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Colic and Parenting

Here is a nice article on colic I read recently.It is a long article, so I will summarize and give you a couple of interesting quotes.

Colic is the term we use to describe inconsolable crying in very young infants, typically in their first six months. It is a piercing cry, different than an infants normal distress cry, as the following quote illustrates.

"They found that, after feeding, the colicky infants produced cries that were higher in pitch than the other infants’—at their loudest, the cries attained frequencies of more than twenty-one hundred hertz, nearly twenty-five per cent greater than the frequency of the non-colicky babies’ cries. In an article published in the journal Child Development, Zeskind and Barr wrote that their findings “contribute to the increasing body of evidence that complaints about excessive infant crying cannot be accounted for simply on the basis of reporting bias in overly concerned or emotionally labile parents."

What causes colic? We do not know. There are many theories, but in short, no one knows. Many theories suggest that the parents, especially the mother, are doing something wrong. They are not showing the baby who is in charge or they are not responding fast enough to the infants needs. Assessing the first, there are many, including myself, who tried very strict feeding and behavioral regimes to no avail. As to the latter please read the following quote.

"Ronald Barr, the co-author of the 1997 study on infant cries, has analyzed data gathered by Harvard researchers between 1969 and 1971, during a study of the !Kung San, a tribe of hunter-gatherers in Botswana who practice a version of attachment parenting. “We found that the !Kung San carry their babies upright, have skin-to-skin contact day and night, breast-feed every 13.69 minutes for the first one to two years of life, and respond within fifteen seconds to any fret or whimper,” Barr, who now teaches at the University of British Columbia, told me. “The duration of the crying is fifty per cent less among the !Kung San compared with Western babies, but the !Kung San still have what we call colic, with episodes of inconsolable crying.”

If we do not know what causes it, do we have a way to treat colic? Nope. Your pediatrician will probably try a course of H2 blockers or some drug affecting GI motility. If it is colic, it will have no effect. Some people have found that movement or some sounds may help. In the case of my son, walking and rocking while singing often helped. Hours of walking and rocking and singing. Given my lousy singing voice, I am surprised my wife didn't opt for the crying.

Are there any long term consequences associated with colic? I do not think we know that for sure. The author cites a study of 45 infants in which 34 went on to have symptoms of sensory integration dysfunction, limited attention spans and tantrums. I would not bet the farm on a study of 45 infants. Other studies have not made definite associations with future problems, to my knowledge. On balance, I would say colic is not predictive of any specific future behaviors.

What can Dads do? Participate in caring for that crying child is the first obvious task. It is incredibly draining and Mom needs all the help she can get. Many, if not most, mothers will have a hard time accepting that there is nothing they can do. Some will assume they must be doing something wrong. It will probably be up to you to reassure her through this. It will be up to you to carry the ball in the relationship area for a while. Find someone to come in and take over for a few hours. This time can be damaging for the whole family, especially the husband/wife one, if you don't act to shore it up. Professional help may be needed, but mostly you need to support each other, knowing it will end.



  1. Cindy

    So true – very frustrating for mom – especially when one thing works beautifully one day and not the next! My son was only colicky for about a month. One time he was all sweaty from crying and I took him into a semi dark room to change him and after undressing him he was so peaceful. I thought I had found the ticket – never worked again. Dad’s support goes a long way.
    Today he’s starting his senior year of high school – no problems that I know of.

  2. steve

    Congrats! Only a month now, but I bet it seemed forever at the time.


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