A mother-of-two has offered a lifeline to desperate parents by lifting the lid on the little-discussed problem of silent reflux.
Aine Homer, 37, from Guildford, Surrey, began looking into the issue after struggling for months with her eldest daughter, nicknamed Sunflower, following her birth in January 2013.
As a new mother Aine found herself dismissed or misinformed as medics repeatedly misdiagnosed her daughter’s symptoms as colic because she did not suffer from the spit-up that is the most common symptom of reflux.
It was only through her own investigation that Aine, a project manager, learnt about silent reflux, which presents as similar symptoms but without the spit-up.
Speaking to FEMAIL, Aine, who is also mother to daughter Daffodil, now three, explained how she went on to develop her own data-driven method for tackling the both reflux and silent reflux – and revealed the 30 signs that parents can look out for if they suspect their own child might be suffering from silent reflux.
As she explained: ‘Reflux is normal but there are things we can do to resolve the pain and discomfort that goes with it. It is not grin and bare it.’
Pain: Babies can suffer from ‘silent reflux’ which causes similar symptoms to reflux but without vomiting. Aine Homer believes the condition can be treated with dietary changes. File image
What is reflux?
Reflux is when a baby bring ups milk during or shortly after feeding. This is different from vomiting in babies, where a baby’s muscles forcefully contract.
Other symptoms can include gagging, choking and excessive crying.
Reflux is common in babies but normally stops by the time a baby is a year old, when the ring of muscle at the bottom of their oesophagus fully develops and stops stomach contents leaking out.
Information on the NHS website states: ‘Parents don’t normally need to get medical advice if their baby seems otherwise happy and healthy, and is gaining weight appropriately.’
However, as Aine experienced, the symptoms can often be very painful for the baby, leaving the child and their parents facing months of sleep disruption and stress.
Aine said: ‘There’s a direct correlation to rates of postnatal depression as well because that’s linked to rates of the baby sleeping and the lack of sleep is often because of reflux.’
Her findings and advice could therefore be invaluable to desperate parents.
Devastating: The symptoms of reflux can often be very painful for the baby, leaving the child and their parents facing months of sleep disruption and stress. File image
Aine first realised Sunflower was uncomfortable just hours after her birth.
She said: ‘Sunflower was 16 hours old when I was told, “Can you please stop your babies crying, she’s disturbing other babies on the ward”. From then I knew there was something wrong but I couldn’t figure out what.’
Scientific: Mother-of-two Aine Homer, pictured, took a data-driven approach when it came to determining whether her diet impacted her baby daughter’s reflux
This discomfort continued for the first eight or nine months of her daughter’s life, disturbing her sleep to the point where she could be up for up to three hours a night, four or five times a night.
‘There is nothing like the heartbreak of holding a baby who is screaming in pain and not being able to do anything about it,’ Aine said.
It hung like a dark cloud over her first months of motherhood. Aine added: ‘I absolutely hated being a mum, it was devastating, it nearly destroyed my marriage.’
Aine and her husband, J, 45, a project manager, tried everything to help their daughter, still not realising that chronic reflux was a possibility.
‘She had back arching, screaming, extending the neck, all things I know now that are instantly indicative of reflux,’ Aine said. ‘I couldn’t put her down, she didn’t want her nappy change, she just wanted to be in my arms all the time.’
Desperate for an answer Aine was trawling the internet in early July 2013 when she stumbled across silent reflux and knew she had found the answer.
The 30 most common symptoms of reflux in babies
Following a survey of more than 1,000 parents, Aine devised the list of the 30 most common symptoms. Note: Not listed in order of frequency:
Squirms around or grunts
Takes comfort from closeness of mum
Lots of wind
Splutters, coughs, gags or chokes during a feed
Painful wind or gas
Wakes soon after being put down
Difficulty staying asleep
Wants to be in your arms all the time
Mostly sleeps in someone’s arms or on shoulder
Brings up food after several hours
Turns head when trying to feed
Needs motion to sleep (car, bouncing, buggy)
Falls asleep during a feed
Pushes breast or bottle away
Frequent night waking (more than 2 / night from 8 weeks)
Frequent feeds (more than 8 milk feeds / day under 6 months)
Difficult to get baby to sleep
Spits up frequently
Gulps when feeding
Can hear milk sloshing in baby’s tummy
Milk spills from mouth during a feed
The food and symptom diary
Aine turned her attention to tackling the problem, falling back on the years of experience she had gained in data collection and analysis in her career as a project manager for blue chip engineering companies.
She said: ‘My background was doing major analysis and figuring out what’s gone wrong and looking at the root cause of the problem. I was so exhausted that that’s basically all I could do.’
Aine, who was nursing, began to make a detailed diary of everything she was eating and the impact it had on her daughter’s sleep pattern and symptoms.
She explained: ‘I created it on a spreadsheet, lots of boxes, and then I filled it out. It’s capturing the detail… So rather than just ‘tick’ if she had tummy pain, I would rank it out of 10. So say a nine would be the worst it’s ever been, or if it was a two she was okay.’
Detailed: An example of Aine’s food and symptom diary. The spreadsheet, which can be downloaded from her website, divides the day into hour-long periods. For each hour the mother can note her food intake; whether there was a feed and if the baby slept. Crucially it also provides space to note the type of reflux symptoms, with severity determined on a scale of 1-10. The final column provides space for additional comments or observations
Once she had collected several weeks’ worth of diary pages, Aine began to notice a pattern in that certain foods immediately exacerbated her daughter’s symptoms.
She said: ‘Basically complex starches and complex proteins. Apples, pear, unripe bananas, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes and all grains. I recommend introducing them later in baby’s diet, rather than earlier.
After further research Aine discovered that this is because they are all too complex at a molecular level for an infant’s naturally underdeveloped digestive system.
Meanwhile another category of ‘safe’ foods also emerged, including avocados, eggs, butternut squash, courgettes, chicken, turkey, pork, lamb.
Mothers are told they’re neurotic, that they’re a paranoid first-time mum… In truth [reflux] is normal but there are things we can do to resolve the pain and discomfort that goes with it. It is not grin and bare it
While the basic science remains the same, the beauty of Aine’s approach is that it can be applied to each mother and child to determine individual food lists.
Aine, whose book, The Baby Reflux Lady’s Survival Guide: 1, is published this week, now offers advice to parents on her website – including a free, downloadable version of her food and symptom diary.
She also offers one-to-one consultations who hail the method as ‘transformational’.
One of the hallmarks of her teaching is the reframing of reflux from a disease to a symptom of a deeper problem. The causes can include a combination of muscular or structural stress in the body; latch issues and/or digestive issues.
This third element is what can be treated through diet and is when it can be a benefit to choose breastfeeding over formula.
‘Breast milk you can control the ingredients 100 per cent whereas formula you are playing a game: “Will my baby react to something in this milk versus something in the next milk”,’ Aine explained.
While reflux is a common issue in babies, it is not one without treatment.
Aine added: ‘So many people have commented is that they’re told they’re neurotic, that they’re a paranoid first-time mum… They are being brushed off time and time again…. In truth [reflux] is normal but there are things we can do to resolve the pain and discomfort that goes with it. It is not grin and bare it.’
The Baby Reflux Lady’s Survival Guide: 1 by Aine Homer is available to buy on Amazon.co.uk