The Reflux/Colic Baby – A survival guide

Let me tell you about my first night with my baby Luca.

Having just been discharged from hospital, two anxious parents took this precious tiny person back to their two-bedroom apartment. Everything was waiting for little Luca: his new cot, changing area, clothes in the cupboard, baby bath in the bathroom etc etc. It felt surreal to bring him home. This “beating heart” was now in the flesh and relied 100% on the two of us.

Having asked the nurses in the hospital nursery plenty of questions we thought we can do this. Just a few easy steps right? Change nappy, feed, burp and sleep primarily. Especially as a newborn the worst bit is giving the poor new thing a bath.

We arrived home just after 1pm and baby Luca was now awake from his slumber. Aaaw, his tiny body and small feet and hands, he was my first child and I could not believe that he was here and he was really mine. So, there we are (the newbies) following the drill the nurses told us about. I change his nappy, Daddy gets his bottle ready and I give him his bottle of milk. He falls asleep in my arms and I then try to burp him. I lay him in his cot, keeping the room pretty dark and quietly leave the room. Thinking all the while, we did it, we did it!

Then at 3:15pm the screaming starts. We rush into his room and I grab him from his cot. I hold him to reassure him that all is fine, but he isn’t having it. He cries louder arching his back as he does. Daddy takes him and tries to burp him to no avail. As new parents we’re thinking if its not a burp, and his nappy is not soiled then he must be hungry. So we prepare a smaller amount of milk and give it to him. He takes it eagerly and we think poor thing was just hungry. We burp him and lay him in his cot. Shoo, crisis averted!

Then half an hour later the screaming starts again. This time it does not stop. It’s fierce, loud, piercing screams. A red faced baby crying at us and unable to find comfort in our words or touch. We think he can’t be hungry he has had about 120ml now. His nappy is still fine and the room is not cold despite it being winter in Johannesburg. Having gone through the drill and having done all that we thought we needed to do, we try to shush him by gently swaying him from side to side. Taking turns we hold him and try to placate the little guy.

Time passes and he refuses to lay down in his cot. We feed him more milk after the appropriate time but he does not sleep. He just cries, stops, then cries some more. Our arms are tired and Daddy is visibly frustrated. I tell him to lie on our bed and let me take care of Luca. I hold Luca in different positions and in the darkened room walk up and down the room saying shoooooooosh. I bounce him, sway him until my arms and back ache. I can feel my spirit diminishing as the soles of my feet begin to feel sore. I look at the clock and its 10pm, midnight, then 2am. At 3:00am I am worn out and feeling horrible. I want my own Mummy so I too can fall in a heap of tears. I wake up Daddy and ask him to call his mum now. She arrives 15- 20 minutes later, and all she needed to say was “What’s wrong? What’s happening?” and I turned into a crying mess. Sitting on the edge of our bed in my gown, with my hair open and unkempt, I cried like a child.

What had I done wrong? I was Luca’s mother but why did he not find comfort in my voice or touch? Was he sick? Did we do something wrong? Why am I crying like this in front of my mum-in-law? I am actively trying to fight the thought that I am not a good enough mother and his life has barely started.

Now, skip 4 months and Luca and I are waiting for a new paediatrician to see us (after having seen two others prior to this). He smiles kindly and asks us to come in. He does the usually physical check up and then Luca and I sit together. He asks me how things have been and I tell him I am struggling. Luca barely sleeps during the day (maybe 45 minutes at most) and he is often unhappy. He vomits his milk up and has painful sounding burps. After a few seconds, the paed starts giving me scenarios and asks me if my experience matches the description. After a number of yeses on my end, he puts his hands on his desk and says, “your son has reflux”. I had never heard of it before – reflux? say what?

The doctor writes up a prescription of Nexium and advises me to use a thicker formula. I walk out thinking that I am so grateful that there is some solution to Luca’s ailment. More than that though, I am grateful that my life thus far need not be the norm. Maybe just maybe I can feel normal again.

What is reflux?

Doctor’s describe it as gastroesophageal reflux. It occurs when the muscular valve that separates the stomach contents from the throat is not fully developed. It causes discomfort in the form of a burning sensation. Basically similar to the acid reflux that adults have.

What are the symptoms?

  • Lack of sleep;
  • Vomiting/spitting up milk often;
  • Consistently snotty noses and struggling to breathe;
  • Burps that sound guttural and painful; and
  • Crying regularly and often after a bottle

How to survive with a reflux baby? 

  •  Step 1
    • If your baby’s behaviour does not seem normal or he/she shows all the symptoms mentioned above then please see your paediatrician immediately. Please ask them if this is reflux. There are some paeds that are not pro medication. They will tell you to wait and see, or they will chalk up such behaviour to a new baby getting accustomed to his new environment or an emotional growth spurt. Believe me, I have been there. If your instincts tell you that something is wrong trust them and rather find a paed who understands the pain reflux causes for a little baby.
    • Immediately get yourself a baby carrier. One that is easiest to put on and take off would be my suggestion. Since reflux babies have milk moving up their throats every so often, keeping them vertical helps the milk to digest and gets them to sleep without irritation. Once deeply asleep, then slowly remove baby into his cot. I can personally recommend U & Me which sells at any Baby City and is inexpensive, but any carrier that is easy for you to use is suitable.
  • Step 2
    • A reflux baby is different so treat him/her differently. Adjust your cot so that it tilts at a 45 degree angle. You can easily do this by rolling towels underneath his pillow or under one side of the cot. A wedge pillow from any Baby City is also a good investment.
    • Try to feed your baby in an upright position as opposed to the cradle hold. After feeding him/her try to wait about 20-30 minutes before laying him/her down in his cot. I know its painful to extend feeding by a further 30 minutes but rather he he/she sleeps soundly then have a crying baby 15 minutes post feed.
    • Ensure that you burp little baby during and after each feed. Babies that struggle with reflux also struggle with gas. Telament drops can come in handy at this stage too.
  • Step 3
    • This is the hard bit.You will need to find a way to let go of pre-birth dreams and perceptions. Your baby is your baby and he may not be the easiest baby around or the one you hoped he would be but he is yours and he will grow out of reflux! Try not to be hard on yourself or your partner, just deal with the situation at hand and live within each moment.

About common medication given to babies who suffer with reflux, Nexium is a sugary powder that has to be dissolved in a certain amount of sterilised water (your paed should guide you on how much) before giving it to baby in a syringe. First, do not half the sachet contents. If you are told to give baby a lesser amount of the Nexium than make an entire sachet and measure the amount you need to give in the syringe. Throw away the rest. Why? The medicine is mixed with a sugary substance so if you halve the sachet how will you know if  your baby is getting the right dose of medicine?

Secondly, you have to wait a minimum of 30 minutes after giving the Nexium and before you feed baby. Otherwise the Nexium mixes with the milk and the medicine is cancelled out. Any paed who does not advise you on this should be questioned.

These are basic guidelines to managing a reflux baby. Although, having friends or colleagues who have been through it or are going through it helps. Personally, I found the thickened formula created more problems for my Luca. Instead of just struggling with reflux, he was constipated so my paed suggested we stick to the normal formula and be diligent with the Nexium.

I hope this helps mums, and I wish you and your special bundle the best of luck!


Kamantha Müller

Kamantha Müller

Kamantha is a working mum, wife, PR specialist and proudly South African. She has three pet peeves - 1. Rudeness of any kind and under any circumstances; 2. Micro-managers; and 3. Arb Facebook posts - I don't care that you're drinking coffee at Tashas. As a first time mum she has lived through the ups and downs of motherhood only to come out the other end a wee bit wiser. For this reason, she wishes to share the reality of motherhood and how she would advise preparing for it.

  1. Hi, my son is now 9 weeks old and has a bad reflux since he was 6 weeks. I’m breastfeeding, but he seems to puke after every feed. It is painful and really frustrating.

    I’ve been told to wait it out, but I’m frustrated. We go through 4 burping towels a day and he cries after a feed.

    I’m feeding him upright and try to keep him upright for as long as possible after each feed.

    When does reflux end?

    1. Hi Unathi
      Sadly reflux lasts until around 4-6 months and for some children even longer. My daugter was exclusively breastfed to 6 months and then I did baby led weaning. She really struggled with reflux until she was 8 months old. Basically their body’s need to develop to the point where it can handle and process properly. My heart aches for you, because I know how hard it is. We went through 8-10 toweling nappies a day, she vomited at every single feed. When she was a little older, I found the Bennets Colic Mixture worked best for her, but be sure to check from what age they can use it. Today she is almost 5 and a gorgeous, happy, healthy little girl who eats beautifully and never suffers with tummy issues. Good luck and strength mama. You are doing everything you can. Mandy xxx

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