There's nothing more stressful than a baby who cries incessantly. These groundbreaking new treatments just may restore some calm.
My son, he was a crier. He howled in the middle of the night. He wailed during the witching hour. In fact, he started screaming as soon as his eyes popped open. "How can he be pissed already?" I'd wonder. The baby was exhausted. My husband was exhausted. I was looking for a window to jump out of.
Did my son have colic -- a newborn condition loosely described as "excessive crying" that occurs at least three hours a day, three days a week, for three weeks? I didn't know. Colic isn't like an ear infection or pinkeye. You can't just go to the doctor, get a diagnosis, fill a prescription, and move on. Colic is more complicated. Indeed, Barry Lester, Ph.D., who runs the highly respected Colic Clinic at Brown University, in Providence, disputes the colic "rule of threes," preferring instead to call it a "behavior disorder" that interferes with the rest of a baby's life (not to mention his parents'). "We know it's developmentally normal for babies to experience an increase in crying over the first four to six weeks, but colic is about crying way too much and figuring out what might be causing it," says Lester. Adding to the confusion are dozens of products billed as colic remedies: swings (relied on them), vibration (tried it), gripe water (contemplated it), and the list goes on. Many work briefly, and then the baby goes right back to crying. Blessedly, most babies outgrow colic by 3 or 4 months of age, but you may not have to wait that long. Parenting investigates the latest breakthroughs.
Name any formula and you'll find a baby whose colic has been alleviated because of it -- or at least it would seem. "About one fourth to one third of mothers change formulas within the baby's first six to eight weeks," says Carol Lynn Berseth, M.D., director of medical affairs at the formula manufacturer Mead Johnson Nutrition. "Many moms want to make a change, any change, to see if it will work." Pediatricians generally recommend starting out with a traditional cow's-milk formula, such as Enfamil and Similac, which contain a blend of whey and casein proteins. While the majority of infants do fine on these, colicky babies sometimes benefit from a different variety. Options include formulas that have only whey protein, such as Gerber Good Start Gentle Plus; soy protein, such as Enfamil ProSobee Lipil; or a low-lactose variety like Up & Up Lactose Sensitive. Usually there's no harm in trying a new formula -- just don't switch willy-nilly without talking to your pediatrician, Dr. Berseth notes.
Why they may work for you: A study published last year in the journal Clinical Pediatrics found that fussiness and crying were greatly quelled when the babies were switched to a soy-based or a low-lactose formula. Other studies show that 5 to 15 percent of babies may have a cow's-milk allergy, so for those who have related symptoms like mucus or streaks of blood in their stool, or a scaly rash, a trial of hypoallergenic formula such as Nutramigen or Alimentum is worth attempting, says Robert Baker, Jr., M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist at Women & Children's Hospital of Buffalo, in New York.
These beneficial bacteria are supposed to help, uh, keep things moving and the immune system functioning well. Gas and constipation are thought to contribute to colic. So it stands to reason that scientists have begun lacinginfant formulas and baby food with the stuff. And an Italian study seems to support the benefits: After a week of being given drops of Lactobacillus reuteri Protectis (a particular probiotic strain), colicky babies' crying time was reduced by 74 percent, compared to a 38 percent dip in the control group.
Why they may work for you: "Probiotics can decrease gas and increase bowel-movement patterns. Clearly, establishing healthy flora early in life and maintaining it is important to one's health," says Leo A. Heitlinger, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist in Bethlehem, PA. Ask your pediatrician about trying either probiotic infant drops (like BioGaia Probiotic drops) or a formula with probiotics, such as Nutramigen with Enflora or Gerber Good Start Protect Plus.
Breastfeeding? Nursing moms are still eating for two, so those with colicky infants are often advised to eliminate potential offenders from their own diets, including dairy, soy, eggs, nuts, and shellfish. If your baby has a true allergy to one of these foods, she'll likely also have loose stools and vomiting. However, you don't need to be allergic to have a food or an herb disagree with you. For instance, fenugreek, an herb found in tea often used by nursing moms to up their milk supply, can upset the baby's system and cause pain and crying, says Rochester, NY, pediatrician Ruth Lawrence, M.D.
Why they may work for you: "If you didn't have foods like garlic, onions, peppers, cabbage, or broccoli while pregnant, and then began eating them again while breastfeeding, they may make the baby uncomfortable," says Dr. Lawrence. Eliminate the possible culprit from your diet for a week or so to see if it helps. "It won't hurt to limit caffeine, too," she adds, because it can make some babies jittery and fussy.
My dad sees a chiropractor. Some of my runner friends do, too. But babies? And for crying? It's true. "Today about twenty percent of my pediatric patients come in because of colic or digestive issues," says Elise G. Hewitt, a board-certified pediatric chiropractor in Portland, OR. Baby chiro care is not as scary as it may sound. The adjustments involve short, quick impulses delivered to the spine with the hands, as well as using very light touch on the bones of the skull. It's quite comfortable for the child and can be done while he lies on a parent's lap or chest. "Babies often fall asleep during treatment," notes Hewitt.
Why it may work for you: Soon-to-be-published research found that parents were eight times as likely to report a significant reduction in crying when the baby was treated with chiropractic care three or four times over a ten-day period than if the baby wasn't, says lead researcher Joyce Miller, associate professor in clinical sciences at the Anglo-European College of Chiropractic, in Bournemouth, England. The theory behind it : The practice helps alleviate tightness and joint issues that were caused by a cramped position in utero or during birth. To find a chiropractor experienced with infants, talk to your pediatrician or go to the website of the American Chiropractic Association Pediatrics Council: Acapedscouncil.org.
Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) occurs when the contents of the belly -- and the burning acid that goes with it -- come back up into the esophagus. It may or may not meet the definition of colic, but it sure can cause the same symptoms (read: crying, crying, and more crying). "Essentially, it's colic if the inconsolable crying is causing a disruption in the family. If you think it's a dysfunction, it is," says Lester.
Why they may work for you: Almost all babies spit up to some extent, but those with true GER feel pain associated with it. Many pediatricians will prescribe a trial of an acid blocker or antacid, such as Zantac or Prilosec. These medications are generally safe for little ones but can cause side effects like constipation or vomiting. Before trying one of them, Dr. Baker suggests smaller, more frequent feeding; lots of burping; keeping the baby upright for at least 15 minutes following a feeding; and elevating the head of the crib.
While chiropractic care treats specific joint issues and needs to be done by a professional, baby massage is something you can do at home and is more about learning to feel comfortable with your baby and understand her cues. "Over the past two years, there's been a dramatic increase in interest in infant massage to improve bonding and treat fussy or colicky infants," says Betsy L. O'Hara, occupational therapist and certified infant massage instructor in the neonatal intensive care unit at Cook Children's Medical Center, in Fort Worth, TX.
Why it may work for you: In one study, 28 percent of parents who practiced infant massage said they felt they understood their baby's needs better, which, in turn, seemed to help curb the crying. Another 2009 review of studies echoed these findings. "The baby can relax enough to focus on feeding, sleeping, and growing instead of crying," notes O'Hara. Find a local massage instructor at Lovingtouch.com.
I spent six weeks going to birthing classes and a grand total of zero minutes attending any "so-yeah-you-have-a-baby-now-what?" classes. And that's part of the colic problem, says Shawn Patrick, Ed.D., assistant professor in the professional counseling program at Texas State University in San Marcos. In a recent paper she coauthored, published in the journal Families, Systems & Health, it's noted that early-parenthood education -- including learning baby-soothing methods -- can significantly ease infant irritability and the stress of parent-kiddo relationships. Post-counseling, moms perceived their infants as less difficult.
Why it may work for you: If parents recognize colic and have some background understanding of it, that can reduce some of the stress of the situation. "With help, parents can learn strategies for coping. When they are less stressed and more confident, babies can sense that," notes Patrick. Then they can feel better, too.