Monday, July 6, 2009

The "C" Word

Colic. What a horrible word. It is a curse, a sentence of doom, to both child and parents. And a cop-out, in my opinion. Colic is the label applied to long bouts of unexplained crying. When your child is not hungry or wet, cold or hot, when you cannot find any way to soothe the babe's cries and yet still she cries. When this happens not once or twice but regularly, the doctors and grandmothers will all label your baby as 'colicky.'

I once had a car whose 'check engine' light went on one night and never went off. I took it to the mechanic more than once to discover the reason behind this light going on and was told repeatedly that they could not find anything wrong with the car. According to the mechanics there was 'no reason for the light to go on,' a declaration that annoyed me to no end. There might not have been anything mechanically wrong with my car but there was most definitely a reason for the light to go on - perhaps a short in the wire, a loose sensor, etc. There had to be a 'reason' for the light to go on as it did not magically go on by itself.

This is how I feel about colic. When a baby cries incessantly there is a reason for it. The baby is obviously uncomfortable. The cause of this discomfort may not be easily ascertained but it exists nonetheless. When it gets labeled as colic to me that is an indication of giving up on the investigation. Babies are unable to articulate their feelings, they do not yet have words to describe their emotions and states-of-being. All they have to communicate is their wordless voice. So they cry. Regardless of the cause, an uncomfortable baby will cry. In their first weeks this crying can be largely the same. Sam screamed if she was hungry, wet, cold, hot, gassy, etc. She had two states of being - comfortable and uncomfortable. The former was indicated by silence, the latter by crying.

As she has matured she has expanded her repertoire of emotions to include happy, bored, hungry, lonely, and several levels of discomfort relating to either tummy or diaper issues. When she was six weeks old we were at the doctor for her one-month check up (I failed to make the appointment in a timely manner) and we hadn't yet worked out all of her tummy issues. By that time I had discovered if I consumed gassy foods or dairy Sam would get gas, but there was still something I was missing. We still went through hours of crying at night and couldn't figure out what the problem was. I brought this up to the pediatrician and was told she was probably colicky. Excuse me? That was it? Colicky? This did not sit well with me.

The next week Sam and I were at the Midwives' office for my six-week post-partum check-up. The midwife asked me how we were doing and I described the issues we were still dealing with. She asked about the foods I was eating and I described last night's dinner -- spaghetti, with fresh cherries for dessert. Both foods are highly acidic, and Sam had been miserable. I started reviewing past nights and realized that I regularly ate acidic food. So I cut it all out. Now I am off gassy foods, dairy, acidic foods, and raw fruits and veggies (all being either gassy and/or acidic). The difference is remarkable. Sam is a new baby, happy and comfortable. We no longer suffer through hours of crying a night, every night. I am no longer crying every night, wondering what I am doing wrong and why my baby is so miserable. Eating is now challenging, to be sure, but it is worth it. I occasionally make a bad dietary choice, such as the night we had popcorn, but these nights are rare and the problematic foods are easily identified.

Had I accepted the doctor's - and my neighbor's - diagnosis of colic I would have resigned myself to my fate and given up looking for the cause. But I didn't. I knew there had to be some catalyst to Sam's crying and would not give up looking until I found it.

It wasn't a solitary journey by any means. We had input from friends, family and the midwife, all listening to our problems and giving suggestions. My husband was instrumental in discovering the source of the problem - gas versus acid reflux. My solution to Sam's crying was always to offer a breast to nurse her. It often worked, providing her with comfort even if she wasn't actually hungry. Without this magic tool J had to rely on his skills - observation and analysis. He could tell by her behavior if Sam had gas or some other problem, and then discovered what position brought her comfort when she was gassy. Together we solved the mystery to our baby's 'colic.'

Food isn't the answer to every baby's colic although it is probably a frequent factor. A newborn's digestive system takes several months to mature and become fully functional so a nursing mom's diet choices can have great affect on her baby. However, sometimes the answer isn't that simple. There could be a medical reason behind a baby's constant crying, a problem that could be missed if the parents accept the colic label and stop searching for the real cause. Telling parents that their child is colicky and the problem should work itself out by four months of age is a terrible answer to the colic problem. This response robs both the child and parents of months of potential happiness.

We used to spend our evenings pounding on Sam's back to relieve her gas or walking her around the house while she cried and cried and cried. Now our evenings are spent playing, as Sam is learning to reach and grab at objects. The music of our nights are coos and giggles instead of cries and sobs. Sam is a different baby now, a happy baby, and my limited diet is a small price to pay for this happiness.

I can't imagine coping with a colicky baby for months on end. I couldn't deal with it for a few weeks, and my desperation is what fueled my investigation. We were lucky to find the answer in food, for had we not I am not sure what our next step would have been. I do know there would have been further steps, though, for colic was not a diagnosis I was willing to accept. It is a non-diagnosis at best. Crying takes a great deal of effort and I refuse to believe that any baby will cry for no reason. There is always a reason. It may be physical pain or it may just be loneliness, but there is always a reason. There just has to be.

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