Do we really need drugs for colic?

Dr. Michael Segal (SimulConsult CEO and a pediatric neurologist) passed along this post. He’s concerned about the message that pharmacological products are the way to handle colic.

The NYT describes the many products available for treating colic:

Doctors cheerfully define colic as more than three hours of “unexplained crying” three times a week in an otherwise healthy infant. It affects anywhere from 10 percent to half of all babies in the first three months, and leaves glassy-eyed parents ready to try almost anything.

Is it indigestion? Gas? Nostalgia for the womb? Nobody really knows. So in this city where 6 of 10 babies have at least one foreign-born parent and pediatricians come from every corner of the world, a cornucopia of colic cures serves as a kind of Rorschach test of child-rearing culture in migration.

Only at the end do they suggest the radical notion of holding the baby, suggested to a pediatrician by a family member:

Native or immigrant, there may be no substitute for experience, said Dr. Sandy Saintonge, a pediatrician at New York Hospital Queens, whose family is from Haiti. She has counseled patients from every continent on colic, in the process collecting an international repertory of home remedies.

Then, 18 months ago, she had her own child.

“I wasn’t prepared for the crying,” she confessed. Eventually, she called her older sister, a nurse and experienced mother, who gave her the best advice: “Just ride it through. It will not last forever.”

So the doctor put on her music headphones, held her baby close, and danced through the tears.

Have we forgotten the Harlow monkey experiments, where maternal deprivation had terrible consequences?

Harlow’s name is bonded to experiments that might be questionable today. For example, he separated a baby monkey from its mother and raised it in a cage with two substitute “mothers.” The wire “mother” had a bottle for the infant, the cloth one didn’t. Tellingly, as soon as the infants finished nursing, they abandoned the wire monkey and clutched the cloth one.

Even though the experiment demonstrated the primacy of nurture to sustenance, the cloth mother was not an adequate replacement: the isolated monkeys grew up with severe emotional and behavioral problems, says Carlson, associate professor of neuroscience and psychology at Harvard Medical School.

My observations, also not taught in medical school or pediatrics training, is that holding the baby, doing knee-bend motions, and getting away from smells of food (even for a breast-fed only baby) are very effective. With baby carriers and pharmacological “colic” advice I fear our society is doing a re-run of Harlow’s experiments.

November 11, 2005

5 thoughts on “Do we really need drugs for colic?”

  1. Its frustrating how every little thing about babies gets medicalized. Certainly, some babies need medicine and all babies need appropriate health care. But not every so-called problem with an infant requires a medical solution. My first child was ‘colicky’ and it just about killed me. But she didn’t need drugs. She just needed parents to hold her and help her ride out a difficult period.

  2. I have lost more than one patient because mom refused to believe that the crying was normal.

    So, from my perspective, my recommending home colic remedies is a way of keeping parents from leaving my practice.

    As long as the recommendation is harmless, I believe I’m also discharging my ethical responsibility to care for patients without hurting them.

  3. Well as a single parent of two children that both had colic, I too agree that everything doesn’t have to become a problem that has to medically treated. Some children just need more attention and care than others. Unless there is a case of depression affecting the parent(s)then medicine should never leave the pharmacy. Honestly, the more we put into our bodies unneccesarily, the more we hurt our bodies. There is a book, I forget the name, about the things “they” don’t want us to know. The practice of medicine has strayed from preventative care and patient care to being money based and that is a shame.

  4. Well I decided to do some research on colic and prescriptions related to colic. I found that colic is truly a doctor’s nightmare. Doctors try to offer other remedies to help alleviate the crying infant. Some include: Simulated or real car rides, formula changes, breast feed infant, burp babies after every 1/2 ounce, and finally medication. Doctors do however recommend that the meds shouldn’t be given befor one month of age and colic usually end around three months. There have been serious side effects reported when on some medication like Levsin. After reading a couple of documents I still feel the same way. The meds should not be given for colic. This is a normal process and will pass on its own. The very idea of drugging an infant in order to keep patients is scary!!!

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