rosefox: Batman is holding a baby while a woman says "Don't you have ANY idea how to hold a baby?" (baby-anxious)
Rose Fox ([personal profile] rosefox) wrote2016-02-05 02:35 am

"The screaming meemies"

When you have a baby (or are about to have a baby and are reading up on babies), you start to see the word "colic" everywhere. It's rarely defined but always made out as something dreadful, or at least extremely unpleasant--and worse, it's portrayed as incurable and inescapable. Some babies are just "colicky" and nothing can be done about it.

This turns out to be not at all true. As far as I can tell from doing a whole lot of reading on the topic, there seem to be two kinds of colic: indigestion, and emotional meltdowns. Kit's had both, and we were able to identify them pretty quickly and treat them pretty straightforwardly. Kit is a very easy-going and good-natured kid, so that may be a factor, but hopefully this info will still be useful for other parents whose babies are not quite so chill.

1) Indigestion. "Our baby screams a lot and arches in pain when fed breast milk or standard formula," we said. "Well, some babies are colicky after feeding," our pediatrician said. Aha!, we thought. "Colicky" means "is upset about digestion pain". And indeed, when we stopped feeding Kit breast milk and regular formula and started using a super-digestible formula (from Honest Co., and we recommend it very highly--Kit spits it up even less than the supposedly ultra-gentle Similac Alimentum, and it's half the price), and made sure not to feed Kit more than their tiny stomach could hold, the colic went away. Kit still fusses a bit about 10 minutes after eating, and then farts a couple of times and settles right down. If we give a teaspoon or two of Colic-Ease every day, there's no fussing at all.

The pediatrician pointed out that since Kit wasn't vomiting up the meals, we could keep feeding breast milk (and the immunity benefits thereof) as long as we had a high tolerance for the screaming, until Kit got to be about three months old and the stomach developed enough to be able to digest the milk more easily. He did this in a very neutral way, which I appreciated--matter-of-fact, not pushing us one direction or the other. X and I stared at him with identical expressions of horror. It's not the screaming itself, but the idea of causing our child preventable pain, several times a day, for months. We considered dosing Kit with antacids, but our pediatrician shares our hesitation to put a very young baby on daily medication when there are non-medical options to pursue. So we switched to formula with some wistfulness but no regrets. That said, even if you're very dedicated to exclusively breastfeeding, there are ways of treating indigestion-type colic, and anyone (especially anyone not your doctor) who tells you that it's full-stop untreatable is probably wrong--any given attack of indigestion colic may just have to run its course, but a lot of those attacks can be prevented. Kit's always been an expert belcher and farter, so gas build-up isn't an issue, but if it were we could use simethicone drops and the Windi. Some babies have allergies to things the breastfeeding parent is eating, and a change in diet can help. There are lots of things to try.

2) Emotional meltdowns. T. Berry Brazelton defines this type of colic very clearly in his Touchpoints: Birth to Three, which is an excellent book that I think all new parents should keep on hand. Brazelton identifies it as coming from overstimulation during the day, which is why it reliably occurs in the evening. Since it doesn't have a physical cause, physical treatments (feeding, changing, gas drops, etc.) don't work, and soothing techniques like swaddling and pacifiers are of limited use. [ profile] other_alice pointed me to a site about "the PURPLE crying period", which looks like much the same thing.

Brazelton advises making sure there are no physical problems to address and then leaving the baby alone in the crib to scream out their feelings, self-soothe, decompress, and sleep without further stimulation; in his experience, this can reduce the average duration of a colic attack by half. The "PURPLE crying period" site mentions a study in which babies cried less if their parents carried them around more often, as part of everyday life, rather than only picking them up when they were crying. So as with many things, the appropriate approach depends on you and your baby and your parenting style.

On Tuesday night, Kit had an emotional meltdown colic attack. It was pretty awful. But I realized that it reminded me of panic attacks, and then I knew what to do, because I have had many panic attacks and gotten pretty good at dealing with them. I held Kit gently and warmly, turned the lights down (installing dimmable LED bulbs and a dimmer switch in the baby's room is one of the best decisions I've ever made), rocked slowly in the rocking chair, and murmured quiet soothing things in a voice full of sympathy. I didn't try to offer a pacifier or stop Kit from screaming or thrashing, though I did loosely confine Kit's arms to keep either of us from getting punched in the face (and because Kit seems to find that sort of swaddling-by-hand very soothing, despite not liking actual swaddles). After a few minutes, the screaming and thrashing stopped and the baby fell asleep. Maybe ten minutes later, the cycle repeated once. And... that was that. All better. Pretty much the same thing happened when X was watching Kit Wednesday night while J and I were on our date night, and X did similar things and they were similarly effective. The key was that we both understood what it was like to feel overwhelmed and need to flail and yell, so we could stay calm and supportive while Kit vented. And we both know that while panic attacks feel like they're going to last forever, they do eventually end, and then everything is okay for at least a little while; so we could hold on to that knowledge instead of falling into our own panic and ending up trapped with the baby in a feedback loop of distress.

Apparently some colic attacks can last for hours. We're very lucky not to have seen that yet. At that point I probably would put the baby in the crib just to give myself a break from being up close with the screaming for all that time. But I'm hoping that gentle soothing and sincere sympathy will be enough to help Kit escape the multi-hour misery cycle.

Obviously this is all our personal experience; I'm not prescribing anything. Do what's best for you and your child. Just remember, this too shall pass--possibly with some gas. :)
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[personal profile] gingicat 2016-02-05 11:26 am (UTC)(link)
I wish you'd been a parent who discovered this eight years ago (she says wistfully).

Breast milk digestion doesn't have to cause your child pain; it may be something X is eating. But that doesn't mean you have to go back to trying.
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[personal profile] xtina 2016-02-05 11:48 am (UTC)(link)
Kit had a similar reaction to normal-type formula, which is what led us to figure it's something about Kit, not about me. :/
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[personal profile] azurelunatic 2016-02-05 06:01 pm (UTC)(link)
It sounds like all of the adults in your family have had sufficient time with Kit to become acquainted with their emotional state and expression, and I am so very glad for you-all.

[identity profile] 2016-02-07 02:34 am (UTC)(link)
In my experience, there's a certain amount of fussiness you can't fix by changing feeding etc. -- getting used to life outside the womb involves some Stuff that you just have to hold them/rock them/walk them through. When I was taking care of young twins on my own (that is, until my husband got home in the evenings), there were times that they just both wanted to be held and walked around (when the swing, for example, wouldn't do -- or maybe this was before we got the swing, can't remember), and I flat-out couldn't do that with both at the same time. I now think what I really should have done was hire a kid (quite a young kid would have been fine, twelve or so) to come and help me hold babies in the late afternoon/early evening. But the general chaos of life-with-two-small-babies made arranging for something like that very difficult. I think in the end the worst thing for the baby is being blamed for normal emotions -- having slightly-less-than-optimal amounts of being held and so on isn't nearly as damaging as the parents acting as if it were your fault, or refusing to hold you when they could. (We subsequently moved in with extended family -- paying rent -- and lived off savings for a bit so we could both be home -- the state we lived in had a health insurance plan that made this possible for a while.)

I tend personally to think of "colic" as being the unexplainable thing one can't fix -- if it's diet or some such, that's a different thing -- but that may be a sort of private definition.
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[personal profile] ailbhe 2016-02-08 11:22 am (UTC)(link)
The definition in the UK means the unstopping crying that goes on for hours at a time for more than a few days which is *not* digestion or overstimulation or traceable medical issues. It's the leftover diagnosis when those are eliminated, but my personal feeling is that they're sometimes not properly eliminated because "It just can't be fixed" is accepted too quickly. I suspect a lot of it is undiagnosed reflux, for example, where there's no detectable wind or spit-up but there's up and down again acid.

But I don't much trust doctors with babies' pain.

[identity profile] 2016-02-05 01:37 pm (UTC)(link)
The problems with breast milk can sometimes be related to what was eaten by the provider. For example, my sister's middle one puked up her milk regularly and screamed like a banshee until my sister figured out it was always after a meal with garlic. She cut out the garlic, the problem went away. I've heard of more severe food/milk reactions, so that the mother ends up on a super bland diet.

Upset tummies can be relieved by gently rubbing the breastbone and downward. Or even flipping the kid over a knee so that the knee pressed that area, and gently rubbing the back. If a huge burp ensues, and the child promptly quiets down, you know that it was a gut issue!
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[identity profile] 2016-02-05 06:09 pm (UTC)(link)
Was about to say this as well. That can be a lot of very stressful trial and error, so if the formula option is working out, then great. We did a mix of formula and breastfeeding/pumping because I had to go back to work so soon, and it worked out pretty well.

[identity profile] 2016-02-05 03:36 pm (UTC)(link)
Yah, we went through that with Deb a bit. Mariel's autism thing was its own slice of hell, but there wasnt any way to predict or manage that except with patience and trading off nights (which one of our family doctors had to damned near write a scrip for so it would happen.)

Another source of night grumpies i found was during days full of wonderfulness, toddler didn't want to sleep because then the awesomeness goes away forever and ever. I thought of it as a passage in the development of Object Permanence.

[identity profile] 2016-02-05 05:06 pm (UTC)(link)
a friend who recently had a baby had digestion colic issues, really bad, and ended up cutting out dairy and cruciferous veggies, worked wonders. Still has very occasional bouts, but not the daily, hours long ones.

[identity profile] 2016-02-05 10:40 pm (UTC)(link)
"when we stopped feeding Kit breast milk and regular formula"

Reiterated for commenters.

[identity profile] 2016-02-06 06:12 am (UTC)(link)
It's good to hear that the solution was so relatively simple.

Something else to keep in mind, as far as the dietary sensitivity issues go -- they often change over time. My little Bearcub ran into colic issues when her biological mother breastfed after eating anything with cow's milk on the ingredient list, but she hasn't shown any sign of lactose intolerance since weaning. My second daughter, the Puppy, had a similiar reaction, but from a different source; I'm sure you can imagine how well it went across when we determined that chocolate was the offender.
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[personal profile] aegidian 2016-02-06 07:14 am (UTC)(link)
Impressive parenting. You're getting this all very, very right. I'm so happy for you all.

[identity profile] 2016-02-06 09:17 pm (UTC)(link)
We had to go the PPI route with our son, since he totally and completely wasn't able to gain weight those first two months. Yay, projectile vomit. But yes, totally agree about the two types of colic. Another great book is THE HAPPIEST BABY ON THE BLOCK.

(I have a sprained wrist, so apologies about the lack of comment replies from before and the brevity now. =)
Edited 2016-02-06 21:18 (UTC)