When you brought your new baby home from the hospital, he seemed so quiet, so sweet, so well behaved. Suddenly, about two weeks after your child’s arrival, Mommy’s angel turned into a crying, squalling, red-faced little devil. At time the child may have appeared to be in pain. He drew his legs up to his belly and appeared to pass gas more frequently. Perhaps you took your child to the pediatrician for a diagnosis, or maybe you were able to recognize the symptoms yourself-the demon of colic had invaded your once-peaceful home. By now, you’ve probably reached the end of. your rope. You feel frustrated and tired. You may have started to doubt your ability to parent your child properly. You may have even considered packing up your bags and leaving home.

The first step to take is to relax in the knowledge that your feelings are perfectly normal. Parents are often conditioned to believe that if their child is crying, something is wrong-something that they should be able to fix. Fortunately, you can take solace in the fact that your child is probably otherwise healthy. Colic does not indicate the presence of a serious medical problem. And a certain amount of crying is normal and healthy, says William B. Carey, M.D., a clinical professor 0 pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and director of Behavioral Pediatrics in the Division of General Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital, both in Philadelphia. Still, to set your mind at ease, it may be helpful to take your child to the pediatrician to ensure that his or her crying is not a sign of a medical problem, says Carey. It can also be reassuring to keep in mind that most cases of colic go away by the time the child has reached three months of age.

The bad news is that doctors still don’t know what causes colic, what the disorder really is, or how to cure it. They don’t even know if colicky babies really are in pain. However, there are some tried-and-true ways of helping to soothe your baby, even if you can’t curb his or her crying completely. These are included in the tips that follow. Another important component to the well­ being of your colicky baby and to you is your sanity. So some of the tips below are designed to help you cope.

Set the baby in motion. As most parents can attest, mild repetitious motion, such as that of a moving car or a rocking chair, can calm a cranky baby. With a colicky child, that knowledge is doubly important, according to Cheston M.Berlin, Jr., M.D., a professor of pediatrics and of pharmacology at Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine’s Milton S.Hershey Medical Center in Hershey. “Motion is the best thing for children who are having so much trouble,” he says. If taking the child out in the car is too inconvenient, he recommends putting the child in a safety seat and placing it atop a running dryer (don’t leave the baby unattended).

There are also devices on the market that will rock or vibrate the baby’s crib, Berlin says. Some of these devices even have sound sensors that will start the motion only when the baby starts crying and will stop after it senses that the baby has calmed down or gone to sleep. One device even simulates the motion of a car moving at 55 miles per hour. Some physicians find it effective, while others feel that it makes little difference.

Let the baby sleep. Many parenting books and pediatricians would have you believe that you should pick the baby up every time he or she cries, says Carey. However, babies often cry because they are tired. If this is the case, picking up the child only stimulates him or her further. “I think some of the time you should be leaving the baby alone,” Carey says. “If you pick up a tired baby, he’ll cry more. ”

To assess whether your child is crying because of fatigue, try everything else first: feeding, burping, changing, cuddling. Then, if the baby is still crying, put him or her down to sleep, and walk away. Often, the child will settle down within five minutes, Carey says.

Stay calm. “It is important to emphasize that colic is a benign disorder,” Berlin says. “It has never been known to cause or represent any serious medical problem.” With that knowledge in mind, understand that this is just a stage in your child’s development-an unpleasant stage that will soon pass.

Take your baby off cow’s milk. Some studies have shown an improvement in colic after dairy products have been removed from babies’ diets, according to Ronald G. Barr, M.D.C.M., an associate professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at McGill University and director of the Child Development Program at Montreal Children’s Hospital, both in Montreal. The culprit seems to be a protein in cow’s milk, which is present in many infant formulas and is also found in the milk of breast-feeding mothers who eat dairy products, Barr says. The protein may be responsible for colic in about five to ten percent of babies who suffer from the condition. Changing the baby’s formula (there are many soy-based formulas available) or staying off dairy products yourself if you are breast-feeding, is worth a try. If your baby’s crying does not seem to improve after two weeks, you can assume that the milk was not the problem.

Try peppermint water. Although it has never been definitively proven to be effective, peppermint­ flavored water is a century-old remedy for colic, according to Berlin. “It was very recently discovered that the active ingredient in peppermint oil is a calcium-channel blocker, a substance that may relax the gut,” he says. He recommends soaking a piece of a peppermint stick in water, then feeding a bottleful of the flavored water to the baby. Do not use straight peppermint oil, he says, as this may be too strong for the baby.

Add fiber to your baby’s formula. Some studies have shown that colic seemed to improve in certain infants when fiber was added to their formula, according to William R. Treem, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist in the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. “Some babies seemed to be dramatically better when we added fiber to their! formula,” he said. “We used Citrucel, a bulking I agent that draws water into the stool. We have added anywhere from one-half teaspoon three I times a day to one-half teaspoon six times a day, think it’s best to start small and build up to the higher doses.” Although not the answer for every baby, adding fiber is certainly safe and is definitely worth a try, Treem says.

Take a shower. If your baby’s crying has driven you to the point of near madness, it’s time to stop and take a break, Berlin says, since an overly frustrated parent can be of no help to anyone. “I recommend 20 to 30 minutes in a warm shower,” he says, adding that the sound of the water can successful mask the baby’s crying. (Be sure the baby is in a safe place, such as a crib).

Keep a calendar. A record of your baby’s weight ,and the frequency and length of crying bouts may be of help in tracking his or her progress, Barr j says. It can also be a handy record to take to the pediatrician’s office, he says. A useful bonus of the charting is that it reminds you that your baby doll cry a lot, but that there are breaks in between, “Parents tend to feel like the baby just cries all the time,” Barr says.

Be realistic. “The babies that you see in magazine~! and books-the babies who are neat, clean, and happy-well, you can expect your baby to be like that for about 30 minutes out of every 24 hours,” says Edward R. Christophersen, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Medicine and chief of the Behavioral Pediatrics Section at Children’s Mercy Hospital, Kansas City, Missouri. “Keep in mind that the only exercise babies get is crying and nursing.” In other words, don’t be discouraged. Your baby is not abnormal just because he or she cries a lot.

Soothe, don’t stimulate. Since crying, colicky babies are already overly stimulated, try soothing the baby instead of bouncing or rocking him or her, says Carey. Some time-honored tools: a hot-water bottle, filled with warm-not hot-water and placed on a towel on the child’s back or stomach, a pacifier, or the use of repetitious sounds, such as the noise of a fan or humidifier.

Maintain as much direct contact as possible. Pediatricians often recommend carrying and cuddling a colicky baby as much as possible. However, studies have failed to show that carrying actually causes a reduction in crying. On the other hand, carrying the baby more frequently before colic ever sets in may prevent the condition from developing in the first place, says Barr. He mentions a study where the caretakers of 99 normal infants increased their carrying of the infants by the age of three weeks. The result? The babies cried 43 percent less than other babies of the same age. “The carrying prevented the crying peak from ever occurring in those infants,” Barr says. He also describes studies of a tribe of Botswanian hunter-gatherers, the Kung San, whose infants cry as often as North American babies, but only for about half as long. Mothers in the tribe spend significantly more time with their babies held close to their bodies than North Americans do, he says.

Feed more often. One reason that the Kung San spend so much time holding their babies is that they feed them almost continuously, Barr says. “They feed very frequently-approximately four times per hour, four minutes per feed,” he says. This type of feeding schedule may be partly responsible for the reduced crying of the Kung San infants, according to Barr. “Parents do have the option to feed more frequently,” he says. “I think there is lots of room for changing the frequency of feeding that is within the range of what is normal.” Even if continuous feeding does not fit into your schedule, adding a few extra feedings still may help, Barr says.

Put your baby on a schedule. Some children cry excessively because they simply don’t know how to calm themselves down enough to go to sleep, says Christophersen. Since babies under the age of 12 weeks often fall asleep while being fed, it is sometimes difficult for them to fall asleep without feeding, he says. He suggests starting your baby on a regular schedule of sleeping and waking and trying to get him or her to fall asleep without your assistance. “Kiss them, hug them, sing them songs, then let them fall asleep on their own,” he says. “This way, they learn to make their own transition from the alert, crying state to the sleeping state.”

Touch base with your pediatrician. Your pedia­trician can be an invaluable source of ideas, experience, and reassurance, says Christophersen. “Parents can get very discouraged with a colicky child,” he says. He recommends taking advantage of all support systems that are available to you.

Wait it out. If all else fails, take solace in the fact that colic generally stops by three months of age, Berlin says. The longest you’ll have to wait is until the baby reaches six months, although colic this long-lasting is rare. Unfortunately, “there’s no dramatic cure,” he says.

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