Inside a Colic Clinic

Parent As Patient, p.4

After each visit, parents like Athena Sullivan and Tiffany Munro leave the clinic not just with a sheaf of instructions, but with a sense they aren't losing their minds. That's by intention: Validation of parents' difficulties is key to effective colic treatment, says Dr. Twomey.

"Mothers think they're having too much difficulty coping," she says. "From the first meeting, I try to say colic is not typical. If you were sitting where I'm sitting, you'd be quite amazed at how well you're functioning."

Dr. Twomey and her colleagues often write up "prescriptions" instructing moms to take an hour each day away from their crying babies or go out alone with their husbands once a week. All parents who visit the clinic are asked if they ever have any thoughts about harming their babies; whether they're exhibiting any signs of depression; if they have relatives, friends, or caregivers to help with their babies; and what they're doing to care for themselves physically and emotionally.

One reason the clinic is committed to family-based treatment, says Dr. Lester, is that unaddressed colic can sometimes cause rifts within the family later on. A couple's marriage can be strained, or mothers can develop a pattern of interaction with their child that's either too distant or too close. Ramifications can continue into the toddler years and beyond, says Dr. Lester.

There's also the danger of maternal depression. In a 2006 study, researchers led by Dr. High discovered a strong correlation between women who reported symptoms of postpartum depression and those who said their babies were inconsolable. What's not yet been established, Dr. High says, is whether depressed moms somehow cause or exacerbate their babies' crying, or if all that crying causes maternal depression.

Either way, it's a dangerous double-whammy when a depressed mother is caring for a colicky infant. "For us, it's not so much about when is the baby going to stop crying, it's more about what damage has been done to the parent-child relationship and how that damage can be repaired," Dr. Lester explains.

Attention to both mother and baby was exactly what Vickie Raposo of Fall River, MA, needed last winter. Her husband, Gershon, who's in the army and assigned to Operation Iraqi Freedom, came home for 10 days after their son Roman was born in December 2005. The baby cried nearly the entire time and continued to cry after his father went back to the Middle East.

Vickie, 33, felt very alone trying to handle a new, fussy baby by herself. "People said, 'You don't have enough patience' or 'You're focusing too much on your husband's situation,'" she recalls.

At a postpartum checkup, she "just lost it." Her obstetrician referred her to the Colic Clinic, where clinicians diagnosed GER and put Roman on medicine, suggested ways to help Roman sleep without being held, and insisted she invest in her own health. "I started to go for bike rides. It was hard to leave him, but they told me I needed to find time for myself or I'd crack up," she says.

Now that Roman is a healthy toddler, Vickie feels both relieved that her child's colic is past and strengthened by her experience. "I enjoy him so much now, but I don't forget what we went through," she says. "Without the clinic, I really couldn't have done it."

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