My inspiration for creating Bubbaroo, my son Jacob, is 14. I can hardly believe where the time has gone. I’ve been reflecting back on my Motherhood journey so far and all that I’ve learnt along the way. Here’s our story…
In August 2004 Jacob arrived screaming his lungs out, he was 8 days over his due date and I had to be induced. I so wanted to be a Mum, I had always been around babies growing up, as my Mum was one of 8 children and someone was just about always pregnant or having a baby. My sister also had 2 children and I loved to babysit them and visit any time I could. It’s so different when you have your own child! The primal instinct of wanting to protect and nurture your child!
I was under no delusions that being a Mum was going to be a walk in the park but I didn’t think
it was going to be quite so challenging! From the get go Jacob was very unsettled, he would only sleep when cradled in someone’s arms. So with the constant stream of visitors at the hospital during the day he’d sleep cradled in their arms but then screamed all night. He was a terrible feeder at every feed he’d be fussing, shaking his head, gulping down air, getting painful wind and then the vomiting. After 5 days in hospital he only just maintained sufficient weight for us to be allowed home. The unsettledness and breast fussiness escalated as the weeks wore on. I was in a very bad way with my own health issues (retained placenta and mastitis), sleep deprived and watching my first baby fade away.
Before Jacob was even 4 weeks old he had a small infection of his big toe and was put on antibiotics (Penicillin) and needed to have bilateral inguinal hernia operation!
I was becoming increasingly anxious about Jacob’s vomiting and unsettledness so I managed to get an appointment with a Paediatrician (who incidentally was my Paediatrician when I was born) at this stage Jacob was 4 weeks old. He was also concerned about Jacob’s weight and distress and sent us for all these tests, when the tests came back fine he admitted us to a private hospital.
Jacob was place in an isolation ward off neo-nates for observation with me a couple of floors up on the Maternity ward. During this time I was yelled at by a lactation consultant and told “I couldn’t breast feed my baby” I was very upset because I knew it didn’t matter whether I fed Jacob breastmilk or formula he would refuse. We compromised and agreed syringe of 5ml guarcol (food thickener used primarily in aged care facilities to thicken food) offering each breast, bottle feeding with my expressed breast milk and then offering formula.
I sat in my hospital room one night horrified and watched a midwife try to force feed Jacob formula but he was just vomiting it all back up. I pleaded with her to stop forcing Jacob to feed but she took “offer formula” on Jacob’s notes literally that he must finish all the formula offered. A number of the midwives spoke to me very sternly! It became apparent that the midwives were scared of the Paediatrician. We were discharged after 4 nights. When the Paed found out Jacob had reflux his reaction was that “acid is over-rated” (meaning he didn’t think it was a serious issue)! I felt like a complete and utter failure as a mother, my baby wasn’t thriving and I couldn’t fix it, equally healthcare professionals weren’t supporting or helping Jacob and/or me in a meaningful way.
Jacob’s Health Declines
From there things declined rapidly, I went to see more health care professionals, tried Mylanta and Gaviscon but Jacob started to become very lethargic, refused to feed breast or bottle and now wouldn’t wake up. I tried to book an appointment to see the only private Gastroenterologist in Perth at the time but the earliest appointment was 23 December – 2 and a half months away! Then I phoned Ngala and they rightly suggested that I needed to sort out the health issue first before seeing them. I felt desperate and that Jacob wouldn’t make it.
When Jacob was about 6 weeks old in October 2004 my husband Shane came home from work and I’d been to see another GP, Jacob had vomited everything I’d tried to feed him up and was very lethargic. We decided to take Jacob to the Emergency Department at Princess Margaret Hospital (Children’s Hospital in Perth). I was so desperate and my motherly instinct was telling me this just isn’t right. When we presented at PMH the ER Doctor was very concerned about Jacob’s weight and we were admitted straight away.
Our PMH Experience
The Doctors, Nurses and Lactation Consultants at PMH were amazing. In a few short hours they realised that Jacob was in a significant amount of pain and put him on Losec. They supported my decision to continue breast feeding Jacob. I didn’t want Jacob fed through a nasal gastric tube. We experimented with a supply line however, we very quickly realised that this just meant that Jacob was getting double the volume of breast milk at the same time and created considerable distress for him. In the end we found that finger feeding was the best option because Jacob could sit upright and be fed my expressed breast milk.
The Registrar voiced concerns about my own mental health because I was just so emotional. I did regain some of my confidence at PMH, there was still a long journey ahead of me!
We had a strict feeding schedule in hospital where Jacob and I were woken for feeding 4 hourly at night and every 3 hours during the day. The routine was to offer each side of the breast, Jacob would suck a couple of times then refuse. I would then offer a bottle of my expressed breast milk which I finger fed (a small flexible tube on the index finger) to him so he was propped upright, if Jacob finished the expressed breast milk then I could offer formula however, the formula was never needed. After I finished this routine I would try to settle Jacob back to sleep and express off the remaining breastmilk ready for the next feed.
So after all this neither of us was getting very much sleep between feeds. For the first 48 hours we would weigh Jacob before and after a feed to check how much milk he was getting. It took 7 nights for Jacob to get back to his PMH pre-Tjhe admission weight and be discharged.
I felt like a caged animal in Hospital but I knew it was where we needed to be but I also felt so nervous about going home as Jacob was still in so much pain and still really unsettled.
The New Normal
The feeding routine continued when we arrived home from hospital. It took many weeks for Jacob’s oesophagus to repair and for the Losec to work. Jacob would continue to be unsettled and arch his back in pain 20 or so minutes after a feed.
To make sure I didn’t go insane, I tried get out of the house at least once a day whether it was a walk around the block with Jacob in the pram or Mother’s Group with many towels to wipe up the vomit. Going in the car was also a nightmare because he’d scream his lungs out, in hindsight this was a sign of his middle ear issues.
I really enjoyed the Mum & Bub morning teas at St John of God hospital in Subiaco where other Mums would come and there would be volunteers to look after your baby. The Mums would talk with midwives and parent education health care professionals. We’d get an opportunity to speak about our week and I think it made everyone feel good!
Sleep is key
I think one of the keys to Jacob’s recovery was to get him settled, sleeping and staying asleep. He couldn’t feed when he was always over tired and distressed. The feeding regime meant that a routine was essential to ensuring sleep – the old feed, play (tummy time), sleep and recognising tired signs. Controlled crying was never going to work for Jacob because it would only exacerbate his reflux and my anxiety. I tried baby wearing but Jacob hated it causing him more distress, so lots of cuddles, baby massage and swaddling until he was able to roll.
We attended a number of out-patient appointments at PMH, at one stage Jacob was prescribed Domperidone which caused him distress so the Registrar instructed us to stop using after the first use.
I was also advised to start Jacob on solids at 4 months of age in an attempt to get the food to stay down rather than reflux back up. Now rather than milky coloured vomit I had the colours of the rainbow – orange, green, pink. Jacob wasn’t really interested in solids. He was interested in getting upright!
Jacob first rolled during tummy time at 2 months and was so desperate to sit up he’d do tummy crunches but finally sat up at just over 5 months. He was then desperate to crawl he would whinge and get frustrated, he started doing loads of yoga poses like plank and downward dog and more often than not going backwards but then finally at about 5 and 1/2 months he made it forwards with a hybrid crawl!
The journey to creating Bubbaroo
My journey in establishing Bubbaroo follows in close step with Jacob’s sleep story. One of the symptoms of Jacob’s severe reflux was a very strong “startle” reflex. He would startle himself awake! He would startle and cry then wake up in distress because of the acid coming up and burning his oesophagus.
I remember on certain occasions Jacob would startle so severely that he’d tuck his chin to his chest arms and legs rigid with an almighty scream followed by an episode where he’d stop breathing. The first time this happened I was in the study and my husband was getting Jacob ready for his bath, I still remember that scream, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, then complete silence, I came running out of the study with my heart in my mouth thinking something catastrophic had happened and just wanting him to cry again!
We would swaddle Jacob to calm him but he’d always manage to escape, I nick named him Houdini because even though he was failing to thrive he was incredibly strong and could hold his head up from birth. I searched and searched to try to find a swaddle product but couldn’t believe that there was nothing on the market in Australia.
I felt really passionately that I could help parents and babies by creating a swaddle product that simulated the mother’s womb. A swaddle that allowed for natural movement of arms and legs – not a tight straight-jacket but a “pouch” similar to a Kangaroo’s Pouch or a mother’s womb. Swaddling with a blanket has limitations as you have to wrap tightly, increasing the potential for hip development issues and restricting full lung expansion. A baby can also easily kick off loose bedding and become tangled up. So I searched patent databases worldwide for many days to see if anything else similar to my design already existed. I couldn’t find anything similar so I decided to have a go.
I designed the Joey Pouch as a bell shape – the baby’s arms are contained but they are able to move them inside the pouch to self soothe and they have plenty of room to kick their legs. The Joey Pouch was the first Australian swaddle on the market. the swaddle isn’t tight because it’s intended to simulate the womb and allow for natural movement. Baby can get to their hands to self-soothe if they so choose but it doesn’t force baby’s arms into any particular position. The v-neck ensures a comfortable fit rather than being too tight and restrictive around baby’s neck.
Joey Pouch Research
In December 2004 I started product development of the Joey Pouch, researching where I could find the best materials to make the Joey Pouch and Joey Swags. It felt like I visited every fabric wholesaler in Australia! But I searched for (and found) the best quality materials and components to go into manufactured products – fabric, padding, press studs and zips that met a high standard of safety, functionality and durability.
I had a number of samples of the Joey Pouch Swaddle Wrap made. Then I went to speak to many health care professionals including Midwives and child health nurses. I met with SIDSandKids WA (now called Red Nose) to get their feedback. SIDSandKids loved the idea of swaddling. They acknowledged research which suggested that swaddling a baby in the first few months of life can help baby remain on their back. SIDSandKids did not like positioners which strapped baby in. You can read more about Red Nose’s Best Practice for Safe Swaddling here.
Bubbaroo is Born
The next day, on 23 March 2005, I incorporated Bubbaroo. I had the idea for the Joey Pouch and baby sleeping bag range. We called them Joey Swags. A swag is a swagman’s bedding. A Mum in my Mother’s group had recommended baby sleeping bags for Jacob. He was rolling around the cot at 4 months of age. I bought one, I loved the concept but it was very bright and stimulating. It was not very calming and wasn’t particularly good quality. At that particular time it was very difficult to find unisex/neutral and stylish baby products. This was something I knew I could improve on – the design and quality. A design that was tranquil and calming, after-all we want to promote sleep at sleep time not stimulate baby.
Over the next year I followed a process of market research, testing on babies and making modifications on the design. The Joey Pouch Swaddle Wrap and Joey Swag baby sleeping bag range were perfected. The Joey Pouch Swaddle Wrap was the first swaddle product on the market in Australia.
Ongoing Health Issues
During this time of developing Bubbaroo, Jacob was still having ups and downs with his health. We travelled to Adelaide over Easter 2005 and then on to Melbourne to visit my brother. On the flight on the way back home to Perth Jacob became inconsolable! We didn’t know what to do. Thankfully my parents were also travelling with us and we each took turns trying to calm Jacob down. Shortly after this episode I attended a Reflux Support Group meeting at another Mum’s house called Jenny. Jenny established the Perth chapter of the Reflux Support Group. Jenny witnessed what Jacob was doing on the breast. He would pull on and off shaking his head. This lovely lady recommended me to Dr Renee Shilkin and phoned her rooms to get me an appointment. We first met Dr Shilkin on my birthday in May 2005.
Grommets for Jacob
Dr Renee took a complete family history and recognised Jacob’s middle ear issues. At the time he had very inflammed middle ears and eustachian tubes. Dr Shilkin prescribed a course of antibiotics. She advised that if the antibiotics didn’t clear up the inflammation and blockages then he’d need grommets inserted. Especially since we just didn’t know how long Jacob’s ear issues had been going on for, most probably from birth. We also decided to take Dr Shilkin’s advice and remove Jacob from the 1 day of daycare he’d just started. He didn’t need to be catching all the bugs which could irritate his ears, nose and throat and further exacerbate his middle ears.
We also stopped the swimming lessons. He didn’t really enjoy them that much. In hindsight this was more than likely due to his ears. The things we learn! It’s so funny how much he hated pools for the first couple of years of his life. Poor kid probably associated swimming pools with immense pain! Now Jacob is a really good swimmer and loves to swim! He also featured in Renee’s book “Crying Babies and Beyond”. I digress…..
Jacob on the go
So at 9 months of age we were referred to an ENT specialist, on our first appointment the ENT couldn’t believe that Jacob was walking as baby’s with middle ear issues usually have balance issues. Jacob had grommets inserted at just over 9 months. The ENT surgeon actually came out to speak to me after the operation. The amount of mucous and gunk that came during the grommet operation shocked the surgeon.
It was so funny to see Jacob walking, he looked like a little doll and far too young to walk. One of the Dad’s from my Mother’s Group once asked his wife “Is Jacob driving a car yet?” Jacob’s had very well developed gross motor skills. But later he would have trouble at school with auditory processing issues due to his middle ear problems as a baby. That’s a whole other story for another day!
Well the first year of Jacob’s life was pretty hectic. But we made it to Jacob’s first birthday – hooray! It was such a beautiful day with the sun shining much like the weather over the weekend. I made a Nemo cake and all our friends came to celebrate us making it to Jacob’s 1st Birthday. We felt a little more grown up as a result of the roller coaster ride of Jacob’s first year.
Happy Birthday Jacob
One message to my gorgeous son Jacob, you make me want to be a better person. I love you to the moon and back. Please know that I will always be there for you celebrating happy times and supporting you when life’s disappointments will inevitably come your way. Seeing your happy smiling face every day brightens up my day. I’m so excited by the next chapter in our lives. Please trust and know that I’m here for you no matter what!
Can you do me a favour?
In the end I was helped by another mama that recognised the issues we were having. It would be great to hear from any other mamas about your experiences becoming a new mum. Simply comment on our blog.