Last week in this space, the discussion centered on overscheduled young people not getting enough sleep at night, and how the loss of an hour of rest has begun to affect their cognitive development. This week, the discussion turns to the "colic conundrum," suffering babies whose discomfort tends to keep their parents awake most nights, thereby possibly retarding their cognitive abilities.
Yes, colic, believe it or not, was the topic of a fascinating article, written by Dr. Jerome Groopman, which appeared in, of all places, the Sept. 17 issue of The New Yorker.
The New Yorker, to its considerable credit, has let the inimitable Groopman go about his business pretty much unhampered — at least, it seems so to an outsider — and so accepted colic as a suitable subject for its pages. But without the instigation of the distinguished author, I doubt that this painful syndrome would have ever graced the magazine's pages.
I, who've always considered infant behavior fascinating — even unfortunate behavior — found the article a page turner, if you can believe that. (I would imagine that it might hold a similar fascination for all parents who have watched their babies writhe in pain.)
Groopman began with the case of Amanda Chase, who, last September, gave birth to a healthy set of twins. Still, by the time the babies were 3 weeks old, they were crying several hours a day. "Amanda," writes Groopman, "a 40-year-old psychiatrist who works in Manhattan, suspected that the twins had colic, a poorly understood condition that afflicts seemingly healthy babies and whose main symptom is frequent, inconsolable crying."
Her first child, Sally, born two years earlier, also was diagnosed with colic, after developing what's described as "a piercing wail that lasted for hours." The child could not be consoled.
At the time, when her doctor confirmed Amanda's fears that Sally had reflux, what he called a common enough condition, the young mother was taken aback. Amanda pointed out that she had taken all the prenatal birthing classes along with her husband but hadn't heard a word about colic, let alone what could be done about the ailment. She also made it clear that she was tired of hearing from other parents about how easy their children were.
So, she was determined not to repeat the frustrations she'd had with her first child later on with the twins. "After they were born," wrote Groopman, "she stopped eating dairy products, and vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli, out of concern that such foods, when ingested through breast milk, might irritate the babies' stomachs. She also cut out coffee and chocolate, and gave the twins Mylicon drops (to break up the bubbles), Zantac (an acid blocker), and camomile tea, which in small doses is thought to calm babies." She consulted books, followed all the rules but nothing helped.
Her quest for answers, which makes up the bulk of Groopman's article is, well, quite a page turner.