March 8, 2005

Can You Do Something About That Colic?

happiest_baby_dvd.jpgI always thought of colic as one of those ambiguous 19th century diseases, like consumption or bad humeurs. And even though we went through a few weeks where the kid would go into meltdown for little or no reason, we never considered her to be "colicky."

Whatever you call it, the meltdown-without-cause is apparently still largely a mystery to doctors and researchers, at least according to this NY Times article. There's no medical consensus on what to do: some doctors say it's alright to let a kid cry sometimes, others say swaddling's your best bet. The general principle, though, of trying to calm the kid by recreating the comforting conditions of the womb, is pretty widely accepted, if not rigorously tested.

The whole point of the article seems to be a setup to pitch Dr. Harvey Karp's book and DVD, The Happiest Baby On The Block, which features his "exclusive five-step process" which must be done, in order, to trigger a screaming baby's "calming reflex":

  • swaddle
  • hold the kid on his side or stomach
  • make rhythmic shushing sounds near his ear
  • throw in a few gentle jiggling movements, while supporting his head & neck, of course, and don't shake his head like a maraca
  • "non-nutritive sucking," aka a finger or pacifier.

    [I do believe I just saved you $10.46 for the book or $21.15 for the DVD.]

    To counter his critics, Karp is very eager to set up a very complex scientific test of his own: "Plans are under way to send one group of parents home with his DVD and another group with a regular child-care video and watch what happens." I'll tell Nature to hold the presses.

    Colicky Baby? Read This Before Calling an Exorcist [nyt]

    [update: this has been the #1 most emailed story on for most of the afternoon/evening. go figure.]


    Knock this book all you want but from it I got the "Vacuum cleaner trick"

    1. Baby screaming uncontrollingly.
    2. Fire up vacuum in same room as baby (cleaning optional)
    3. Quiet, angel faced baby.
    4. Parent's drink less.

    The "Vacuum cleaner trick" sounds a lot like my "dishwasher trick". I used to save loads of dishes and just wait until he'd start to cry. This book saved us, seriously.

    I'm not fond of self-help books that have to pad out a page of information in order to justify the book price. That book did help me from going insane the first couple of weeks. The most useful tip wasn't the basic list of soothing techniques, but rather the order:
    first swaddle
    then do 1 or more of the other techniques

    Buckette at two months is starting to get out of the swaddle pretty fast, but it's still the only way to guarantee more than an hour of sleep late at night for us.

    The DVD, by the way, is a much quicker way to get the information, has video of the techniques and holds, and has simulated womb noises to freak out visitors to your house.

    Is it just my kid, or is there anyone else out there who has a baby that goes ballistic when you swaddle her/him? I was doing it for the first few weeks, and she seemed to like it, but after that, she would scream and kick violently every time we tried wrapping her.

    I find the face-down "colic hold" works though when my (albeit normally calm) little princess won't settle down... and if I carry her around the apartment making shushing noises, even better.

    seriously, this book is thin, but following the guide to the swaddle made it worth it. it works.

    Wow my wife and I figured out that without buying a book for 10 bucks ;)

    Actually we found that the same thing doesn't always work twice. We have used the Doctor's advice we have also used the vacuum trick of Jeff above. We have even used a hair dryer (not directly on the baby and definately not too close) set on low power.

    Some people have had good success with stopping colic and/or reflux with chiropractic or cranio-sacral treatments. The idea is that sometimes those teeny little nerves at the base of the neck get pinched on the way out and that causes GI pain. If you can release the nerves with an adjustment or whatever they call it in cranio-sacral work, the pain stops.

    My child wouldn't even have his feet covered, let alone be swaddled. I think some of them just want to be free like the wind.

    We've done the chiropractic, the naturopath, and the pepcid prescribed by the pediatrician. Not sure if any or any combination of those worked, or if she just "grew out of it", but she's better now (although still taking some pepcid for a little bit longer).

    Of course, she's had two instances of a couple hours of vomiting (to the point of just stomach acid coming up), which wears her out so much it is frightening (in fact, the first time we wound up in the children's ER, where she quickly perked up and started acting normally, so we waited it out the second time)...

    The first time we thought it was because we switched to a goat's milk fomula the naturopath suggested (we started a couple hours before), but she didn't have that the second time. Now the pediatrician wants her to get an upper GI, which, at 8 months, worries me a little.

    Anyone gone through anything similar?

    My wife was telling me that if you really look at it all babies have reflux. This is because the all of the pinching (sphincter (can I say that on a blog)) muscles are not yet trained (thus the reasons for spit up and diapers).

    I had never realized this (nor actually thought about it before). She says this is because during pregnancy babies don't need to use these muscles so they are not developed.

    Well, spit up I can understand.

    Two hours of throwing up stomach acid (with no fever) doesn't seem normal to me.

    Spit-up is a laundry problem. True reflux is a medical problem. Kaz, have you asked on any of the higher-traffic (oh, crap, I'm going to have to type it) mommy blogs if anyone's had the upper GI thing done? You can't be the only one. Julie at has a son with reflux, and there seem to be lots of moms posting there with experience with severe reflux. I bet if you emailed Julie to ask for her poster's experiences you'd get some responses.

    I've read a little bit on the 'net about the procedure. It appears to be a little emotionally trying (no one wants to see a baby be restrained and have a tube down their throat). I am not even sure if it is the barium procedure or not (apparently, there are different ways to do it??).

    Heck, I feel bad just not letting her eat for 4 hours before (and I also feel bad for our daycare provider having to deal with a hungry baby for a few hours this morning).

    Sorry, I was raised Catholic, so I am full of guilt.

    We're going for the procedure in a couple hours. I'll be sure to update if anything significant happens.

    As soon as we found that running tap water worked, we hunted for a soothing-sound-maker...water/life-saver!

    Just an update - the procedure went fine. My two main concerns were (a) a physical problem, such as a twisted intestine or some such - turns out it was fine, although the doctors did see the reflux happening, (b) not being able to see my child restrained - it wasn't too bad. Most of her crying was the "I don't want to do this" variety, rather than the "I am scared" variety. It was the same cry she uses when we attempt to dress/undress her.

    As soon as the procedure was done and they moved the big xray thing, she say the device for looking at the xrays and perked up, apparently thinking, "ooo! TV!".

    I just wished people on the hospital would tell you it is okay if you leave instead of just walking out and leaving you there wondering if you can go home now.

    I'm glad it went so well, and I'm glad you updated (I've been thinking about you guys). Do they have any more info about what's going on for you?

    Thanks, Moxie -- that's nice to hear.

    I don't really have any updates. I mean, we're just going forward with what we've been doing. She has been okay (no vomiting) for a week and a half *knock on wood*

    The pediatrician (whom we like a lot) just said to let her know if it happens again. We know she has reflux, we've just not sure why the vomiting episodes occurred.

    Now she's just being fussy about eating (refuses most jarred food, eats less formula than usual).

    Maybe it is just a phase.

    This may sound totally asinine, but do you think the food refusal might be teething-related? It doesn't explain the vomiting one bit, but it's pretty common for some kids to go through a few days or a week of food refusal when new teeth are coming in.

    Somebody really needs to invent some way to just press their noses and have a little receipt come out their butts specifying exactly what's wrong.

    The little one has gotten a lot better at eating (she's eating the jarred food again, although the once-favorite peas took a little while last night), and eating more formula.

    She has moved on to drooling a lot, so we are now suspecting new teeth...

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