The majority of health professionals, including doctors, nurses and allied health professionals, are educated using a ‘medical model’ of care. This means they are trained to look for signs and symptoms that might point to a physical problem or medical condition. Health professionals trained under the medical model are ideally suited to provide treatment and care for sick or disabled children, and children with medical conditions. They are also an excellent source of health information on illness prevention and ways parents can promote the growth and development of healthy children. However, they are not necessarily experienced in advising parents on the intricacies involved in the care of healthy babies and children. Caring for their own children is in general the only hands-on parenting experience that most health professionals have.
Where health professionals trained under the medical model of care fail parents and their healthy babies is the way in which difficult behavior is viewed and managed. Behavior frequently displayed by normal, healthy, yet irritable babies such as persistent crying, screaming, straining, milk regurgitation, back arching, food refusal and wakefulness are typically viewed as signs and symptom of pain due to a physical problem or medical condition. If treatments such as medications and dietary changes fail to improve the situation (as is often the case for healthy babies) parents may be told that there’s nothing more that can be done but wait until their child outgrows the problem.
It’s not normal for a child to be distressed, and parents do not need to wait for their child to outgrow the cause of distress. Studies have shown distressed behavior displayed by healthy babies is seldom due to a physical or medical cause. More often than not the child’s troubled behavior it’s due to developmental or behavioral reasons. Parents can encourage their baby’s or toddler’s contentment by making appropriate changes to way they provide care. That’s where our professionals can help. As child health nurses we understand the complexities of caring for healthy babies and children based on medical and behavioral models of care.
When faced with uncertainty regarding the cause of troubled infant behavior it is wise to have your child thoroughly examined by a medical doctor as a first line approach. However, it may be necessary for you to look beyond a physical or medical cause in order to find a solution.
My daughter Willow was born by emergency C-section after nearly 30 hours of labor. I stayed in the hospital almost a week to recover from the birth, and I figured that by the time I got home the worst would be over.
At about three weeks of age, Willow started crying – a LOT. She seemed to cry all the time and it completely baffled even our mothers, who had raised 10 kids between them. I started reading every baby book I could find, quickly turning to the chapters on fussy and colicky infants. During our one-month appointment, I held my crying infant and asked my pediatrician when it would end. “It’s just colic,” he casually told me at the end of our appointment. “She’ll outgrow it soon. Don’t worry about it.”
As the weeks passed, the crying worsened. Then she stopped pooping, only having a bowel movement once a week. I visited the pediatrician again, desperate for help. He suggested I read a baby book that I had already vainly searched for clues and cures, and prescribed Karo syrup to help her poop. Later that night, Willow screamed for six hours straight. I spent much of it crying with her, unable to cope with the stress.
The next day, I visited my OB because I was worried I had post-partum depression. But my OB – a wonderful woman just a few years older than me who’d also recently had her first baby – knew exactly what I was going through. She diagnosed me as “an exhausted working mother of a colicky baby” and gave me the name of a book to read. She also gave me the name of her own pediatrician, since I was no longer happy with the uncaring attitude of my current doctor.
At our first visit with the new pediatrician, she diagnosed Willow with reflux within five minutes of talking to us. She gave us a prescription for Zantac for the reflux and Enulose to help her poop. I almost wept with relief. Finally! Someone had given us the cause and cure for Willow’s – and our – constant misery. For two days, we seemed to be heading in the right direction. Willow cried less and pooped two days in a row. But then the crying reared its ugly head again and actually grew worse than it had been.
In the next month, I visited the pediatrician’s office at least once a week, sometimes twice. She suggested I try the elimination diet, so I ate nothing but pears and chicken for a month. It didn’t help. She suggested I quit breastfeeding and try special formulas. It didn’t help. She upped the Zantac dose, with no results. Eventually, my pediatrician became merely a shoulder to cry on because she couldn’t help us. Meanwhile, Willow continued to cry 8-10 (and sometimes 12) hours a day.
After one episode, when Willow cried for nearly 24 hours straight, we took her to a premier children’s hospital ER for help. There, they did an X-ray and physical exam, and declared her to be normal and healthy. The doctor diagnosed colic and suggested that I had post-partum depression, which was the cause for my inability to cope with the crying. I left the hospital more angry with the doctor than relieved that Willow was healthy.
A week later, we saw a pediatric gastroenterologist at the same premier hospital. She ruled out acid reflux, bowel obstruction and constipation, and left us still searching for answers. A week later, we went to the on-call pediatrician because we found blood in Willow’s stool after stimulating her poop with a q-tip as I had been instructed to do. She was fine, but he gave us another prescription for acid reflux, just in case. It didn’t help. Everyone we spoke to said there was nothing to do but wait for her 3-month birthday, when colic would magically disappear.
Three months came and went with no change – in fact, looking back, her colic peaked at three months instead of dropping off. Four months came and went. Still the crying continued. My hair started falling out from the stress and my husband thought he was developing a stomach ulcer.
Angry, frustrated and confused, I lost faith in the traditional medical community. I began to search for other answers to Willow’s crying and infrequent pooping. I took her to a chiropractor, with no results. I bought homeopathic remedies, with little change. We burped, rocked, swaddled and shushed until we nearly collapsed with exhaustion.
Finally, we found an osteopath who helped Willow poop regularly, but the crying continued. Our pediatrician suggested that if things didn’t improve soon, we might need to see a neurologist.
Then, when Willow was about 4.5 months old, I found Rowena through an online colic support group. She suggested Willow’s problems were due to behavioral issues rather than medical causes. I didn’t believe her at first, convinced that I just hadn’t yet found the physical cause for Willow’s troubles. But after a few correspondences, I decided to give her theories a shot. I’m so glad I did!
After nearly five months of crying, a dozen doctors and hundreds of dollars in medical bills, colic was finally over. I only wish I had known about Rowena earlier. It would have saved us so much heartache and frustration.
I still don’t know how we survived those first few months of Willow’s life. The stress of shuttling from doctor to specialist to pharmacy and back again really took its toll on all of us. I recently found one gray hair on my head (at the age of 27!) and I had to smile because I know exactly where it came from.