my diet, she’s gaining weight okay and she’s a very happy child. We still have her on omeprazole and still go through boxes of Gaviscon but our days are more peaceful and she can sleep in her bed most days. I don’t know what exactly helped her intolerances, I suspect she did have a few more than dairy and soy and outgrew them but whatever they were I’m grateful we are where we are today. We don’t have things perfectly under control and it would be lovely to get a full night’s sleep, but I’ll take the victories where I can and I’m not going to complain about the rest. For those who are still struggling down this road my only advice really is that it is hard, but it isn’t meant to be that hard, and it will get better. In the meantime, take whatever help you can get. People love baby snuggles so if you’re exhausted and your baby will only sleep on you, rope someone in to cuddle your baby for a few hours whilst you get some rest. And if you think something is wrong, keep pushing, take photos, take videos and keep asking for help.

Mackenzie Picture

© Danielle Kruger and Crying Over Spilt Milk Gastric Reflux Support Network New Zealand for Parents of Infants and Children Charitable Trust December 2020.  First published in the GRSNNZ Newsletter December 2020.

If you suspect your baby has a dietary intolerance talk to your GP or paediatrician first to best assess your baby’s needs. A complete and nutritious diet is especially important for breastfeeding mothers.  Before making any changes to your diet seek the advice of a medical professional.

One of the risk factors for post-natal anxiety, is ongoing stress.  A baby who spills a lot, vomits, screams or is otherwise unwell is an ongoing stress and shouldn’t be underestimated.  

Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Aotearoa say this on their website “Parents who get the support and help that they need with parenting are more relaxed and better able to look after their children. If the mother or father is mentally unwell, extra support is essential to help with their recovery, and we encourage anyone to seek advice from a GP, Midwife, or Plunket nurse in the first instance.” 
– Jenny and Roslyn