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Monday, September 24, 2007

More on colic

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Colic follow-up. Since my posting last week, I've heard from many parents whose babies had/have colic. My heart goes out to each and every one. Two of the most representative emails, from Seta Davidian and Shannon Larkin, are below. Meanwhile, I promised to share my experience:

My son's colic began at about three weeks and it met the classic definition, known as the Rule of Threes: crying by an otherwise healthy baby that lasts three or more hours, for three or more days, for three or more weeks. A happy, adorable baby the rest of the day as well as a good eater, he would typically begin to cry between 4 and 6 pm (just in time for my poor husband, as he was arriving home from work) and would keep at it until midnight or 1 am.

We tried everything, from car rides to placing the infant seat on the top of the dryer. The rememdies typically would give us a few minutes of respite but then we were off again. We worried, we cried, we became desperate. Our pediatrician was helpful but he could offer neither cause nor cure. (Even today, doctors still can't.) We investigated the typical culprits: my diet? (I was nursing); lactose intolerance? One day when Eli was 11 weeks old, I took the two of us to the pediatrician's office. I didn't have an appointment. The receptionist didn't think they could squeeze me in.

I sat in the waiting room. Sure enough, it got to be 4 o'clock. Eli began to cry. Within minutes, I found myself in an examining room. The doctor appeared shortly. He took one look at me, one look at my crying baby and said, "I have a prescription." It was for paragoric, a sedative, he said, that would calm the baby. Desperate measures, and all that. He got that right: Did I feel like there was something wrong with me? That it was my fault, that somehow I was lacking the motherhood gene? You bet.

That night after dinner (we took turns pacing with him while the other one ate), we put our baby in the infant swing in the kitchen and sat down at the table across from one another to have a heart-to-heart about whether we could give our 11-week infant a sedative. It didn't feel like a good choice. But could we go on as we were?

Suddenly, we both realized something was different. Something was wrong. There was quiet. It was only 9 pm and Eli had stopped crying.

Asleep in the swing, it was as if Eli had heard our conversation, agreed with us, and decided to cut it out then and there. There was no more colic that night, or any other. I still marvel at the coincidence.

Two days later, when I guiltily called the doctor to tell him I had never given the baby the medicine, he told me, "Not to worry. It wasn't for the baby that I proscribed it. It was to give you and your husband a break."

In all the years since -- my son turns 20 next month -- including the times when I've written columns about colic, I've always looked to see if new research turns up any lasting effects from colic. So far it hasn't. The article by Jerome Groopman that I referenced in my blog earlier is a careful and succinct summary of all the research about colic through the years, including the current thinking about its impact on the family as a whole, not just on the infant. My pediatrician was clearly ahead of the curve. Thanks, Jim.

Here are readers' stories:

From Seta:

"Well, the first thought that comes to mind is TIRED and dreading the post-suppertime hours! Frustrating that I couldn't settle her down right away at night since during the day she was easy to settle down and only cried when she needed something. One time it was embarrassing when we were at a relative's house and the colic reared its ugly head in full force. It was embarrassing for me because I felt like a bad parent (of course they were very understanding and we still joke about it now but it was one of her worst nights ever)

"Also, the colic was very frustrating because it made getting my son to bed who was 2.75 yrs old very challenging - not because he wanted to stay up but he was mad that she was keeping him awake, along with him going through the usual sibling adjustment! If my husband wasn't home, doing the bedtime reading routine with him was hard - the sling was very useful then.

"With both my husband & I being tired, I would say that our relationship was just solely focused on the kids, and, yes, that does get very draining but we weren't depressed because we had 2 things in our favor:

a.) It was our second baby, so we knew that at some point this would end. Having previous experience made a HUGE difference.

b.) Once our daughter did finally go to sleep, she would only get up once during the night for a feeding, and it wasn't another colic ordeal.

"My advice for parents would be to take turns holding; as a mother, you feel like you are the one who should be able to calm your baby down the easiest and fastest, so it is easy to feel like a failure. I think it's OK to put the baby down for a few minutes if you need a break - you never know, sometimes they might just fall asleep! If you are alone, have a dear friend come over to keep you company - otherwise the time just will not pass - 5 minutes feels like 5 hours. ....Harvey Karpís techniques did help and I do highly recommend them. Lastly, try try try to have some sense of humor about it.

"As far as colic bringing on depression in parents - I think that all new parents go through being shell shocked no matter how calm or colicky their baby is. I never heard of anyone saying "Oh, this is totally what I expected!"

"The funniest part of all is when my husband, Ray, and I talk about Nairi to someone, I will say she had colic, and Ray says "She did? I don't remember!"

From Shannon, whose son is now 7:

"Having lived through [colic], it's a subject I feel strongly about. I don't think I'll ever fully recover from those months of being screamed at. Much as I love my son, I certainly have no interested in having another child and possibly repeating the process.

"My son started screaming the day I brought him home from the hospital, and didn't stop for the next four months. And it was loud - much louder than a normal newborn cry. To this day, I'm surprised when I hear a soft baby's cry. I thought my child's was the standard.

My stomach would lurch whenever I heard that first wail, because I knew what the next three or four hours would hold for me. I still flinch if I hear a similar wail from a stranger's baby when I'm out.

"There are so many things I wish I'd had back then - but most of all, I wish I had known someone else who had been through it. It was so hard, so INCREDIBLY hard to try to describe the despair and physicall illness I felt whenever my son started to wail. Parents of non-colicky babies would dismiss me by saying things like "oh, all babies cry" and "well it must have been something you ate" (I nursed) or worse, insinuate that I just wasn't handling parenthood well. After all, he was my first - what did I know? After a while, I began to believe these things, and blamed it on myself. I just wasn't well-prepared, wasn't coping well, wasn't a good mother. All babies cried right? so therefore it was just bothering me more.

"The worst was when my own mother said, "You know, a baby's early temperment can tell you exactly what they're going to be like as an adult". He was screaming in her arms when she said this to me, and I couldn't help wondering if I should throw myself out the window now, or later? (As you can see, I decided to wait)

"Nowadays, I say to that - "Bullhockey!" My baby cried - no screamed - ten times more than any other baby I knew. And he did it almost all night, every night. And he arched his back and kicked and acted as if he didn't want to be held, yet screamed more if we put him down. And nothing we did - holding, not holding, diet changes, overstimulation, understimulation - changed that. And yet, he gained weight and met all his milestones. My husband and I were nearly superhuman simply to have survived those months with our marriage intact.

"What I would say to a friend now, if she had a colicky baby?

"1. If someone offers to babysit for you, TAKE THEM UP ON IT. Don't worry about ruining your friendships - they will survive a few hours of aural misery. You, on the other hand need a few hours of quiet. Just make sure you warn your potential babysitter of the potential for inconsolable screaming, so they're not caught off-guard.

"2. Wear earplugs. You don't have to go deaf to be a sympathetic parent. You can hold your baby and walk him around and sing to him without being pushed to the threshold of pain.

"3. Colic does NOT mean that your child will be high-maintenance for the rest of his life. I have the world's happiest second-grader now. We never had the terrible twos, or threes or anything else. In fact, we joke that he got all his crying out at once, rather than drawing it out over 80-plus years.

"4. Take turns with your spouse. It doesn't take two people to listen to a baby cry.

"5. Write a list of things to try to comfort the baby and put it on the fridge. When the screaming starts, you can't think, so it helps to have a list of things to try, one after the other, without thinking about it. Mine consisted of things like "sing", "walk", "put baby on washing machine", "put baby in bath", "try vibrating bouncy chair", "nurse", "burp", etc. They seem so simple, but at 3:00am when my brain was fried, it really helped.

"6. No one goes to college with colic.

I'd better stop writing before I have a flashback - I can already feel my pulse speeding up, just remembering those days."

-Shannon Larkin
Cambridge

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 11:58 AM
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