A diary is helpful for two reasons: You may uncover clues that help your baby’s doctor diagnose a hidden medical cause of colic, and you may be surprised by the correlations you find. As one mother noticed, “On days that I wear my baby in a sling most of the time, he fusses less.” Specifically, you want to record:
- What seems to trigger the outbursts of crying? What turns them off?
- Do they occur at roughly the same time each day? Does baby awaken in pain at night? How long do these bouts last? How frequently do they occur?
- Are the crying jags getting better, worse, or staying about the same?
- Does there seem to be a consistent relationship between the method of feeding—type of formula, type of bottle, type of nipple—duration, or position of feeding? What changes in feeding techniques or formulas have you tried? Does your baby spit up after feeding? How often? How soon after feeding, and with how much force? If you’re breastfeeding, do you notice any correlation between what you eat and how much your baby fusses?
- Is your baby bloated, does he seem to gulp a lot of air or pass a lot of gas?
- Record your baby’s bowel movements: how frequent are they? Are they easy to pass – soft? hard? Do you notice any changes in the frequency or characteristics of the stools in response to a change in feeding?
- What changes or techniques have you tried in an effort to soothe your baby? What seems to work? What doesn’t?
Don’t settle for a five-minute squeeze-in appointment. To thoroughly evaluate a hurting baby and the effects on his exhausted parents, a doctor needs time. Request an extended office visit, preferably when the doctor usually schedules consultations. Prior to your visit, it’s a good idea to send the doctor a letter describing your baby’s crying episodes. If possible, both mother and father should attend the appointment. While some mothers tend to downplay the magnitude of the problem, dads usually tell it like it is. I didn’t fully appreciate the toll a colicky baby was taking on his family until his father volunteered, “I had a vasectomy last week. We’ll never go through this again!”
Make a distress tape. To help your doctor appreciate how devastating these bouts of colic are, videotape one of your baby’s crying jags and ask her to view it, preferably before your appointment. I’ve found that watching such a tape helps me appreciate whether baby is just crying or is really hurting. And the type of cry often gives a clue to the root of the problem. Besides being helpful to the doctor, these tapes are therapeutic for parents, who at last have solid evidence of the torture they’re subjected to each evening. Frazzled parents of a fussy baby recorded one of their baby’s crying jags and mailed it to me before their scheduled appointment. When I viewed the tape, I realized how much pain this baby was in and how frustrated his parents were by not knowing how to help him. Don’t hold back about how much your baby’s crying bothers you. As one exhausted mother told her doctor, “I’m not leaving this office until you find out why my baby’s crying.”
If your gut feeling tells you that your baby hurts somewhere, don’t give up searching for the cause and experimenting with various comforting remedies, as this intuitive and persistent mother in our practice did:
“Amelia is our first child. Although she cried a lot after birth, we chalked it up to novice parenting and thought nothing of it. But life began to unravel and derail when she was two-weeks-old. Amelia’s cries took on a distressing tone that we were unable to define. Her crying intensified hours on end and nothing I tried calmed her. Her cry was shrieking, howling, and obviously pain cries. We began to suspect that there must be some sort of internal problem.
Amelia was sleeping less than four hours a night on my chest. My nights were spent rocking and nursing, while my husband laid next to me on the floor for emotional support. It was simply overwhelming and frustrating. She would eat very little at a time, only to cry moments later for more. Her actions fit the colic checklist perfectly: drawn up knees, inch worming on our chests, inconsolable wails up to twelve hours a day. Our pediatrician insisted “all babies cry.” Unhappy with that answer, we switched pediatricians.
The new doctor suggested that I quit nursing and that it was perhaps my milk. Yet, when the crying resumed with force, we plodded on searching. Our marriage, family life, and emotional well-being began to suffer.
I began to do research on my own. Combing the library I read every childcare book available. That is when I came across Dr. Sears’ books: THE BABY BOOK and PARENTING THE FUSSY BABY AND HIGH NEED CHILD. My husband read aloud the GER (gastroesophageal reflux) symptoms, and we began to feel that we had an answer. I called Dr. Sears and made an appointment. Amelia was in rare form that day and cried the entire visit. Dr. Sears determined that she did have GER and prescribed two medications that have greatly reduced her crying and discomfort.
Amelia is now 6½-months-old. I am beginning to understand why my friends have so enjoyed motherhood. My memories of those first three months are a blur of tears. We were in over our heads and it felt as though the water was rising. If I were to offer encouragement to fellow parents, it would be to trust your instincts. You are your child’s only advocate and voice.