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Last night, my sweet baby girl woke up upset. Like so many times before, we picked her up, held her, and tried to identify why she was crying. It didn’t take long for us to figure out that she was having tummy trouble, so I resorted to my go-to remedy, and, like always, it worked within minutes. After cuddling with her a little more, we put her back in bed and she quickly fell into a peaceful sleep.
This was a mild episode compared to the difficulties my baby girl, now almost 2 years old, had when she was an infant. Remembering those early days conjures up many emotions in me…happiness, nostalgia, gratefulness, and relief. Early on, I remember being extremely anxious about hurting my baby because I didn’t yet know how to care for her. The learning curve for a new parent is steep! What a gift it is that children are so resilient and patient with us. 🙂
Along with learning all about breastfeeding, diapering, the postpartum experience, et cetera, the thing that challenged me most was baby sleep (or, rather the lack of it). A couple weeks after birth, my little Jane got over her night-versus-day confusion and began to sleep well at night; she would wake up once or twice, I’d change her, and nurse her back to sleep. No problems there. Those sweet nighttime cuddles are such warming memories! However, I knew this problem-free schedule would not last forever. Sleep regressions awaited us and I hoped we’d cope with them well. Maybe they’d be painless. I read they should only last a few days.
Finally, my precious girl turned 4 months old and she hit her first sleep regression. She was waking often and was clearly distressed, which I wasn’t sure was normal. Groggy and exhausted, I dived into books, Facebook “mommy groups,” internet forums, and articles to try to understand what I should do about my baby’s constant night-waking. This went on for a lot longer than a few days…slowly, the weeks turned into months.
After seemingly endless searches, I compiled a list of potential ideas as to why my baby girl was waking up in pain. I tried almost everything to help her. To my dismay, nothing on my list worked. My sweet baby was waking up 4 to 8 times a night from 4 months old to 7 months old. I started to feel hopeless. On top of being discouraged because none of my remedies worked, I felt guilty for wasting the family money on potential solutions. It’s amazing how easy it is to have such irrational and negative thoughts when you’re tired; lesson learned: keep your imagination under control! A poor disposition won’t help you solve anything.
Finally, we decided to try out a couple of remedies that were less popular: a remedy recommended by the herbalist Susun Weed and a visit to a pediatric dental specialist in East Grand Forks. Our record with finding solutions was about to turn from a losing game to a dominating victory! Without further adieu, I present to you our successes:
1. Slippery elm bark: Our little one was waking up from gas pains, not just sleep regressions. Like I mentioned, we tried almost everything to help her. My poor girl! 🙁 Suggested by Susun Weed in her Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, slippery elm bark powder “has restored digestive ability and strength” in my baby girl and is known to aid infants with severe colic and even allergic reactions to food. Better than any remedy I’ve ever tried for my children, it’s also cheap, very gentle, and impressively effective.
I give this to my babies when they struggle with gas, constipation, or diarrhea starting at around 4 months old. It works very quickly to relax the child and has a naturally sweet taste and smell, much like diluted maple syrup. Slippery elm bark powder is my go-to remedy for all childhood digestive ailments, but it is not the solution to the root cause of the problem…
2. Getting Jane evaluated for a lip/tongue tie:
This might sound a little weird at first. A tongue and/or lip tie is a notably short, thick, or tight band of tissue (frenulum) that exists under the tongue and lip. It is NOT every frenulum, which exists normally in everyone; a tie is present when a frenulum causes restrictions in normal mouth movement and development. Restricted mouth movement causes difficulty while eating/nursing, learning to talk, and, of course, with digestion because of swallowing lots of air. There are many symptoms for both a breastfeeding mother and the child with tie(s); but, interestingly, our only symptoms were difficulty staying latched to the breast and painful gas pains that disturbed Jane’s sleep every night. Failing to correct something like this can lead to tooth decay and possibly speech problems. Here is how to check for ties and here’s how to fix them.
Back to our story: our suspicions of lip/tongue ties were quickly confirmed at Jane’s appointment with Dr. Chelsea. At the same visit, Janey got her ties revised via laser and a few days afterwards, she no longer had nightly gas pains. This means that she SLEPT! We haven’t slept in such a long time! Dan and I were absolutely elated when our girl could finally sleep pain-free.
Learning that Janey had such significant ties was very surprising to me because neither our family doctor, nor any lactation consultant (we met with a few of them) knew what a tie was! We had struggled for such a long time trying to find a solution for this seemingly simple, and actually very common, problem. According to Dr. Chelsea, “those treating [ties] feel its probably closer to 20% [of the population]” that have them and that “it’s an increasing issue with environmental factors as a potential cause.” I even explained to our family doctor that Jane had ties fixed, and he didn’t seem to care to know what a tie was, why they’re important, or even how to fix them. I mention this in order to give you confidence in your own research; if you suspect something wrong with your child’s or your own mouth, it’s up to you to investigate the possibility that you’re right. Listen to your gut. If you are looking for a professional to help you or your children with ties, reference this list of recommended specialists in your area. As I’ve mentioned, many health professionals are unaware of this problem and therefore will not help you properly identify it and fix it, so save yourself the hassle by visiting a recommended practitioner. 🙂
Though we strongly avoid unnecessary medical intervention, such as circumcision, the lip/tongue tie procedure has proved to be very beneficial for my little Jane. We were so astounded by Janey’s results that we took our little Thomas in to get evaluated soon after he was born. I remember calling the dentist’s office to schedule an appointment while still in my L&D hospital bed! His mouth looked even more restricted than Jane’s, but he has had no symptoms of ties since getting his fixed. He sleeps well, he eats well, isn’t gassy or “colicky”…he is the opposite of how uncomfortable Janey was in her first few months. We’ve saved ourselves a lot of unnecessary trouble.
All of these new and bittersweet challenges were for the better, as is everything else in life… 20/20 hindsight! Through our difficulties, opportunities to better ourselves in many ways (especially in patience) arose and allowed us to work on our faults. There’ll be many more of these opportunities in the future. I really hope this post can help you if you’re experiencing similar pains…there’s hope! This beautiful time in life is brimming with possibilities to learn and help each other. Mamas, unite! 🙂
Since we are on the topic of baby sleep and gas, here are a couple more remedies that may help you:
1. Gripe water: I found that store-bought gripe water was more effective than my homemade recipes. This version is free of any nasty synthetic ingredients that I wasn’t comfortable giving Janey. It appears they’ve changed the ingredients list. (Tip: beware of chamomile! I am allergic to ragweed, which is a relative to chamomile. If you’re allergic to ragweed, it’s a good idea to be cautious about using chamomile with your baby, who may also be allergic. My poor Jane got hives from chamomile. 🙁 )
2. Epsom salt baths: This solution worked very well to get Janey to relax before bedtime. We gave her a calm bath, took her out, rubbed her little body in coconut oil as lotion, and I nursed her to sleep. We called this Janey’s “spa treatment.” Tip: epsom salt baths or magnesium spray are incredible at easing growing pains!
3. “Kick-Kick-Kicks”: This is our own title for the “bicycle legs” baby massage move. Just place the little one on his/her back, raise one leg at a time, and gently press the baby’s knees on his/her cute little baby belly. You can also raise both legs at a time.
One last thing: Breastfeeding is so special! It creates such a close bond between me and my babies. Nursing can be tough when you’ve got a baby with a tied-up mouth…but don’t give up! Here are a couple resources to support you and your baby on your journey together: 1, 2.
Have you had experiences with slippery elm or tongue/lip-tied babies? How did you cope with tummy trouble?
Disclaimer: All information on this blog is for informational purposes only. I am not a licensed medical professional. Please discuss any dietary or lifestyle changes, supplements, or medical questions with your doctor.
She lives in Grand Forks North Dakota with her husband and daughter Jane, and receives raw milk and pastured meats from Bartlett Farms.