Dec. 4, 2000 -- Just about the time my second son, Noah, was 11
weeks old, my husband and I seriously considered putting him out on the curb,
with a pair of Bruce Springsteen concert tickets tucked into his blanket,
hoping someone would run off with the package.
Luckily, we chickened out. The concert turned out to be great.
Oh, yeah -- and Noah hasn't turned out so bad either. At 14 months of age, his
curly red hair, playful spirit, and passion for all things muddy have made him
the card of our small clan. But during those first jaw-clenching,
scream-pierced weeks of our son's life that we now refer to as "colic
hell," it was hard to imagine he'd ever do anything to make us laugh.
The experts define colic as a state of fussiness or crying that
lasts for more than three hours a day, for at least three days a week, over a
period of three weeks or more. Various researchers and experts have attributed
this infantile affliction, which usually starts about the second week of life
and abates some time around the fourth month, to everything ranging from
gastrointestinal distress to an immature nervous system to excess serotonin
levels in the brain.
Down in the trenches, I as a parent saw colic as a trial that
could bring even a childrearing veteran to her knees and leave her weeping with
exhaustion, frustration, and guilt. But in those bleak moments I discovered
that besides the various remedies you can employ to soothe your baby, there are many
techniques available to help your family weather the colic as well.
Focusing on the family
It is this last perspective on colic -- the toll it takes on an
infant's parents, and siblings to a lesser extent -- that is a major focus of
Barry Lester, PhD, and his staff at the Colic Clinic of the Women &
Infants' Hospital in Providence, R.I.
"We view colic as psychosocial issue that involves everyone
in the home, not just something that is happening to the child. That is why,
when a mother (and it is the mother in most cases) comes in with a screaming
baby, we consider her a patient, as well," says Lester, who is also a
professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Brown University School of
Lester is quick to point out that his approach in no way
targets the mother as a cause of colic. That old-school attitude "does no
good and in fact, makes matters worse," he says. Instead, Lester sees the
situation more as a vicious cycle -- a crying, irritable child can make a
mother miserable (45% of the clinic's mothers are diagnosed as depressed, more
than double the normal average), can compromise a marriage, and can even cause
siblings to develop problems, such as bedwetting.
Of course, the Colic Clinic does devote significant attention
to the infants themselves. All who come in are thoroughly examined and screened
for possible causes of their irritability, such as heartburn, sleep problems,
or food sensitivities. Parents are also given comprehensive guidance regarding
how they might try to soothe their child.
Still, a great deal of the clinicians' time is spent teaching
coping strategies to the parents. For, as Lester points out, "if we don't
intervene, colic can affect the parent-child relationship long after the crying
Here are some of the Colic Clinic's suggestions for