Mothers Have Needs Too!

Allison Gilbert, LMFT, Santa Cruz Counselor Lic: MFC 24087

Reflux, Colic & Special Needs Babies

The Rude Awakening

Around three weeks post-partum, some of us mothers get the rude awakening that our babies are very unhappy. Our doctors may prescribe zantac for reflux or simply tell us our babies have colic and there’s nothing we can do about it. We have to resign ourselves to living with sleepless nights and screaming days and isolation due to the shame we feel around other mothers with their contented babies.

Depression & Special Needs

It’s interesting that the rate of post-partum depression and the rate of colic are both one out of four. I know that there have got to be some mothers who develop depression even with a contented baby but I can’t imagine how any mother could avoid depression with a colicky or reflux baby. And of course it must be even harder for mothers who have babies with even more severe special needs.

Nothing Worked

I remember the shock I went through when my newborn first started screaming 5 minutes into every feeding. Arched back, mouth open, wailing face up toward the moon, he cried night and day. He wouldn’t sleep more than 45 minutes at a time. I could nurse him to sleep and then set a clock by his waking pattern. Nothing I did would soothe him.

I tried mylicon, cutting out everything from my diet that could hurt his tummy, chamomile tea, camomilla homeopathic remedy, burping, rocking, swinging…. My husband would swing him violently back and forth in his arms and he would finally stop screaming…as long as his arms could keep up the motion. I would hold him all day long…he never seemed able to be away from me for a moment…not in the car seat, not in the stroller, not in the high chair (even when he got older).

Sleep Deprivation is Torture

I began to understand why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. I started to lose my mind from lack of sleep. During day or night, whether my baby was crying or not, I would hear him crying. Auditory hallucination can result from sleep deprivation. People tell you to sleep when your baby sleeps but for someone who’s used to being woken up a ½ hour after falling asleep, you begin to just stay awake, so you won’t have to feel the torture of having to be woken up. After awhile, you just become so anxious; you hold vigil all night long, watching over your baby to make sure he’s sleeping.


Once I got my baby on the zantac and the cisipride (which has now been taken off the market due to babies dying from it - OY! ),  his crying decreased. I felt like I was given a completely new baby. I could actually take him out of the house and join the world again.

My fears that he would be difficult for me forever were unfounded. Once he started walking, he no longer needed the medication. He never was a good sleeper until he got to be 2 or 3 and slept with Daddy. Today, at age 13, he’s been sleeping through the night for 10 years, he’s mild mannered, sensitive, highly intelligent and a picky eater. He never grew out of a very strong gag reflex.

I’m Still Recovering

It seems like my son has fully recovered from the stress-filled beginnings of his life. I’m a different story. The wear and tear on my body from that first year still lives on in the wrinkles on my face. I have never fully recovered from the insomnia but it’s not a nightly occurrence anymore. When I work with new mothers who have reflux babies, a part of my psyche heals each time I recognize the irrational self-blame she feels.

When I had my second child and realized how easy it was to soothe her, another part of my psyche healed. It is not your fault if your baby is inconsolable. Colic and reflux are like migraines and cancer. They are conditions or diseases that there is no known cure for in the modern western medical field. You didn’t cause them and can’t blame yourself for their existence. All you can do is learn to cope with them the best that you can.  (See book referenced below.)

Blessing in Disguise

Having a special needs baby does offer it’s blessings in disguise. And this is where coping well with the conditions we can’t control comes in. When you have a baby who needs so much attention, your priorities become sharpened into focus right away. Work outside the home pales in comparison to the work you can do for your own child. As difficult as it is to understand what your child needs for comfort or health and healing, you become the one person best equipped to do the research and to give that comfort. You and your child develop a very close bond and your reason and purpose for living is as clear as day.

So give yourself a break if you have a special needs child. I’m sure you’re doing the best you can with the circumstances you’ve been dealt. Motherhood is not an easy job when there’s nothing out of the ordinary to deal with. You deserve plenty of support to do the hefty job you’ve been assigned and don’t be afraid to ask for it. Always remember how lucky your child is to have a loving mother like you!

Allison Gilbert, LMFT; Free Tips ©2007

Check out "When Your Baby Won't Stop Crying" by Tonja Krautter or read more about her book on her website:
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