Does Your Baby Have Reflux (GERD) or MSPI?

by Kate on February 15, 2014

in Healthy Eating, Natural Mom

mspi baby, reflux baby

Spoiler alert: our baby has both! And let me tell you, it’s a challenge. Then again, parenting is always a challenge. But when you baby has reflux (GERD) and/or MSPI (milk and soy protein intolerance), the word “challenging” really milks its definition for all its worth.  [Photo Attribution: julesjulesjules m]

Many babies have basic reflux–where the stomach contents flow back up to the esophagus, or in the case of spitting up, right out baby’s mouth and onto that clean shirt you just put on. But for babies who have GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease), this happens frequently and causes the baby pain.

Sometimes GERD occurs on its own, and medications like Pepcid or Prilosec are enough to treat it.  But often, GERD seems to go hand in hand with MSPI–a condition where baby is sensitive to the proteins in milk and soy (and sometimes other proteins too–Ethan doesn’t tolerate oats).

It can be difficult to determine whether your baby has one or both of these conditions, so let me tell you a bit about how we determined Ethan had a problem.

I knew something was wrong when he was just two weeks old. At his 2 week appointment I brought up to his doctor that I was notice the following:

  • Arching the back and writhing off the breast in the middle of and after feedings (This was my biggest signal something was wrong. Most babies fall asleep at the breast at this age. Not my baby.)
  • Fussing when laid on his back
  • Frequent spitting up
  • Frequent hiccups
  • Grunting (Especially night grunting–Ethan would grunt and grunt all night long at this age)

I hadn’t even heard babies could have GERD, but that was my first instinct since I, as an adult, have GERD and he just looked like he was experiencing that burning throat sensation I’m so familiar with.  My pediatrician had two kids who had acid reflux and MSPI so I really couldn’t have been in better hands.  His hunch was that Ethan had reflux and maybe MSPI. Since Ethan was still only 2 weeks old and he was gaining weight just fine and seemed healthy, the doctor said we could wait to start the reflux medication a few weeks and see how things progressed.  I was hesitant to medicate my 2 week old, so I decided to wait….only to turn around a week later and call begging for a prescription.  Over the course of a week it became nearly impossible to feed him because he would pop off the breast screaming so often.  It was extremely difficult and heart-wrenching for me. Here I was, a new mom, just trying to feed my baby and experience that special emotional bond that breastfeeding gives you, but all I felt like I was doing was hurting him!

So we started Pepcid, and saw a significant change within about 3 days and by a week later, I’d say we were doing much better, but…still not great. He was not longer crying all day long, but he’d still fuss after feedings and writhe around in pain.  So, Ethan’s pediatrician told me I had two options: we could switch to a soy free, dairy free formula and see if that fixed him (thus confirming MSPI) or I could start an elimination diet (to also confirm MSPI). I chose the latter.

I ate practically nothing but chicken and rice for two weeks and after the two weeks was over, I knew for sure Ethan had some kind of dietary sensitivity. The improvement was incredible! So I began adding back in things that I didn’t suspect to be allergens–beef, all fruits, all vegetables. When we were still okay, I eventually tried a little bit of dairy, and he went right back to writhing and screaming for 3 days.  Then a couple weeks later (since it takes dairy about that long to work its way out of baby’s system) I tried some soy. Again, we had writhing and screaming, though it wasn’t as severe as the dairy.  Finally I tried gluten and while it was hard to gauge Ethan’s reaction, I felt horrible.  I later also discovered Ethan is sensitive to oats. So I’m currently dairy, soy, gluten, and oat free.  Talk about challenging. Because it’s not like I’m just avoiding milk, cheese, and yogurt here. If your baby has MSPI, you cannot have anything with even the slightest trace of milk or soy–that basically means no processed foods. There have been times I’ve thought about switching to formula, but the funny thing is Ethan LOVES breastfeeding. I can’t even believe it. After all he’s been through, he just loves it. In fact he basically won’t even take a bottle! So if he wants to keep going after all the pain and discomfort, then I don’t mind giving up a few of my favorite foods temporarily (I really miss chocolate, and can’t express how happy I’ll be the day I have some cheese again).

This lifestyle is definitely not for everyone. If my husband and I weren’t homebodies and liked to go out all the time this would be nearly impossible. Every time I have to go to a restaurant I have to let them know what I can’t have and hope the kitchen gets it right.  That said, I’ve got my go-to foods now, and I feel generally satisfied day-to-day. If your baby has MSPI or suspected MSPI and you’re considering diet modification so you can continue to breastfeed, just remember to take some kind of calcium supplement or get your calcium from another source.

I’ll most likely follow up this post with another post about what I DO eat, and maybe another post about the challenges with having a baby with reflux (like the fact that reflux babies don’t sleep well, or that they hate being on their backs). But please let me know if you have any questions and I’d be happy to follow up with more about our experiences! It’s been a wild ride so far. Ethan is just over 5 months old and supposedly many babies can start to grow out MSPI and reflux around 6-7 months. Here’s hoping Ethan is one of those babies and I get to enjoy some delicious cheese and chocolate again.  Until then, I will say there is one great thing about having been through all this: I had no problem losing the baby weight!

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*In the spirit of full disclosure, links to products in this post may be affiliate links, which means that I may receive a commission if you decide to purchase any of the products I recommend. Know that I only recommend products that I have used and love myself.

*I am not a doctor, a nurse, or any kind of health practitioner. I’m just a gal with a pretty keen intuitive sense, great research abilities, and curiosity that is easily peaked. Please understand that my advice is really just another opinion and it’s for you (and your doctor) to decide the best course for your health and well-being.

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