Oliver and Bianca Willis

Oliver and Bianca Willis courtesy of Lucy Sheedy Photography

My name is Bianca and I have one child, Oliver; he is 1 year old. Oliver was diagnosed with silent reflux at 4 months of age by one of my closest friends, who happens to be our GP. Thank god for her. She witnessed one of Oliver’s screaming fits; these used to happen most days, sometimes a few times a day and go on for what felt like hours, but was probably 30 to 60 minutes of screaming and crying before my husband or I would be able to settle him and/or he would fall asleep from exhaustion.

When my GP heard Oliver’s cry she told me that it was a typical pain cry and that she believed he might have reflux. After asking me about his sleep patterns and what a regular day was like, she suggested a trial of Losec. I remember that I had checked the symptoms of reflux a few times in those first few months and because Oliver didn’t fit all the criteria, specifically refusing feeds or failing to gain weight, that I had dismissed it.

What I remember the most from this first 4 months of sleep deprivation, mastitis, cracked nipples (Oliver was a comfort feeder so would feed every 2 hours and then vomit about 1/3 of that feed up) and basically what I think of as the worst time of my life, is that I couldn’t believe that I used to be someone who was able to successfully work both a full time job and a part time job, whilst studying a science degree externally. Now it was a huge achievement if I showered and got out of my pyjamas before lunch time as my baby screamed whenever I put him down.

Prior to this I had spent 2.5 years being a nanny and caring for 2 girls full-time, so I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to care for one baby, my own baby! Caring for Oliver day in, day out took everything out of me. I have no idea how I survived this period of my life still married, still sane and still wanting more children!

The day after Oliver was prescribed Losec he slept for 3 hours IN A ROW! This was amazing, prior to this he had been a napper, usually only 30 minutes out of every 4 hour period and that was usually upright on mine or my husband’s shoulder, on me in a sling or in his upright vibrating chair (which was the best thing invented!!!). Oliver was constantly so tired that he would nod off to sleep for a few minutes; if I was holding him upright he would have a catnap but would quickly wake screaming if I tried to lie him down.

My GP reviewed Oliver after a few days on the Losec and asked how he was going and I told her I had been able to go to the shops with Oliver in a pram for a whole hour without him screaming at me!! Huge progress in just a few days!

Oliver Willis

We experienced a few months of happier Oliver after he started medication and I began to learn how to manage a refluxer. He started sleeping for longer periods both day and night; a few times he only woke twice overnight! However, he would not sleep in his cot and instead sleeps in a queen size bed. I believe he has associated the cot with the painful refluxing and still refuses to sleep in it.

By the time he was 8 months old he started returning to his old ways of being over emotional, clingy, comfort feeding, waking hourly overnight and just generally miserable most days. At this time we went back for a review and his Losec dose was doubled. It took this medication increase for Oliver to be comfortable enough to spend time on his tummy to learn to start crawling. Prior to this he would sit upright and use his right leg to spin himself around in circles, never wanting to lie on his back or tummy.

Oliver turning 1 was a huge achievement for me as I survived a whole year breastfeeding a reflux baby, and didn’t lose the plot. All of this without once getting to sleep for more than 3 hours at a time! I consider Oliver’s first year of life as both the worst and best time of my life. I have such a beautiful, affectionate and cheeky son and when his reflux isn’t worrying him, we have the best fun playing and exploring the world together. However, it feels like we take a step forward and have a great day and a night (where he only wakes 3 times) and I think his reflux is improving and we are finally managing it, and then it’s followed by 3 or 4 days of horrible clingy, upset, wingy, crying and unsettled Oliver waking hourly overnight. One of the hardest things about being the mother of a refluxer is that once you have a diagnosis and are prescribed medicine it seems that everyone (family, friends, medical professionals, sometimes even you as Mum or Dad) thinks it’s problem solved. This hasn’t happened for us and we are still struggling to find the right diet (currently dairy free, soy free, gluten free and avoiding triggers such as spicy foods, tomato, citrus) and dose of medication that will make Oliver comfortable enough to be able to develop, grow and meet his milestones.

What I hope other parents will gain from reading my story is to know that we have been through this and we understand. It is only by letting others (your family, friends, RISA) support you, that you too can survive. It will take everything you have and then some, but you can exist with limited sleep. You just have to forget about the housework and being the perfect wife, or friend for a while, give your friends and family information about reflux (refer them to the RISA site or give them a copy of the newsletters!) and then ask for help and most importantly sleep when your babies sleep.

Bianca is RISA’s new secretary and assistant treasurer.
You can contact Bianca on the RISA forums – username: Olive_13