Our baby girl, Emma, may have been a little overly sensitive to sudden motions and sounds (she startled each time the phone rang) but it never occurred to us that she could become a fussy baby. So, when it came, the misery of colic hit us like a freight train.
Promptly at 6 PM on her tenth day of life, Emma became extremely irritable. She cried inconsolably, on and off, for six hours. My husband and I did everything we knew to get her to sleep. We tried: rocking, walking, music, turning on bathroom fan, etc. I had a hunch it might be gas, but the burp drops we bought on a midnight run to the drugstore were useless. Finally, at 1 AM, we took her for a long car ride and she fell asleep. When we got home, however, we were afraid to move her. So, we hoisted Emma plus her seat out of the car, tiptoed into the house and gently placed the whole bulky package in the middle of our bed. Then, we lay down on either side of her, like sentries flanking the queen, and that’s how we slept for the rest of the night.
Like clockwork, at 6 PM the next night, Emma began crying again. We repeated the list of suggested soothing activities but we ended up back in the car at midnight. Apparently, that was the magic she needed to finally give in to sleep. Although it was exhausting for us to drive so late at night, we thought a pattern had been established and at least we knew how to soothe her.
How wrong we were!
The third night, Emma didn’t cry at 6 PM: she waited until 9 PM. This time her irritability and crying lasted until 4 AM…and the car ride didn’t work. I was exhausted and concerned this behavior signaled some horrible problem. We went to her pediatrician the next morning to see what was wrong. His diagnosis rang in my ears: colic.
He suggested a variety of things that might help: homeopathic colic tablets, gripe water, and carrying her around a lot. He told us it would be difficult for a while but reassured us it would pass by the time she reached three months. Three months! It sounded like an eternity to us. We tried all our doctor’s suggestions plus carrying her around in a sling all day and sleeping together.
These seemed to help a little, but then came one of the worst days of my life. Emma woke up at 8:30 AM and did not sleep again until midnight. I can’t say she yelled the whole time; but she had constant irritability that framed long periods of crying. On the verge of hysteria, I called the doctor again. He prescribed Donnatal (an anti-spasm medication with phenobarbital) and, with great hesitation, we gave it to her. Thankfully the drug put her to sleep and we thought, ‘At last, we have a plan for when things really get bad.’
By one month, our daughter had become irritable day and night. She would be fine for a while after her meal, but then she would start squirming and crying. She needed to be held constantly and there were days when I felt like a prisoner on the couch, unable to get up. By 1½ months, the medication, which at first seemed like our salvation, stopped working. We now had nothing to use the days when the crying simply could not be stopped.
By trial and error, I figured out a combination of tricks that usually worked. I swaddled her, gave her the pacifier, held her tightly in a nursing position, and rocked her in the rocking chair…hard. This routine would put her to sleep, however, as soon as I stopped it, our little ‘princess and the pea’ would awaken with a shriek. (I once rocked her all day long until I ‘slipped into coma’ at 3 AM.)
My life was like a nightmare. This was supposed to be such a special time, but it was so hard. I was demoralized and depressed. Emma was now more than two-months-old and I still couldn’t leave the house. Each time I took her outside she wailed. People gave me tons of advice and although they meant well, inside my heart I raged at them. I felt they were blaming me.
At about this time, Emma began to spit-up more. We told her pediatrician and he referred us to a gastroenterologist who diagnosed her with stomach acid reflux. He said this was the cause of her frequent spitting…and perhaps of her crying too. He prescribed a couple of medications (Zantac and Propulsid) and we started her on them immediately.
During her first two months, notwithstanding the colic, Emma would go 5 to 7 hours between feedings at night. However, on the medications her sleep became restless. Within two weeks, she began waking up crying every 2 to 3 hours. We were beyond exhausted.
We phoned her gastroenterologist who took her off the medicines. But, her sleep did not improve. Moreover, she again became irritable during the day. I called her pediatrician, but he was out so I spoke to his associate, Dr. Karp. Dr. Karp taught us the ‘Cuddle’ method for getting Emma to sleep. We had already been doing the beginning steps (swaddle, pacifier, rock), but he advised us to add the blow dryer and to let her sleep in the swing. We called it the ‘ Karp Cuddle Cure’ because this method changed our lives. We decided to try it out during naptime. Emma still protested when I moved her from the rocking chair to swing but she tolerated it as long as a CD of a blow dryer was playing in the background.
After several days, Emma had gotten so accepting of the hypnotic rhythms of the swing, we began letting her sleep in it at night. Within a few more days, she would stay sleep in it from 11PM to 6 AM! Two weeks later, she was sleeping 8 to 10 hours at night. This was an enormous leap from where she had been.
It became clear to us Emma was not in terrible pain, rather she was so sensitive that the mild discomfort she was experiencing was enough to yank her out of her slumber. The ‘Karp Cuddle Cure’, on the other hand, appeared to counter her sensitivity and lull her into a deeper level of tranquility.
By 3 months, we had at last figured out what Emma needed to be happy. She did have reflux and was definitely more comfortable on Zantac. But, for a large part of the day, and the whole night, she needed to be swaddled, swung and serenaded by white noise.
Even at 4½ months, when most babies are no longer colicky, Emma still was sensitive and easily pushed into fussiness. She was, however, much better than the month before. And, slowly, her irritability subsided and she showed more and more of the happy baby she truly was inside.”
Several months later, I received this note from Emma’s mother Jody: “Hi, Emma is now 9 months old. She sleeps through the night and is doing quite well. At 6 months, she transitioned easily out of the swing and into her crib. She no longer needs to be swaddled but she does still sleep better if we play the blow drier CD, although it doesn’t have to be loud anymore. Her reflux is better but not resolved.”
When I saw Emma at her 15-month visit, she was pain-free, off antacids and had blossomed into a beautiful, chatty little girl. Jody said her most characteristic trait
was sensitivity to everything around her.
“Nothing sneaks by Emma without her noticing. In retrospect, it’s likely her mild reflux and hypersensitive temperament combined to give make her, and us, miserable during her first few months.”