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When Baby Won’t Stop Crying

Faigy Schonfeld

You look at your howling infant; it’s been hours, exhaustion engulfs you, and you wonder: Is this normal? If baby’s incessant wails make you want to weep, it may not just be colic

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

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THE FOURTH TRIMESTER Harvey Karp, MD, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, urges parents to recognize the need for a “fourth trimester,” in which newborns gradually become accustomed to the world

I t’s 3 a.m., your eyes feel like they’re glued shut, yet your baby is still screaming. But not to worry, the wise ones say, it’s just colic. It’ll pass. Just wait, you’ll even miss this one day!

You look at your howling infant; it’s been hours, your ears are throbbing, exhaustion engulfs you. You want to crumple and cry and you wonder: Is this normal?

No, it isn’t, according to Rochel Istrin, R.N., former senior nurse in the newborn nursery at the Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center in Bnei Brak. Although colic generally sets in a few weeks after birth, when the babies have already left the hospital, Rochel has had extensive experience with newborns and infants. “If a baby is crying relentlessly and will not be soothed even for a short time, it is not for nothing,” Rochel says.

Though some babies tend to be fussier than others, Rochel has yet to see a newborn who doesn’t respond to her soothing techniques. “The best way to soothe, hands down, is swaddling,” she shares. “It comforts every baby instantly; you have to see it to believe it. The same baby who was screaming, eyes tightly shut and obviously in misery, suddenly relaxes and opens its eyes wide to see the world.”

She also recommends holding the infant gently under its arms, head supported in the back by your fingertips, so the baby is “hanging” loosely in air while you slowly raise and lower him a few inches in a repetitive motion.

If these methods fail to work, Rochel believes real distress is behind the tears. It’s imperative that excessive crying or fussiness not be dismissed with a blithe “it’s colic” before the baby’s eating and crying patterns are carefully analyzed to rule out underlying issues. “Often, there’s something minor going on. Sadly, however, relentless screaming is the first tip-off for such conditions like blocked intestines, an incomplete esophagus, or some kind of systemic infection.” A baby who’s been fed and changed and refuses to be soothed should be examined and kept under medical observation for at least 24 hours.

“If there’s one thing I’d like to tell mothers, it’s to trust their own judgment. People told me it’s colic, it’ll pass, that I’m just not used to this because my first baby was an angel. One doctor even claimed that Benny wasn’t well hydrated. But I knew there was something more going on”

“A strong indicator that there’s something behind the colic is a change in the baby’s behavior,” says Dr. Robert Adler of Segulah Pediatrics in Brooklyn, New York. “For instance, if an infant goes from regular spitting up to projectile vomiting, that’s an irregularity that can indicate a surgical emergency.”

If your baby is a screamer, people are probably spouting all types of advice, such as, “You’re spoiling the baby by holding her all day” (wrong: infants cannot be spoiled; if anything, your attention to her needs promotes future happiness and confidence) or “Give him rice cereal and he’ll be happy!” (wrong again: rice cereal has not been shown to be helpful). But don’t forget that Mom knows Baby best, and if your instincts tell you something more is going on, chances are there is.

Numerous health conditions masquerade as colic. Here are some of the culprits.

Acid Reflux (GERD)

Nechama’s son Benny spent the first three months of his life screaming most of the day. Although he ate and gained weight nicely, he was miserable.

“We tried everything — colic drops, gas drops, natural remedies, different formulas, you name it,” Nechama recalls. “Still, Benny kept crying. It took two doctors and nearly three months until he was diagnosed with silent reflux, in which the stomach sends contents back up into the esophagus, causing pain without vomit.”

Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) is a condition in which stomach acid is regurgitated into the esophagus, resulting in heartburn-like pain. The most common symptoms of acid reflux are frequent or excessive vomiting, reswallowing, stomach pain, recurrent hiccups, gagging or choking while eating, bad or sour smelling breath, and fussiness after a feeding. Infants who suffer from GERD often draw their knees up to their chests.

At fault is usually an immature digestive system, which is why acid reflux is so prevalent in preemies. This condition, mostly outgrown by the first birthday, persists in less than five percent of toddlers. Simple adjustments, such as holding Baby upright for 30 minutes after feeding, or elevating the head of the crib safely, feeding less at a time and more often, and burping frequently to relieve gastric pressure, may make a difference. If age-appropriate and recommended by your doctor, thickening formula with cereal or switching to solids can help as well.

But if reflux is persistent, painful, and unresponsive to the above measures, many doctors will prescribe meds such as Zantac. Medications to treat reflux are some of the most widely used drugs in children under the age of one. In extreme cases, surgery may be required.

A new study suggests doctors are quick to diagnose infants with acid reflux, which prompts anxious parents to insist on meds. It’s important to note that medication is not always necessary, nor effective, so don’t rush to the pharmacy before trying other options first.

“If there’s one thing I’d like to tell mothers, it’s to trust their own judgment,” Nechama says emphatically. “People told me it’s colic, it’ll pass, that I’m just not used to this because my first baby was an angel. One doctor even claimed that Benny wasn’t well hydrated. But I knew there was something more going on.” She smiles. “Intuition is real — it’s a gift that comes with mommyhood. Use it!”

Food Sensitivities

Although Mindy’s baby Shani seemed happy enough, she continued to spit up twice after each feeding, so Mindy mentioned it to the pediatrician. Since the baby didn’t appear to be in pain, the doctor wasn’t overly concerned, assuming that it was merely an underdeveloped digestive system at play.

“I didn’t think it was normal,” Mindy recalls. “And then, when she was seven months old, Shani suddenly started getting eczema all over her body. It was terrible; she was so itchy, she couldn’t sleep.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 546)

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