Before getting into the details about the digestive health of infants, I’ll start with a personal story since it’s a great entry point into discussing the fascinating world of wee’ babies and their wee’ gut microbiomes. It’s a birth story, so if you’re not a fan just move on to the links below for more information.
The Arrival of The Pooties: September 2012
My labor started with a splash (literally) and moved along faster and furiously than the average labor. I don’t mean to imply that it was any more difficult than any other’s labor, but because it progressed so quickly there was no adjusting to the various stages and within an hour I went from shopping for sweatpants at the Goodwill to losing language. Thankfully, my inner athlete took over and I labored with the kind of intense, unwavering focus of a tied soccer match between the daughers of the Capulets and Montagues, with only 10 minutes to go, and an 8 pound human squeezing its way through the birth canal. (My metaphors typically impress, thank you.)
An hour or so later, after careful watch of all the beeps and blips of various monitors, my midwife made the call for a c-section. She squatted down to look me in the eye, put a hand on my shoulder, and announced, “She’s not coming out the old-fashioned way.”
Because I trusted my midwife and knew she wouldn’t advocate for an unnecessary intervention, I offered her a long grunt that I hoped would translate as, “F*****k!!!…….But, okay.”
10 minutes later I was wheeled away for surgery.
A little while later, my daughter was born via c-section. She was a chalky gray-blue color and making feeble, soggy cries. The doc whisked her away and I stared into space, spinning in the center of a giant wave of resignation. This was not how I planned on welcoming my daughter into the world. Yet, somehow, even more potent than my disappointment in having an emergency c-section was the sudden embodied understanding that my life had changed forever. I was both thankful for my daughter’s arrival and terrified by this sudden evaporation of Child-Free Lauren. Some parents experience this change slowly, throughout the pregnancy and into infancy. Mine happened on the operating table.
But back to my waterlogged daughter. She had swallowed a bunch of meconium (the first baby poo) on her journey and now had a lung infection. Within a couple of hours of birth, my daughter was nested in an incubator, IV antibiotics pumping through her veins to my horror and my relief. The markers that showed infection were high, but the antibiotics began to work within 24 hours. Her infection slowly but surely cleared up.
There were highlights to my birth experience that I’d be remiss to neglect. During the first 48 hours upon her arrival, she was fed colostrum through a syringe, was serenaded by her dad and his guitar, and held tightly the various, gloved pinky fingers of family who adored her. In the meantime, I did my best to calm the waves of anxiety that overtook me as I adjusted to the disappointment of missing out on the initial skin-to-skin contact that I had read so much about, as well as to the other uncomfortable realities of a c-section (like trying to poo, and worrying about how the drugs I was taking might affect my breast milk). The thing that got me really good, though, was recalling exactly what antibiotics can do to the gut. If I ruminated on the fact that antibiotics were now an integral part of her introduction into the world, I would begin to panic, and would have to yank on the gears of my brain until I could refocus on the fact that they may just be saving her life.
(If this story is creating anxiety, I should say now – keep reading. There’s a practical, helpful ending.)
In just a few days, she weaned off of supplemental oxygen and we transitioned her from the warmth of her incubator to the warmth of my own skin, and upon our first legit snuggle, we immediately formed (what felt like) an indestructible crystalline bond. This mewly bundle of suckling need was my newborn daughter! Watch out world! Happily, she thought my boobs were great, and my boobs thought she was great, too. It was true love.
Anyway, here’s the point of this post. Though she recovered fully from her lung infection, my daughter did not thrive in infancy. From the age of 3 days to 6 months, she projectile vomited about 70 percent of everything that she ate, which was exclusively breast milk. She was a gaunt-faced, odd-complected, PootiePoots at 2 months, with eyes that would bulge almost out of her head before she’d toss back all the milk that I had just served up. She went through 5-10 onesies a day. She could only sleep upright, which meant that I propped myself with pillows for many, many slumbers and she slept on my chest. By 5 months, she had gained a little weight but still flung her milk if you moved her the wrong way. Her dad and I did our best to remain at the periphery of Totally Strung Out. When we’d dabble in crossing over into Totally Strung Out and threaten to sit down and stare at our toes forever, some family member would take her from our arms and demand that we go take a nap.
Healing the Gut: Treating Reflux and Other Digestive Issues in Infants and Children
In retrospect, I better understand what was happening, and though I did my best as a parent (who was trying to be a practitioner, too, even though you’re not supposed to do that, but whatever), there were actually a couple of things that I would have done differently.
Upon birth, a newborn’s digestive system is in the midst of the process of blossoming (and will continue to blossom for the next couple of years). The antibiotics that my daughter needed – though they did exactly what they were meant to do and for that I’m thankful – put out the “pilot light” of her digestion, according to the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Her reflux was truly insane. I’m talking, like, a four foot reach (considered a “reversal of Stomach qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine, combined with Spleen cold-dampness). We never used drugs to treat her reflux, just experimentation and patience. Thankfully, we had a D.O. who answered all of our questions with wisdom and compassion, and never urged us to try drugs.
In the end, I suspect it was a combination of probiotics, acupressure, and the passing of time that solved the issue. She stopped tossing her cookies a dozen times a day. Her digestive center worked out its kinks, and she began to thrive. (The two probiotics that I used were Baby’s Jarro-Dophilis+FOS Powder and Klaire Labs Ther-Biotic Infant Formula. We carry both brands in our online store, if you’re interested.)
So, what would I have done differently?
These 3 articles wrap up the kind of knowledge I wish I’d had at the time, but didn’t.