Milk Reflux, Vomit, and How We Took Back Our Baby’s Care

We got unlucky with pediatricians and lactation consultants. It sucked. But when we stepped in to solve the problem, we found out how capable we were.

by Craig Taylor

Our son Levon was born in March 2011. Like all new parents, we had a romantic vision, but reality hit first: We ended up with an incompetent midwife who left us alone in the room, an emergency ambulance ride from the maternity hospital to the local hospital, and 30 hours of difficult labor. The birth was traumatic for my wife.

We had a desire to do the best by our little boy. From day one, breastfeeding was thrust upon my wife as the only acceptable form of feeding the baby. I will never forget the childless 18-year-old girl saunter into the hospital room and announce, with puffed-out chest, that she was the lactation consultant. I guess there’s a course for that. According to her, breastfeeding is the only thing a good mother does.

One nurse grabbed my wife’s breast and the baby’s head and mashed them together. This was to demonstrate latching on. It didn’t work. No one told us what to do if the baby didn’t latch on and then cried for hours because he was hungry.

Then there was the struggle to lay Levon down to sleep. As soon as he was horizontal, he would squirm and cry and was in obvious pain. His grimace said it all.

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In our local pediatrician’s office, there are multiple doctors and you never see the same one. Each visit resulted in ridiculous assessments and accusations of poor parenting. We were told the reason he couldn’t lie down to sleep was because we were putting his nappy on too tight, my wife was breastfeeding too long, it was just a part of parenting — or just go home and ask grandma. We had a young male doctor google an answer on his cell phone when my wife asked about mastitis.

The amount of vomit that came from such a small body was astounding. Every night was the same. We were a well-oiled machine operating on no sleep and total bewilderment. While I cleaned up the mess, my wife cleaned Levon and breastfed.

On our last visit to the doctor’s office, we were seen by an elderly doctor who admitted he specialized in geriatrics. He was so out of touch, I had to lean over his shoulder and instruct him how to use his computer to find the specialist I demanded.

The specialist looked at Levon and after 10 minutes of questions and tests, told us he had reflux. Milk mixed with stomach acid regurgitated into his throat and burned his esophagus. This caused the pain and squirming. It wasn’t a tight nappy, too much time on the breast, inexperienced parents, or anything else the doctors accused us of.

He was put on medication, and for the first time adopted the sleep pattern of a normal baby. It was a relief, but it took more than two years to get it, and those two years programmed a disturbed sleep pattern into his brain. It took us until Levon was 6 years old to get him to sleep through the night.

We learned a lesson, and that was we were the ones in charge no matter what. No one else had to live through what we did.

Roll on baby number two (yes we did it again): a little bundle called Aaron. His birth was easy in comparison. Two hours after arriving at the maternity ward, he was born in water, and two hours later, I was at home contacting relatives while eating pizza.

If you have one son with reflux, odds are the second one will have it. This time it was different. This version was more insidious. Aaron had silent reflux. No vomit — just lots of gulping in his sleep and teeth grinding. We recognized the smell and signs and knew exactly what it was. Silent reflux means the stomach contents come up, but the baby doesn’t vomit. It sits momentarily then goes back down after burning the esophagus.

Off to the doctors again. This time though, we were in leader mode. As silly as it seems, we told the doctor the diagnosis and what medication to prescribe. We even told her the dose. She referenced Levon’s prescription and copied it based on our assessment. We were assertive and not to be questioned.

We made direct contact with the same specialist that saw Levon. Same diagnosis, same medication. No fuss. Two leaders asserting.

Fast forward to Levon at 5 years old. He had a very lazy eye. We bypassed the primary-care physician and self-referred to a specialist. I googled eye specialists and made the call. When they asked if I had been referred by a primary-care physician, I said no, but we’ll take the next available appointment. I gave her no other option. Two operations later, his eye is perfect.

Levon’s school told us they were thinking of holding him back a year because he was a little behind. All they needed was our permission. They expected it. We didn’t give it. We insisted he progress with his class. We said we would teach him, read with him and get him a tutor if necessary. It wasn’t his fault his eye interrupted his year.

They weren’t happy, but we made the decision and were unmoved. A few months later, his teacher told us how well he was doing in both math and reading. Imagine if we had let them hold him back: he would have had no progress, felt like he was behind his peers, and had the impression that he’s unintelligent — outcomes that could have been long-lasting.

As we became more experienced and tougher, we owned the boss’s chair. We changed our medical practice. We made the decisions. We knew what was best for our children. Although we need help, opinions, and guidance, no one makes the final decision except us. We’re in charge.

Craig Taylor is a New Zealand–based freelance writer. He spent 17 years as a police officer and deployed with the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations. He is a published fiction author and contributes regularly to Medium under Craig A1 Taylor.